Redefined NBA Basketball Positions, Visualized

Basketball positions make sense because we've grown up with them, but many people are starting to use hybrid terms to describe some players; so what if the original positions were wrong? New research suggests we should completely rethink how players are labelled. Here's how.

Stanford biomechanical engineering student Muthu Alagappan presented his—perhaps contentious—work on redefining basketball positions at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. He explains:

"After studying players like LeBron James and Blake Griffin, many analysts are now suggesting that there are new positions, which are simply hybrids of the one's we already had. For example, some players are now labeled "point-forwards" or "combo-guards." But what if we were wrong about our initial five positions. Maybe a "Center" is just a label for people over a certain height, and there are actually three different types of big men in the NBA...

"By visualizing the shape of data in terms of performance-based positions, we are able to discover undervalued players, manage in-game decisions, optimize rosters, and draft more intelligently."

That analysis shows 13 possible new positions. The coloring scheme shows points-per-minute, going from low (blue) to high (red).

Under Alagappan's scheme, players previously classified as centers or power forwards might be classified as scoring rebounders, paint protectors, and scoring paint protectors. As Flowing Data points out, Dirk Nowitzki might be considered a scoring rebounder, whereas Joakim Noah is a paint protector.

Though it'll probably never gain traction, it's an interesting concept—and one that might make sense to use when analyzing team performance. What, after all, would be the best combination of these 13 positions? [Flowing Data]