How artificial intelligence is making better basketball shooters, with just your iPhone

Joe Harris No. 12 of the Brooklyn Nets shoots against Fred VanVleet No. 23 of the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center on April 3, 2019 in Brooklyn, New York.
Matteo Marchi | Getty Images
Key Points
  • Using computer vision and artificial intelligence, HomeCourt is an app that can improve basketball shooting.
  • The uses of the technology are widespread, including driverless cars.
  • The company has financial backing from many leaders in the basketball industry.
How this app uses AI to make better basketball shooters
How this app uses AI to make better basketball shooters

HomeCourt is game-changing technology that's turning amateur basketball players into sharp shooters. It's an app that launched just last year using high-tech computer vision and machine learning to improve a player's shooting skills.

"Today if you run, you're using your Apple Watch or Nike Run app, but for basketball that didn't exist," said Alex Wu, part of Nex Team and one of HomeCourt's creators. "The first problem we wanted to solve is how do we help people easily track their shots without having to do a lot of that manual work."

HomeCourt works because everything can be done on an iPhone. There are no sensors or high-tech equipment needed. The app figures out who the person is, where the basket is, where the three-point line is, if the ball is a make or a miss, and many shooting stats. HomeCourt can track made and missed shots along with advanced stats like launch angle, reaction time, vertical jump and leg angle. These are performance stats that the naked eye can't see but are important to improving one's shooting skills.

The app itself is free to download and offers tracking of up to 1,000 shots per month for free. After that, it offers a subscription model at various price points.

More than a dozen college and professional programs are using HomeCourt, including Duke, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. However, Wu says the target audience is amateurs who don't have the resources and support staff that college and pro teams have. "We were thinking, how do we bring that same type of technology that's available at a professional level to everybody and make it more accessible and affordable."

While HomeCourt, which launched last year, won't reveal how many users it has, the company says it tracks an average of about 2 million shots per month. To date that's 14 million total shots.

Baller analytics

I went to check out HomeCourt, and how it could help my game. I tried it out with Joe Harris of the Brooklyn Nets. Harris won this year's three-point shootout, and led the NBA in three-point field goal percentage. He's a big supporter of HomeCourt and plans to use the app at the youth basketball camp he runs each summer.

"We're in the age of analytics and technology. Anytime you can put that to use just to help you improve, get better, I'm all for it," said Harris.

Going against the reigning three-point champion was no joke.

The app clearly pointed out that my launch angle was bigger than his, or to say it differently, I had too much arc in my shot relative to Harris. My reaction time was much slower as well, as Harris could get shots up in half my time. It never occurred to me that my shots were so much slower until I saw the numerical stats in the app.

Another thing the app could point out was the path of my shots. The arcs are drawn one on top of the other. In my case, the arcs are all over the place, suggesting a lack of consistency. No surprise that Harris, the best shooter in the NBA, had a consistent arc that was exactly the same for each shot.

By the way, Harris made 80 percent of his shots while I made 20 percent. The app had no problem counting those, as it can figure out if the ball goes in the basket.

"Instead of counting your own made shots and or having a coach count your makes, this is real specific, especially the advanced metrics," said Harris. He specifically mentioned the release angle as a metric that he considered important. "This is something I really wish I would have had growing up."

HomeCourt has financial backing from retired NBA legend Steve Nash, current NBA player Jeremy Lin, former NBA executive Sam Hinkie and current team owner Mark Cuban. Nash and David Lee, co-founder and CEO of Nex Team, explained the technology behind HomeCourt at Apple's keynote event in September.

The applications for this technology are widespread and extend well beyond sports. Computer vision is broad technology that can be used in many fields. "I think one of the most prevalent use cases is self-driving car technology, being able to use computer vision to sense different things as well" said Wu.

— CNBC's Jessica Golden contributed reporting.