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WVU basketball: Apps are changing the game

Editor's note: Coaches and players constantly search for an edge through the most modern ways. More and more teams focus on technology as a key to success.

What's happening at West Virginia University is a good example of what's happening across the country. This is the second part of a 5-part series.

MORGANTOWN -- It might just be that Wellington Smith's post-basketball career was meant to be spent manipulating numbers to frame the future.

After playing for West Virginia from 2007-10 and then briefly in Japan, Smith took a job at Emerald Financial Resources, a member of the Mass Mutual Financial Group. Among many duties, it helps clients with investment strategies, retirement savings and estate planning.

He's now the director of basketball marketing at GameChanger, a scorekeeping and statistics software company that's crunching numbers to completely change the way players, coaches and fans watch and evaluate games.

"You can't run away from the numbers," Smith said.

"When a parent sees their kid's numbers or when a kid sees his own numbers, that gives you a source of entitlement that makes you think, 'I don't want my numbers to be less than what they should be. I want to keep working.' With our basketball app, it's totally revolutionized those numbers and the way people keep stats."

More WVU sports technology: Program big help for Mountaineers volleyball

The GameChanger basketball app is available for mobile devices and tablets and has free and premium versions (http://www.gamechanger.io/). It tracks more than two dozen statistics for more than 2,400 teams at various levels and essentially serves as an advanced box score. It takes the stats common to all games, but uses them in different ways to provide a more thorough explanation for the successes or failures of a team or a player.

A box score can show how many times a player shoots and misses. GameChanger does that, but also charts the location of those shots. That then gives the user a pretty clear idea of where a teammate or opponent likes to go to get good offense. Coaches can then use that information for game plans and scouting reports before games and for adjustments within games.

"You might see a player and say, 'Don't let that person go left. He's left-handed, so let's make him drive it right,'" Smith said. "But maybe that person wants to go right because he's not a particularly good shooter from the left side. With GameChanger, you could tell that he likes to go right and that he makes a lot of his shots when he pulls up for a shot.

"If a coach goes in at halftime, he can look at a box score and say, 'Geez, we're getting outrebounded. Our turnovers are crazy. Wells, you're shooting 80 percent from 3-point range,' " he added. "You can go inside the app and get all those stats, but you can also say, 'Wells, you've made all your 3s from the right and you haven't made any from the left.' You can't see that on a box score."

It's far more complex and valuable than just that, though. GameChanger also takes shooting and scoring statistics and arranges and combines them to provide two relevant and increasingly popular measurements: effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.

They measure shooting percentages, but with much deeper meaning and greater illustrations for why one is so low or high.

"The game's not so much about shooting the most shots," Smith said. "Just because you shoot the most shots, you probably score the most points, but do you make most of those shots? That's why we try to get away from that and focus on shooting the best shots to be more efficient and then making most of those shots. That way you can go from taking the most shots to being the most efficient player. The best player on the floor may not be your main scorer."

Effective field goal percentage gives more value to a 3-point basket and combines those with made 2-point shots to create a value for points per shot attempt. The GameChanger website provides a simple explanation.

"Say two players both shot 4-for-10 from the floor, but one player hit a 3 and the other didn't. Both have the same shooting percentage of .400. But wouldn't you rather have 9 points on 10 shots than 8 points on 10 shots? Yes," it states.

The true shooting percentage is similar and considers how efficiently a player scores, but also includes free throws under the premise free-throw attempts are good for the offense. It considers some players are good free-throw shooters and some are not and that that skill may or may not have been factored into a player's game.

"Both parts of this equation are equally important - it does a player no good if they shoot a ton of free throws but can't make any, nor does it do them any good if they're perfect from the stripe but rarely get there," the website says.

Smith said it's important to keep the effective field goal percentage above .450 and that a true shooting percentage should always be above that. Smith, with 75 starts in 145 career games, left WVU with a .497 effective field goal percentage and a .517 true shooting percentage.

"If you're not doing it, you're not doing a good job and you're getting left behind because everyone else is starting to use it now and they're successful because of it," Smith said. "Look at 'Moneyball' and Billy Beane and how successful he's been just from using the numbers and the stats and putting people in positions where you know they can be successful.

"When you have these tools that show definitive numbers for where a player is shooting from and what their effective field goal percentage is from a specific area, you can plan better and run plays for that person to get in that area. And it's great for a high school or middle school player to learn about and figure out their game and what they need to work on."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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