On September 23 and 24, 2017, students from all around the country will be gathering in New York City to take part in the second annual NBA Hackathon. Teams consisting of undergraduates, graduate students, and recent alumni will be working for 24 hours to build basketball and business analytic tools to help the NBA. Why are we writing about this on Streaking the Lawn, a Virginia Cavaliers community? Because 2014 basketball alumnus Akil Mitchell is working behind the scenes to make it happen.
After graduating from Virginia in 2014, Mitchell played for the Houston Rockets in the Summer League and signed with the Rockets in the fall, before being waived and being acquired by the Rockets’ NBA Development League affiliate. He bounced around between NBA Summer League and international teams; last season, he played for the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian league.
The NBA offers a “job shadow” program for the professional development of current players. Having gone through two major injuries this season, Mitchell took advantage of the program, where he met NBA Director of Basketball Analytics Jason Rosenfeld. Through his connection with Rosenfeld, Mitchell now interns for the NBA.
In this role, one of the major projects he’s been working on is the NBA Hackathon, a 24-hour affair where student statisticians, developers, and engineers will develop a solution focusing on either basketball analytics or business analytics. The teams will present to a panel of judges, and the top three teams in each group will be awarded prizes, including a grand prize of lunch with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and a trip to the 2018 NBA All-Star in Los Angeles.
“The hackathon is an opportunity for current college students to compete to create statistical models that are aimed at improving either the business or the basketball side of the game,” Mitchell told us.
Last year’s projects included models to evaluate the effectiveness of timeouts, shot prediction models, and defensive versatility metrics.
“I'm trying to help spread the word because I know my Hoo fans are the smartest basketball fans in the country,” Mitchell said. “I'd love to see my folks win bragging rights and a trip to the All-Star Game!”
Teams have until August 27, 2017 to apply on the NBA website. If you’re a group of UVA students competing in the event, be sure to let us know!
(Eds. note: an earlier version of this article inaccurately suggested that Mitchell is a full time employee of the NBA. Mitchell is still an intern.)