The crossroads between basketball, statistics and innovative storytelling was the subject of the Euroleague Basketball SACkathon, held in collaboration with world business solutions leader SAP, during two days of brainstorming by data science students from around Europe in a hackathon format.
Five teams of two students each, the finalists chosen from more than 400 applicants, worked for 48 hours at the imaginCafé in Barcelona to unlock statistical secrets from Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games played over the previous two seasons.
The results were a revealing mix of new-look observations on expanded position definitions, key influencers of player performance, salary prediction models, player underuse analysis, and expanded game-prediction parameters, among many other innovative angles on what makes for winning basketball.
"We couldn't be happier with the results of bringing together the EuroLeague data set with SAP’s analytic Cloud tools and such a bright group of young people," Alex Ferrer Kristjansson, Senior Director, Marketing and Communication at Euroleague Basketball, said. "From the application process all the way to the awarding of the grand prize, the students showed us the great promise of looking deeply into all aspects of the game to find new storytelling techniques and even to predict the future! I think we have merely scratched the surface of all there is to discover by drilling down into the data."
The students came to Barcelona from three countries with the challenge of connecting their imaginations to the SAP Analytics Cloud during the 48-hour SACkathon. A jury of six executives from inside and outside the sports industry judged their presentations on six criteria: story flow, pitch impact, visualizations, value of insights, use of smart functionalities, and originality.
At the heart of the process was the SAP Analytics Cloud, a one-of-a-kind data mining, visualization and prediction platform that gave the students free rein to combine their love of basketball and data to unearth entirely new ways of looking at what happens on the basketball court.
"We had three great ingredients: creative minds, from the students; great data and basketball knowledge, from the EuroLeague; and amazing tools, from the SAP Analytics Cloud. Those three combined created the magic to unveil insights that we never thought of," Carlos Diaz, Chief Innovation Officer EMEA South at SAP, said. "Those insights and those perceptions, and how we are able as humans to create warms stories from cold data, is what it's all about. People engage with those stories."
The jury chose Enis Zornic and Klemen Pozin of Slovenia, who detailed unique contributing factors to player performance to be used by teams in prediction simulations, as the grand prize winners. They received €2,000 and passage to the finals of a worldwide competition to win a seat at the SAP Academy in California.
"We had never worked with sports data before, so it was exciting and fun, because we are also basketball fans," Pozin said. "Last week, I was watching EuroLeague games and now I am here with EuroLeague executives working together. The same with SAP. We are studying about them in school, and now we are here with the executives of the company. So it was a big step forward for us."
A second prize, a three-month paid collaboration with Euroleague Basketball, went to Michal Korzen and Slawomir Blazej Bielecki of Poland, who analyzed the data from the point of view of different basketball stakeholders and built a predictive model for player salaries.
"SACkathon was a big adventure for us," Korzen and Bialecki said. "Basketball is a fast-moving game that involves a lot of variety and excitement, therefore while watching a game, our eyes are able to capture only big pictures. Thankfully, all details can be found in the raw data captured nowadays. Using advanced techniques such as machine learning, we can discover correlations that no one was aware of before."