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SprawlBall: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  878 ratings  ·  118 reviews
From the leading expert in the exploding field of basketball analytics, a stunning infographic decoding of the modern NBA: who shoots where, and how.

The field of basketball analytics has leaped to overdrive thanks to Kirk Goldsberry, whose visual maps of players, teams, and positions have helped teams understand who really is the most valuable player at any position. Spra
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 30th 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Ryan Routh
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I am a longtime reader of Goldsberry from his Grantland days. Anything I find of his online is generally worth reading and I will be happy to continue to click on his name in the future. But I don't feel like Goldsberry put enough into this book; it was OK, but I felt somewhat disappointed.

The overriding problem with this book is that Goldsberry simply doesn't have enough material to fill an entire book, so he resorts to a number of ploys. First is the weird two-column format (so that there is m
Andrew Nguyen
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In February of 2018, Reddit user u/BreezyBlue had just finished a 4-year prison sentence and incredulously asked,
"Wow the Warriors are really good now. Is Stephen Curry really the best player in the NBA?"

According to the NBA's previous year's MVP award, the answer was a unanimous yes. To answer our time-traveler's follow-up questions of Why? and How? I would direct him Kirk Goldsberry's Sprawlball.

Kirk Goldsberry was mostly known to me as the guy who made awesome shot charts, but he also spent
Nick Klagge
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great fun to read during the NBA playoffs. I don't agree with everything in the book, but it's definitely increased my enjoyment of watching games to think about KG's assertions.

To give an overly simplified summary, the book characterizes the ways data and analytics are changing NBA basketball, much as they changed MLB baseball a decade or so ago. In particular, the book focuses on analyzing the spatial distribution of shot efficiency. (This is certainly not news to NBA teams, but rather present
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
It took me awhile to finish Sprawlball; the first 100 pages or so were interesting but didn’t quite capture me enough to keep me from moving on to other books. Once I picked it up again, the final 130 pages were far more engaging. It also helped that I’m desperate for anything basketball-related right now.

Most of the book is a data-driven look at the on-court evolution of a few of the league’s stars over the course of their careers. The *point* of the book, however, is to explore the strategies
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Five-stars for the first half, 2.5 to 3 stars for the second half, averaged and rounded up to 4 stars. And that's as much data as I can manage.

I picked up this book at my brother-in-law's house and started flipping through it. I was immediately taken by this image:

sprawlball data image showing the three pointer gaining dominance

The caption at the bottom reads, "No wonder the midrange is dying. it's basic economics." Paired up with other infographics throughout, early on the book helped me see basketball - particularly the NBA - in a new light. This book help
Joseph Stieb
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
A super thoughtful gift from Dr. Matt Andrews. Every hoop nerd should read this book to understand the offensive revolution that hoop is going through. Tbh, social scientists and historians in general might get a lot out of this book in terms of understanding sudden trends, causation, and homogenization of cultures.

That might seem like a lot to put on a book about 3 pointers, but I think Goldsberry develops a lot of themes that go well beyond hoops. His base argument is that while the frequency
Adam Zerner
May 12, 2019 rated it liked it
As a serious basketball fan, some of the stuff in this book was old news to me. For example, the idea that threes are more efficient shots than twos. But the book did give me a better understanding of a lot of these ideas. I didn't realize that shooting percentages don't really get that much different as you move farther out. I never thought too much about how efficient it is to draw fouls. Or how important it is to be able to have a quick release on your threes. Or how quickly the extinction of ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not sure anything in here would be groundbreaking for any longtime viewer, fan, or observer of professional basketball. The three-point shot--due in part to its irrationality (in no other sport can you score an additional point for roughly the same amount of effort in the normal course of a possession)--combined with a modern search for efficiency has altered the way basketball is played, how teams value and develop players, and how players overhaul their game over years to become more marketabl ...more
Jun 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is physically beautiful and contains some revolutionary ideas about NBA basketball, but it should have been half the length at most. Goldsberry repeats the same points over and over and over again, leaving me feeling frustrated instead of intrigued by his new ideas.

Some of Goldsberry's observations center around the decline of centers amidst the rising supremacy of the three-pointer. Using a slew of spectacular graphs and charts, Goldsberry shows with stunning clarity how the NBA game
May 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
I have enjoyed much of Kirk Goldsberry's work online for a while now, so getting this book was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it suffered from a number of maladies:

1. Not a ton of new content if you follow Goldsberry online, or if you are generally knowledgeable about basic basketball analytics.
2. It was extremely redundant, with a handful of themes hammered home over and over and over and over again. This book could have easily been a 5 part series on Grantland, for example.
3. I thought a lot of
Kapil Kashyap
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really interesting and insightful look into how big men and interior scoring have been marginalized through a few key rule changes, resulting in the emphasis on 3pt shooting that we're witnessing in today's NBA
Sándor Sóvágó
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The stories, analytics, and visuals are awesome. The recommendations about the aesthetics of the game (ch 7) are somewhat silly. Overall, I highly recommend it to any NBA/stats nerd!
Vishal Katariya
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sport
Fun read. Lots learnt.
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very provocative. Great graphics of course. Interesting ideas to fix the problems caused by the league becoming obsessed with threes. And absolutely wonderful (and funny) artwork.
Linh Nguyen
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I followed basketball through high school but mostly stopped watching games when I started college in 2014. This book opened my eyes to the severity of the stylistic changes in the league since then. With a thorough analysis of several case studies of players, Goldsberry shows that analytics-driven play in the quest for optimal offensive efficiency has drastically shifted the strategy and aesthetics of the game in recent years. Would highly recommend to anyone who’s been living under a rock for ...more
Bowman Dickson
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Beautiful book and really intersting. Needed a better editor - it’s super repetitive, could be half the size. Awesome graphics.
Dhruv Saggar
May 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Goldsberry is one of the better NBA writers, but this book fell a bit flat. Repeated graphics, sentences which repeat throughout the book give the vibe that Goldsberry just wanted to pad the pages. It reads as a disjointed, extended basketball article.

Why three stars? The stories of players and the shot charts were done well. And the final chapter saves the book. The suggestions on how to move the 3-point line to balance the game was very interesting. In particular, reading about the abilities o
Marty Monforte
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
The NBA has changed much over the years. In the past, the point guard would bring the basketball down the court and pass the ball to the center or the power forward, who was often positioned close to the basket. Many coaches and players considered that to be a high percentage shot.

If the center or power forward was covered well, then the point guard would look to pass to someone else. Or if the center or power forward received the pass close to the basket and was double teamed, he would pass th
Tim Baumgartner
Let's talk about the best sport in the world--BASKETBALL! Well, if you don't agree, you have to admit that it is the fastest growing sport in the world. : )

SPRAWLBALL is a book unlike any other I've read. It took me longer than I thought to read, but, then again, some MAJOR life events occurred, which hindered me quite a bit.

This book is written by Kirk Goldsberry, whose goal was to track every shot in the NBA in order to track how/where the game is going. He is the pioneer of the NBA's analyti
Kyle Dinges
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books
This is a fantastic read. In SprawlBall, Kirk Goldsberry lays out the how and why that the NBA's current 3 point loving landscape was made possible. He uses analytics and wonderful graphics to explain why teams like the Houston Rockets have decided to play the way they do, and why similar teams have joined them in their quest for efficiency on the basketball court. Then Goldsberry analyzes both what rule changes (mostly just the addition of the 3 point line) have led us to this point and all the ...more
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, sport
Sprawlball : A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA (2019) by Kirk Goldsberry is a fascinating read about the way the NBA has changed in response to rule changes and because of better basketball analytics.

The sprawl of the title comes from the way players now assemble around the three point line and take many more three pointers than they used to, as the book puts it:

"Consider this crazy stat: during a single season, 2017-2018, NBA shooters made 25,807 three-point shots. That's more than they m
Ian Kloester
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
It gets a little repetitive at times but this book is a fantastic breakdown of how nba basketball has become the game it is today. I spent some time doing video breakdowns and analytics at a semi-pro level over the last 10 years and I can confirm that the math behind the change in the game is as simple as it is undeniable. Yet - as outlined so clearly in Michael Lewis’ book on baseball analytics, Moneyball - the old school brigade resisted the data and clung to what they knew or how they were co ...more
Matt Bowyer
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very good breakdown of the modern shift of the NBA to three pointers and layups.

Things I liked:

* The Steph Curry and LeBron James chapters, especially showcasing how hard they worked and how many changes they made to their own games to evolve and become more efficient
* The charts. I cannot say enough nice things about the beautiful charts.
* Many quality turns of phrase.
* Absolutely stellar artwork. Aaron Dana's art is outstanding.

Things I didn't like:

* There's a lot of repetition. It felt lik
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
This is a really interested book that in some ways reminds me of Chris Ballard's The Art of a Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA based on content and the FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History and FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac: Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today's Game based on the cool visuals and artwork.

This is a deep, statistics-driven drive on how the NBA has changed after the implementation of the 3-point line in 1
Mike Parkes
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, sports, 2019
A Christmas gift from my wife that I devoured in one evening. Wonderful graphic design, with colourful shot charts and whimsical cartoon illustrations of NBA players. The author used to be a professor of cartography (mapping) and this comes through in the book.

As with the better known “Moneyball” (which covered baseball), the key theme is how analytics have led to a change in the way the game is played, and what attributes and players are valued. In NBA basketball, the key discovery from data an
Vinay Badri
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was fun, informative, entertaining and super educational. The way we look at sports is changing. The role of analytics in sport has been romanticized through Michael Lewis' seminal work, Moneyball. Sprawlball takes it to the next level and in the process also tries to take the romance out a bit - a focus on pure analytics in the sport does take out certain elements of fun from it. TBF as a viewer of NBA, I dont feel that 3 point shotmaking makes the game less fun but then I probably havent ...more
Aaron Strouse
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
If you are someone who religiously follows the nba, obsessively listens to nba related podcasts and waits on pins and needles for your favorite nba authors to write about salary cap issues or players efficiencies than this book is not for you.

This book outlines everything that has beeen talked about for the past 5 years if you pay attention to basketball. Threes are good, mid range bad, free throws good and layups good. It outlines player transformations to adjust to the current currency in the
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm an NBA nerd so it was fairly inevitable that I would enjoy this book. The book starts by highlighting specific players and how the new era of Sprawlball (i.e., small-ball) has affected their games. All of this makes sense and it was great to see the data that backed this up. But these facts are largely known.

However, what I found most interesting were the later chapters of the book where we learn how the NBA has basically legislated this type of play into existence. Goldsberry highlights the
Jake D
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book Sprawlball by Kirk Goldsberry is an amazing book. Goldsberry has a passion for the game of basketball and you can see it in this book. He explained every detail very well and gave very in-depth explanations of all the diagrams and charts. This book is about how the NBA has changed from a game were tall men battle for points inside the paint into a game where all the players are expected to shoot threes and they are shooting them at an all-time high. The title Sprawlball comes from the i ...more
Travis Timmons
Oct 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I love Goldsberry's writing usually, and especially his shot charts. However, this book deserved a better editor. As is, Goldsberry probably had a "longread" worth of materials about the NBA's 3-ball (r)evolution, rather than this book. Some of the reviews below are accurate about the book being over-written, containing superfluous graphics/repeated images, etc. The writing was somewhat labored paragraph-to-paragraph as well.

By way of improvements, I would like to see Goldsberry develop his pro
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