Saturday, September 17, 2011

Do basketball like a theoretical physicist

Just in case you thought that theoretical physicists were only occupied with quarks, big bangs, phase changes, and Bose-Einstein condensates...think again. Alan Gabel and S. Redner at the Center for Polymer Studies and Department of Physics, Boston University have made an excellent examination of scoring in basketball. The abstract spells it out:
We present evidence, based on play-by-play data from all 6087 games from the 2006/07–2009/10 seasons of the National Basketball Association (NBA), that basketball scoring is well described by a weakly-biased continuous-time random walk. The time between successive scoring events follows an exponential distribution, with little memory between different scoring intervals. Using this random- walk picture that is augmented by features idiosyncratic to basketball, we account for a wide variety of statistical properties of scoring, such as the distribution of the score difference between opponents and the fraction of game time that one team is in the lead. By further including the heterogeneity of team strengths, we build a computational model that accounts for essentially all statistical features of game scoring data and season win/loss records of each team.
Now you can tell your friends you were studying physics the next time you watch an NBA game on TV.