On Andrew Wiggins’ ‘fast-twitch’ abilities: There’s an app for that


When the national TV cameras shifted over to Cavs general manager David Griffin last night, he used a phrase that sparked my analytical curiosity. The particular phrase is highlighted below in his comments:

“We really believe, at this point, for Andrew [Wiggins], his defense is a skill set. He does it with the fast-twitch muscle fiber in his body. That’s unusual. I had the opportunity to work with Shawn Marion at one point. He’s an incredibly quick player off the floor and quick laterally and guarded multiple positions. That was something that really spoke to me about Andrew, and I know it spoke to our coaching staff as well, and all of our scouts felt he had the most upside.”

Griffin is a noted analytics adopter. Analytics were a part of how he first got his start in Phoenix. At his introductory press conference, he discussed how he and the Cavaliers organization believe “very strongly” in analytics. He added: “I believe in them and their usefulness and I understand the limitations of them as well.”

So what might analytics have to do with this “fast-twitch muscle fiber” then? Let’s go back to Krossover. If you recall from my long-form Cavs analytics article in March, Krossover is a sports analytics startup created by Vasu Kulkarni, a 5-foot-9 basketball lover who just didn’t quite cut it on the court. Instead, he took his passion to the analytics side of the game.

His New York-based tech company is known for its video-indexing software across all levels of sport, from high school to the pros. Along with the easy-to-find video categorization, one can also easily access all sorts of stats and analytics. Forbes referred to it as the “The ESPN For The 99% Of Athletes Who Will Never Actually Be On ESPN.”

Specifically, basketball teams at all levels have signed deals and witnessed breakthroughs with video scouting assistance from Krossover. The Cavs are looking for their own success story too: They announced a deal with Krossover back in November. The deal likely was sparked by Ben Alamar, the Cavs senior analytics consultant who used to work for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and who also is an adviser to the startup.

At the 2013 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Krossover and Kulkarni were media darlings. They debuted a new gaming app that tests real-time sports knowledge and decision-making. The app is called sIQ (sportsIQ) and it remains free for download on iOS. The app might give us a clue about this so-called “fast-twitch” decision-making.

Within the app, there are tons of activities for all to explore in basketball and in football. Want to make decisions on who will score on a team’s fastbreak? Want to guess if the shot will actually go in? Want to guess who will grab the rebound? Want to predict whether the QB will keep it or hand it off? Want to set benchmarks and improve on your scores? All of that is possible. Humorously, Mark Cuban even played with the “referee challenge” game within the app during the Sloan Conference.

Here’s a press release that the company sent out about the app: “Krossover’s development of a sports IQ metric will allow anyone to determine their sIQ rating as well as their on-the-court decision making skills – and work on ways to improve them. Based on the user’s accuracy as well as response time to questions, they will learn what their strengths and weaknesses are and will be given questions that will help them improve in areas they are lacking. Users will be able to benchmark their current sports IQ and track progress.”

What is the value of sIQ? “In a real game, players don’t always make the right decisions,” Kulkarni told the New York Business Journal. “The goal of the simulation is to gauge how well a player can read situations that stray from text-book logic and strategy.”

Alamar also explained the app in a video with Grantland’s Zach Lowe last year: “The idea is that to be an NBA-level player you have to have a basketball-expert brain. And by that, you’re not really making decisions on the court, you’re just reacting in the right way to basically understand what’s going to happen well ahead of everybody else.” … “But it’s not just getting it right though. We’re timed how quickly you get it right. Because it’s reflex level we really care about and so while accuracy, most people who watch basketball a lot can be fairly accurate, once you put a time component in it most people they’re not going to be close.”

An article at Gigaom also shared the success of Kulkarni and Krossover. One intriguing draft connection in particular exists in this article: “Professional teams — including Alamar’s new employer, the Cleveland Cavaliers — are testing it out as a method to gauge college players’ sports IQs as part of the draft preparation and to train players to react better by using with the app as a way to predict what will happen next in any given situation.”

Do we know concretely that sIQ was exactly what Griffin referenced on national TV last night? Not necessarily, and he’s unlikely to answer with specificities. But digging into the public trail of the Cavs affiliation with sports analytics gives us a sense of one way they might have preferred Andrew Wiggins.

In a cruel twist of irony (or perhaps misdirection), Krossover’s mock draft on its blog actually had the Cavs taking Jabari Parker at No. 1. Oops.