Net Gain: Kirk Goldsberry Moneyballs the Celtics

This map wiz has good news for the Celtics. —Michael Pina

kirk goldsberry

Photo by Mark Fleming

As the new NBA season tips off, Celtics fans are still wringing their hands over the loss of Ray Allen to the hated Miami Heat. But according to Kirk Goldsberry, they shouldn’t be.

Goldsberry, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Center for Geographic Analysis, is emerging as a pivotal figure in the rapidly growing field of sports analytics. That’s the one in which high-powered statisticians mine data and crunch numbers to better predict player performance. Anybody who’s read Moneyball knows just how important this kind of analysis has become in baseball.

Now it’s basketball’s turn. About five years ago, Goldsberry, whose specialty is data visualization, started plotting NBA shot attempts. This year, after a lot of trial and error, he began producing astonishingly information-rich maps (precise to the square foot) that show the spots on a court where a shooter’s attempts are most likely to be successful. Nine NBA teams have approached Goldsberry about using his maps to find their players’ strengths and weaknesses.

So what’s the good news for Celtics fans? Goldsberry recently studied the performances of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee—acquired to replace Ray Allen—and both, it turns out, regularly sink the same shots that Allen did.