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Pistons sign deal with sports science firm Kitman Labs

Detroit jumps into the tech wearables-, big data-era by signing deal with sports technology startup firm.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons, under the guidance of team president Stan Van Gundy, leaves no stone unturned. So it shouldn't be a surprise that the Pistons are the first NBA franchise to sign a deal with Kitman Labs, a sports technology firm specializing in wearable technology to provide enormous amounts of actionable, real-time data about athletes.

The partnership was announced via a Kitman Labs news release that read, in part:

The Kitman System will enable Pistons' coaches and trainers to receive actionable alerts that can help decrease injury risk and optimize athletic efficiency. With the additional ability to collect third party data like GPS trackers, heart-rate monitors and other wearables, the Pistons will deploy a comprehensive player care strategy that maximizes performance and player health.

"We're collecting a large amount of data, and Kitman Labs gives us a great system to analyze athletic performance for each individual player during practices and athletic training sessions," said Jeff Bower, General Manager for the Detroit Pistons. "We're particularly excited by the system's ability to measure dynamic movement, and then quickly and accurately translate that data into actionable insights we can use to improve upon our ability to monitor player injury risk."

Why is this such a big deal? Because Detroit has made an $80 million investment in Reggie Jackson and will soon make a $120 million investment in Andre Drummond. Preventative measures, primarily through real-time data is viewed as the next major breakthrough in professional sport management.

As Kitman Labs CEO Stephen Smith said in a Wired UK piece in May about why athletes get injured, "The majority of these big superstars think it's down to pure bad luck," says Stephen Smith, CEO of Kitman Labs. "We're here to say that it's not."

The deal is part of a larger trend within the NBA, as detailed in this excellent Grantland piece by Zach Lowe, which detailed the NBA's desire to collect an abundance of information from wearable technology.

The devices can show, for instance, that a player gets more oomph pushing off his left leg than his right — evidence of a possible leg injury. They will show when players can't produce the same level of power, acceleration, and height on cuts and jumps. Those are typical signs of fatigue, but there is near-total consensus among medical experts that fatigued players are more vulnerable to all sorts of injuries — including muscle tears, catastrophic ligament ruptures, and pesky soft-tissue injuries that can nag all season. The Warriors rested Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry last March after data from Catapult devices (used in practices) and SportVU cameras indicated their bodies had reached extreme fatigue levels, as Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported during the Finals.

Injury prevention is the Holy Grail of sports science and analytics. It might be the area in which teams are competing most fiercely for the best people and information. Several teams with respected medical personnel, including the Hawks, Warriors, Pistons, and Bucks, nonetheless overhauled their training staffs over the summer in search of cutting-edge researchers. The Bucks this week became the first NBA team to use Catapult's ClearSky program, which includes a special indoor GPS tracking system. Mavs owner Mark Cuban is a major investor in Catapult, and the Mavs were an early adopter.