Nylon Calculus: The NOAH Shooting System wants to fix every jumpshot

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10: Tobias Harris
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10: Tobias Harris /

Like so many basketball dreams, the NOAH Shooting System was born on a driveway hoop. Alan Marty, an inventor and venture capitalist was trying to teach his daughter how to shoot with the proper arc. Beginning as a ladder with a rake attached, it took fifteen years of evolution and technological advancement to become what it is today — a 3-D tracking system that collects data on shot location, as well as shot arc, entry angle and left/right positioning relative to the hoop, all of which can be announced out loud by a voice feature, providing real-time feedback to the shooter.

At the NBA level, the 3-D tracking of shot trajectories has been possible with SportVU and now Second Spectrum’s player-tracking system, but those systems don’t provide the same level of precision, they aren’t necessarily set up for instant feedback and, most importantly, they aren’t cost effective enough to be placed in practice facilities (not to mention college and high school gyms).

Right now, NOAH’s clients include numerous NBA, college and high school teams, how are all working on perfecting one jumpshot at a time.

“At the end of the day, your naked eye can not tell if a player shoots the ball a little too high, or that the player’s trajectory is too inconsistent, or that their shot depth at the hoop is two inches too short, or that you have an alignment issue and tend to miss more to the right than the left,” NOAH Basketball CEO John Carter told Nylon Calculus.

Through their research and data set, which includes millions of shots tracked by their system, NOAH has discovered ideal characteristics for the flight path of a jumper — dead-center left-to-right, entering the rim at a 45 degree angle and a depth of 11 inches from the front of the rim.

Of course, knowing what an ideal jumpshot looks like and helping teach and coach players to do it is another entirely.

When asked about the role of coaching in making the most of their system, Carter was quick to point out that it’s where the rubber meets the road.

“Basically, they’ve had to do it with the naked eye, and that means a lot of different opinions. Anything that you try and do, or try and teach, if you’re not doing something that’s backed by science and by research, you’re really just sharing someone’s opinion on how to correct the problem,” he said. Adding, “There’s a lot of great shooting coaches out there. And what we try and do is provide them with more information so that they can better at their job.”

While there may be an ideal trajectory for a jump shot, it appears, at least superficially, that there a myriad ways of attaining it. The best shooters in NBA history all of different forms and very little about the motions of Kevin Martin (a career 38.4 percent 3-point shooter) or even Reggie Miller could be considered textbook.

Carter was quick to point out that very good shooters can get by with a variety of hitches in their shot.

“If a player has elite left-right control, that is they almost always shoot it straight, you can get away with a flatter trajectory. But if you have any left-right variation at all with a flat trajectory, that shot is going to skip out. So that’s the reason that that some people still have success with a reasonably flat trajectory, though they still could be better. There was an NBA player this past season that I was working with and his mid-range jumper was about 38 degrees. His free throw was about 53 degrees. And his 3-point shot was about 45 degrees. He was an elite player but as a shooter he was just all over the place.”

When asked what separates the good shooters from the great ones, Carter had the answer on the tip of his tongue, “at almost any level, it’s arc consistency.”

When players complete a shooting sessions with NOAH system they are receiving live feedback throughout, on every shot.

“The key thing is instant feedback,” said Carter. “It’s call proprioceptive training. You’re giving your brain feedback on something it’s never had before. And so if you do have, for example, a problem with your arc or your trajectory, when you shoot the ball and it gets to the rim it literally tells you what the entry angle was of that last shot. And so you’re pretty quickly able to make an adjustment to get to the optimal 45 degrees.”

When the session is complete, players receive an instant report card which gives them letter grades in six areas: left/right, shot depth, trajectory, left/right consistency, shot depth consistency and trajectory consistency. The whole idea as is to address shot issue as they happen, making corrections in real time before problems get ingrained. As Carter pointed out, “If a player shoots the ball too flat in high school, they tend to shoot flat for the rest of their life.”

The system costs about $5,000 per court, along with a monthly fee for NOAH to store the data, accessible any time through the cloud. Carter shared that they also work on other arrangements for certain clients as some NBA teams have internal systems where they house their data so it can be matched up with data from other technology partners.

In addition to what teams at every level are learning about their own shooters, general insights gleaned from the massive data set have already backed two different research papers presented by Marty’s younger daughter, Rachel (a PhD candidate in Bioinformatics at UCSD), at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

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The system is the product of constant evolution and that shouldn’t stop anytime soon. The latest feature coming soon is facial recognition, which makes the system much more useful in game situations, without player data needing to be separated manually.

“At Sloan, we introduced automatic facial feature recognition so that we can now automatically tag the shooter. So, say an NBA team or a college team is doing a three- or four-player drill, it’s really hard to tag all those shots manually,” said Carter. “Our system will automatically tag the player.”

The next step would obviously be getting approval to use the system in NBA arenas during games. Connecting practice data to game data would close the loop for coaches, letting them look at performance and consistency across all contexts. For now though, we’ll just have to tolerate those flat jumpers and inconsistent trajectories that just can’t be fixed in practice.