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Ball Don't Lie

Analysts are starting to track the fastest players in the NBA

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Tony Parker and Ricky Rubio face off in the open court (David Sherman/ Getty).

There are basic ways to measure which basketball players are the best scorers, rebounds and passers in the NBA. Any fan has access to those numbers, though the ways in which they process them is up to the individual. What we currently lack is the ability to track the fastest player or the highest jumper. Those discussions are still matters for the bar, where volume and conviction usually win out over proper arguments.

Recently, though, we've begun to see developments. STATS LLC, arguably the biggest statistics organization in North America, now tracks precise physical movement in 10 NBA arenas. While we're only beginning to figuring out exactly what these cameras can pick up and teach us about basketball, early returns have included some interesting tidbits about some of the fastest guards in the league. Zach Lowe of SI.com was lucky enough to get his hands on some of the data (via PBT):

Want to know the answer to the age-old debate over who the fastest point guard in the league really is? Well, STATS can't answer that definitely yet, since only 10 of the league's 30 arenas have the cameras installed. But those 10 arenas feature some pretty quick point guards — Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings and the quicker-than-you-think Calderon. (John Wall, for some reason, was left out of this report).

But none can touch Parker in an open sprint, at least not so far this season. Parker has reached a high speed of 20.9 miles per hour in one stretch of in-game sprinting, easily the highest speed any of these guys have registered. Rubio is next, at 19.4 miles per hour, and the rest of the crew falls into the 17 range. Chicago has not invested in the STATS system, so we only have a few games worth of data on Derrick Rose; he reached a peak speed of 17.0 miles in San Antonio last month.

What's really interesting is how similar their other speed and possession-related numbers are. All the above-mentioned guards tend to hold the ball for about seven minutes each game, per STATs. They each tend to run the equivalent of between 2.0 and 2.5 miles per game, though Rondo ran a ridiculous 3.2 miles during Boston's overtime win Sunday against the Knicks. They all average around between 78 and 88 touches per game.

These figures are obviously not comprehensive — not just because they only cover games from 10 arenas, but because super-fast players who do play on those courts, like Golden State's Monta Ellis, are absent from the list. Nevertheless, what's here is interesting, even if average speeds will tell us more than a player's best mark in a single game.

The real find in this data, though, has to do with the similarities in other metrics. Fans generally agree that players like Rondo and Parker have elite stamina, or that Westbrook likes to handle the ball as much as possible. However, these new studies can help delineate the slight differences between these players when all other methods of observation suggest they're basically the same. By studying these variations, we can help gain a greater appreciation for exactly what these players do during a game.

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