Book Review – Sprawlball: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA

Author: Kirk Goldsberry
Published: April 2019, Houghton Mifflin
ISBN: 978-1328767516

What is it about?

This books mixes cartography (map making) and basketball analytics to explain how the NBA has evolved over the years, particularly the impact of the 3 point line’s introduction.

The book works through different positions on the court explaining their evolution over the years through the story of the careers of players like Steph Curry and LeBron James.

About the Author

Kirk Goldsberry (Twitter) is an NBA Analyst at ESPN, a professor at University of Texas, Team USA Basketball Analyst and formerly a Vice President of Strategic Research at the San Antonio Spurs.

Interestingly, previous to his sports analytics career, studied geography, earning a PhD in 2007 from UC-Santa Barbra studying Cartography and Data Visualization (American Spelling).

Who is it for?

This booked is probably more aimed at NBA fans. From a data visualisation point of view it is very intriguing to sports analysts.

What did I take from it?

As a casual NBA fan, I was aware that teams were shooting more from behind the 3 point line. This book addressed why teams have adjusted their strategies and also how these strategies have effected the positions and case studied some NBA stars and how they have evolved their games. This was interesting as it turned that information into a story.

As an analyst the data visualisation was the most valuable piece of information I took from it. Complemented with Illustrations by Aaron Dana (Twitter), you could pretty much read this book as a picture book.

Analytically, looking at something as ‘value per shot’ by location was better than efficiency by location which is traditionally how I considered that element of my analysis.

Should I buy it

If you want to see some inspiring data visualisation or have a general interest in the NBA, I think you’re likely to enjoy this book. Seeing how the NBA has evolved strategically and the possible solutions to some problems arising is quite thought provoking.

It’s an easy read given the visuals. The content is good although repeats it’s message a fair bit.

Some may be put off more than me with the writing style which was quite conversational. e.g ‘Catch-and-Shoot bros’. Although it didn’t bother me too much

Overall: 4.5/5


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