How is AI Used in Basketball?

How is AI Used in Basketball

​​The game’s changing, as AI helps basketball players excel by enhancing their shooting skills and dribbling pace through analytics.

Around 130 years ago, back in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, James Naismith invented the game of basketball. This invention has influenced millions of people. In fact, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) estimates that at least 450 million people around the world are involved in it. 

Today, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is recognized as the best basketball league in the world. Spectators witness the captivating, and nail-biting, moments especially when both teams score at a very fast pace. This constitutes one of the main reasons why basketball has been pervasive among multicultural communities. 

The evolution of basketball

The game has been evolving since it was invented. Basketball players have become more skillful alongside rules changes. For example, dunking a basketball was once forbidden to prevent basket damage and injuries and hold back certain players with overwhelming heights from overplaying others who were way shorter.

Once dunking was allowed with the addition of the three-point line that encourages players who are physically smaller, the coaching staff had to spend more time devising offensive and defensive strategies. Key opinion leaders (KOL) on social media have created memes and reels in response to distinctive changes across different eras. When games are constantly evolving, technological inventions involving artificial intelligence (AI) emerge to help players improve their skills and awareness of various game plans. Let’s explore what AI has brought to the basketball world. 

Track why you missed your shots

The goal of a basketball game is to score more points than the opponent team, thereby amplifying the importance of accurate shooting. Being physically taller and stronger undeniably holds an advantage over those who are relatively shorter, but basketball has evolved into small-ball lineups (a team without a tall player who can protect the rim) in the last decade. As such, the skill of shooting becomes important for teams with small-ball lineups to win games. 

For that, they can utilize AI resources, such as the Noah Shooting System. It has helped many professional basketball teams improve their shooting efficiency and consistency. Putting more focus on three-point shooting, sports platform Noah Basketball created an AI app named NoahLytics to analyze players’ shots and provide data on how they made or missed the shots by connecting NoahLytics with a camera.

These include statistical analysis of players’ shooting arcs (45/11 theory), the rotating speeds of the basketball and their shooting motions. Players and coaches have approved this AI technology for major basketball leagues. It acts as a reliable resource to record players’ improvement in field goal percentage (a ratio of the shots attempted versus shots scored), which could facilitate players to adjust their shooting forms and rhythms. 

Teach yourself how to dribble

Normally, people who wish to improve their dribbling skills go to basketball academies and look for personal trainers. Or, they consider online courses and training clips provided on YouTube. However, another great alternative to professional training is AI, which has already learned how to dribble. 

DeepMotion, a motion-tech startup, uses a humanoid robot to show how humans move when they dribble. By teaching itself through trial and error, its dribbling has become smoother by studying the dribbling rhythm of humans and conducting rectifying procedures through algorithmic approaches.

This humanoid has become competent in two stages. It first learned to move around the court without bumping into any obstacles. Then, by adjusting its arm and body movements, the humanoid could handle a basketball’s extension, speed, velocity and direction. 

Equipped with these attributes, it might be foreseeable to see AI playing a huge role in future coaching tasks because it runs under algorithms. For example, a new AI model called BasketballGAN could show coaches and players how defenders and offenders operate their strategies by their movements and how to change and improvise their tactics during the game. 

Learn how to shoot with CUE5

The Olympics have always been a spotlight for fans worldwide to support their own country. When Olympics Basketball was in full swing during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Toyota’s AI basketball-playing CUE-series robot (CUE5) stole the stage by performing perfect shooting in front of spectators’ eyes. Despite the disappointing fact that it could not dunk and run fast, it has gone through different generations of upgrading and has learned how to dribble most recently. Still, fans have seen criticisms that its dribbles are “trash”, and that its speed is far slower than humans. 

This has shown the necessity for AI to revise continuously to improve its shooting, dribbling and speed. The shooting distance has increased from shooting in the restricted area (0 to 6-feet), all the way to making half-court shots (47-feet). It is believed that further revisions to CUE’s dribbling skills, shooting efficiency and accuracy will be conducted.

AI has been refining alongside the evolution of basketball games. Without having to discuss and execute game plans with the coaching staff, AI could learn (and teach) basketball tactics effectively. However, it may still fail unless it learns how to design skills and strategies that are more unguardable, as was the case with Marvel’s super villain Ultron. 

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Header image courtesy of Freepik


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