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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  372 ratings  ·  59 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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4.06  · 
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 ·  372 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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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
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
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 helpe
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
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
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.
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.
Kyle Dinges
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sport, nonfiction
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
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: sports, non-fiction
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
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
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
Phil Simon
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports
By way of background, I have watched the league change radically from the 80s. Capturing these changes through the lens of transformational players, Kirk Goldsberry details this evolution in a way that only he can.

His heatmaps and Aaron Dana's wonderful illustrations provide compelling visuals to a fascinating story: the metamorphosis of the league. As Goldsberry points out, though, this story isn't necessarily a positive one. I for one have decried the state of the league since the Warriors' 7
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Seems a little padded out and repetitive in parts to be book length--felt like I read the same anecdotes and specific stats about certain players in multiple chapters. Plus, not really sure what Ryan Anderson did to Goldsberry but boy does he get a lot of mileage out of using Anderson as example #1 with what's wrong with 3-point heavy basketball now. Goldsberry gets revenge on Charles Barkley complaining about analytics by making a lot of fat jokes about Barkley--not exactly original.

But where t
Joe Hutchinson
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I loved this book for about the first 100 pages. Thoughtful, insightful, and fun. I was so hyped to read Sprawlball, and it was paying off. I was excited about basketball analytics, and I still am. I’m about to go read some MIT Sloan papers. I’m also excited to know what the shooting trends are this season, and whether our MVPs will look more like Giannis in the future even with mad men like Harden and Curry cooking from behind the arc.

It seems that there was a lack of attention to detail throug
Daniel Hinze
Jul 08, 2019 rated it liked it
If you're new to Goldsberry, this book is a distillation of a lot of his writing/talking points over the past 5+ years. The shot charts are illuminating, and the core chapters on Curry, Harden, LeBron, and Kevin Love do a great job illustrating the changing aesthetic of the game and how positions are continuing to evolve in an increasingly 3-pointer-first league.

That being said, the writing is really repetitive. Certain ideas and evidence get restated to redundancy, and in many ways this felt mo
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've started reading a basketball book during the NBA playoffs, this was a great one for that.

In addition to being a great read for sports nerds, number nerds, and sports & numbers nerds, this is a really great text for making rhetorical arguments. It essentially boils down to using practical data to create a principle argument.

My favorite part was the chapter of suggestions on how to change the NBA rules to once again raise the value of Bigs in basketball. That and when he broke down how Go
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent book. Goldsberry's shot charts revolutionized the understanding of space in the NBA, and even if you're familiar with it, it's still educational in this book. It's also written with humor. What took me by minor surprise is that the thesis of the book is that analytics optimizing the current NBA rules (with a huge emphasis on the statistically preferable 3-pointer) has led to an aesthetically worse game. I actually agree with his argument. The only negative of the book is that the argum ...more
Jason Zimmerman
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
basketball is a spatial game. who better than a cartographer to elucidate the parameters of the hypermodern nba? i’ve been a fan of goldsberry for years, and this book is a wonderful long treatment of his writing and graphical work on grantland and more recently as a freelancer.

the stunning, insightful graphics are as good as you’d expect, and when married to the textual explanation, this book is darn near perfect.

if you’re a basketball obsessive like me, or just want to understand what game y
Ed Hsu
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Excellent points with lots of great visualization diagrams and supporting data. However the lengthy examination is hammered home so much that it almost ends up being a one-note complaint about how the three-point shot has ruined classic basketball.

While the changes in the game and the roles of the players can't really be refuted, it elides the fact that no team really has found long-term success in it except for the Golden State Warriors, who have the best shooter of all-time, backed with anothe
Jon Zuckerman
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
First of all, the illustrations are BEAUTIFUL and I would gladly buy prints of the vast majority of them. The classic Goldsberry shot charts are also amazing and I wish there were even more of them in here, maybe behind the appendix? The writing was just OK for me, I felt some serious deja vu several times with a lot of repeated paragraphs. I think this might have worked better as a series of articles on 538 or the Ringer but I'm still glad I have the hardcover bc it looks really nice. I've been ...more
Evan Dragic
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, but it was hyper-repetitive. The highs (interesting suggestions about addressing the death of the big man) were outweighed by the number of times I was reading the same shot over again.

I like the articles I’ve read by Kirk, but this felt like not enough material stretched out into book format.

The kindle edition also had numerous distracting typos and editing mistakes.
Luke Fuller
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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