At every Lynx practice in the Mayo Clinic Square the loudest and most ubiquitous voice doesn’t belong to coach Cheryl Reeve, her assistants or any of the players.
It’s not even a human voice. It’s automated, monotone — the kind you might hear coming from IBM’s Watson computer. The only thing it does all practice is spout out numbers, often in the range of 39-47.
The number that is music to the Lynx’s ears is 45 — a number the company Noah Basketball has determined is the ideal angle for a shot’s trajectory after studying over 150 million shots.
No matter where a player is on the floor, shooting 45 degrees is the goal. The voice of Noah, as the Lynx call it, is always on, whether the team is scrimmaging, shooting free throws or just clowning around at the end of practice.
“It becomes addicting,” guard Seimone Augustus said. “After you spend a couple of days or a few weeks on it, when the system is not on and you don’t hear the guy, saying ‘45, 45,’ it kind of messes with you. Where is it? You’re looking for the sound.”
That sound has helped the Lynx get an advantage on the rest of the WNBA since getting the system in 2016. They are the only team in the league that uses the tracking data from Noah Basketball, which attaches a sensor above the hoop connected to a device behind it to record and transmit data for every shot the Lynx take in practice. The Lynx had their shooting percentages rise with Noah in 2016 and 2017. Although they have dipped this season as the team has gone through more turbulence than usual, its faith in Noah and its ability to improve everyone’s shot is unshaken.
“Any edge that we can get is what we’re looking for,” Reeve said. “We felt we would improve our shooting, then we would be able to try and stay a step ahead of our opponents.”
What is Noah?
Noah Basketball, so named because of Noah’s relation to an ark in the Bible, gained popularity and credibility across the basketball world earlier this decade when the Miami Heat won a pair of titles thanks in part to Noah’s technology. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would step to the free throw line and say to each other, “45, 45,” the reminder to get enough lift on their shot.
“The No. 1 indicator of a great shooter is left-right consistency,” said Noah CEO John Carter. “But a close second is trajectory consistency or arc consistency.”
Originally, Noah could only measure shot arcs that came from straight in front of the basket. But the Lynx were among the first teams to get the system with the capability to track shots all around the court.
If a player is doing individual shooting drills, she can log into the system thanks to a tablet attached to the hoop and Noah will record all her shots under her name.
In team drills or scrimmages, Reeve would put on Noah and sometimes would institute unique rules based on shot arc.
“In the beginning of the year, training camp, we say a shot has to be (at least) 43 degrees or it doesn’t count,” Reeve said. “Just to kind of move it to the forefront of their minds, rather than just have this tool that’s sort of interesting but you’re not getting the full effect.”
After shooting 44 percent in the 2015 season, the Lynx’s field-goal percentage rose to 47 percent in 2016. In 2017, it increased to 48 percent while their 3-point shooting jumped from 34 percent in 2016 to 37 percent in 2017. The Lynx are at 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range this season.
The idea behind Noah is to develop the muscle memory required to shoot at a 45-degree trajectory or close to it with consistency. The constant voice from above is a reminder to players to keep their shots on a certain plane, even if the shot goes through the hoop. Now, Augustus said, they know what a 45-degree shot feels like even if they’re in a game and don’t have access to the system.
“I automatically know even if the shot goes in if it wasn’t a 45, so I have to try to get it up,” Augustus said. “Or even when we come to the bench on timeouts, [assistant coach] Shelley [Patterson] is in my ear, ‘Get it up a little bit, it was a little flat.’ ”
Augustus is one of the Lynx’s examples of how Noah can improve a player’s shooting percentage, even someone who has already established herself in the league. Noah helped Augustus shoot 43 percent form 3-point range in 2017 and 50 percent from the field.
More than trajectory
Noah also tracks how far left or right a shot is and how deep in the hoop a ball is landing. Carter said the ideal make is a shot “2 inches past center” because research has shown if you shoot straight but a little long, hitting the back of the rim will cause the ball to go down into the hoop. Being short leads to more misses.
“That back rim and down area is almost as big as the swish area just because of the geometry of the ball,” Carter said. “So if you’re not getting the ball to hit the back of the rim often, you’re losing percentage points. Watch the next Lynx game. You’ll be surprised at what a large percentage of the made shots hit the back of the rim.”
Noah can also shout out how many inches into the cylinder a player shot the ball, but the Lynx keep the voice in tune to the angle of trajectory.
Reeve has access to all the data on her phone, so she can monitor if players are working out even if she is away. The players also have access to the data.
“You can see, ‘I didn’t realize that the right side is a problem spot for me. I consistently shoot it low.’ You can learn your spots and spend a little extra time on it,” Reeve said.
The company is working on an updated version that includes more player tracking data and said it should be able to break down shots by type — was a shot off the dribble, off a pass, a step-back going left or right?
“Then the data starts getting really, really meaningful …” Carter said. “You can really understand where your weaknesses are. Imagine getting a prescription before a workout — here’s the things that this player needs to work on today.”
Even though the equipment is in Mayo Clinic Square, the Timberwolves don’t use it, but recently re-signed forward Anthony Tolliver used it to improve his three-point shooting and sits on an advisory board for the company. Carter said the Lynx are the only WNBA team to have Noah in part because they have a dedicated practice facility where the devices can record the data with ease. Other teams don’t have the facilities the Lynx do, and Carter said that gives the Lynx an advantage.
“You’re not going to outsmart the laws of physics,” Carter said. “They’re going to win every time and so you want to get the laws of physics working in your favor. That’s shooting on a 45-degree trajectory, getting it deep in the basket and shooting it straight.”
And for the foreseeable future, the Lynx will have a voice in their ears, telling them if they’re doing it right.
“We embraced the heck out of it as a staff, and therefore [the players] did,” Reeve said. “We’ve seen tremendous results from it.”