Basketball – A Game of Geometry

In a previous post, I described the most optimal offensive strategy for the Knicks based on developing relevant joint probability density functions.

In this post, I attempt a solution to the following problem:

Given 5 players on the court, how can one determine (x,y) coordinates for each player such that the spacing / distance between each player is maximized. Thus, mathematically providing a solution in which the arrangement of these 5 players is optimal from an offensive strategy standpoint. The idea is that such an arrangement of these 5 players will always stretch the defense to the maximum.

The problem is then stated as follows. Let (x_i, y_i) be the x and y coordinates of player i on the court. We wish to solve:


Problems of this type are known as multi-objective optimization problems, and in general are quite difficult to solve. Note that in setting up the coordinate system for this problem, we have for convenience placed the basket at (x,y) = (0,0), i.e., at the origin.

Now, for solving this problem we used the Non-dominated Sorting Genetic Algorithm-II (NSGA-II) in the MCO package in R.

In general, what I found were that there are many possible solutions to this problem, all of which are Pareto optimal. Here are some of these results.





Here are some more plots of of player coordinates clearly showing the origin point (which as mentioned earlier, is the location of the basket):

Each plot above shows the x-y coordinates of players on the floor such that the distance between them is a maximum. Thus, these are some possible configurations of 5 players on the floor where the defense of the opposing team would be stretched to a maximum. What is even more interesting is that in each solution displayed above, and indeed, each numerical solution we found that is not displayed here, there is at least one triangle formation. It can therefore be said that the triangle offense is amongst the most optimal offensive strategies that produces maximum spacing of offensive players while simultaneously stretching the defense to a maximum as well. Here is more on the unpredictability of the triangle offense and its structure. 

Based on these coordinates, we obtained the following distance matrices showing the maximum / optimal possible distance between player i and player j:


Above, we show 5 possible distance matrices out of the several generated for brevity. So, one can see that looking at the fifth matrix for example, players are at a maximum and optimal distance from each other if for example the distance between player 1 and 2 is 9.96 feet, while the distance between player 3 and 4 is 18.703 feet, while the distance between player 4 and 5 is 4.96 feet, and so on.

The Mathematics of The Triangle Offense, Continued…

In a previous post, I showed how given random positions of 5 players on the court that they could “fill” the triangle. The main geometric constraint is that 5 players can form 3 triangles on the court, and that due to spacing requirements, these triangles are “optimal” if they are equilateral triangles.

Given that we now know how to fill the triangle, the question that this post tries to address is that how can players actually move within the triangle. The key is symmetry. Players must all move in a way such that the equilateral triangles remain invariant. Equilateral triangles have associated with them the D_{3} dihedral symmetry group. They are therefore invariant with respect to 120 degree rotations, 240 degree rotations, 0 degree rotations, and three reflections.

There are therefore six generators of this group:
\left( \begin{array}{cc} 1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 \\ \end{array} \right), \left( \begin{array}{cc} -\frac{1}{2} & -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right),\left( \begin{array}{cc} -\frac{1}{2} & \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right), \left( \begin{array}{cc} \frac{1}{2} & \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ \frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right),\left( \begin{array}{cc} -1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 \\ \end{array} \right),\left( \begin{array}{cc} \frac{1}{2} & -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} \\ -\frac{\sqrt{3}}{2} & -\frac{1}{2} \\ \end{array} \right).

In fact, the Cayley graph for this group is as follows:


For now, I will discuss how players can move within the action of 120 degree rotations. As in the previous posting, let the (x,y)-coordinates of player i be represented by (x^{i}, y^{i}), where i = 1,2,3,4,5. Then, under a 120 degree rotation, the player’s coordinates get shifted according to:

\boxed{x^{i}_{t+1} = \frac{1}{2} \left(-x^{i}_{t} - \sqrt{3}y^{i}_{t}\right), \quad y^{i}_{t+1} = \frac{1}{2}\left(\sqrt{3}x^{i}_{t} - y^{i}_{t}\right)}

This is a discrete dynamical system. In fact, it can be solved explicitly. Let x^i_{0}, y^{i}_{0} represent the initial coordinates of player i. Then, one solves the above discrete system to obtain:

\boxed{x^i_t =\frac{1}{2} e^{\frac{1}{3} (-2) i \pi t} \left[\left(1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) x^i_0+i \left(-1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) y^i_0\right], \quad y^{i}_{t} =\frac{1}{2} e^{\frac{1}{3} (-2) i \pi t} \left[\left(1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) y^i_0-i \left(-1+e^{\frac{4 i \pi t}{3}}\right) x^i_0\right]}

Now, we can simulate this to see actually how players move within the triangle offense, forming equilateral triangles in every sequence:


This is running in continuous time, that is, endlessly. In future postings, I will update this to include the other symmetries of the dihedral D_{3} group. However, the challenge is that this symmetry group is non-Abelian, so it will be interesting to implement pairs of consecutive symmetry operations in a simulation that would still result in invariant equilateral triangles.

Hopefully, this post also shows why teams cannot really run “parts” of the triangle, as one player’s movement necessarily effects everyone else’s. This is something that Charley Rosen also mentioned in an article of his own.  

The Possible Initial States of The Universe

Most people when talking about cosmology typically talk about the universe in one context, that is, as a particular solution to the Einstein field equations. Part of my research in mathematical cosmology is to try to determine whether the present-day universe which we observe to be very close to spatially flat and homogeneous, and very close to isotropic could have emerged from a more general geometric state.

What is often not discussed adequately is the fact that not only has our universe emerged from special initial conditions, but the fact that these special initial conditions also must include the geometry of the early universe, and the type of matter in the early universe. Below, I have attached a simulation that shows how the early universe can evolve to different possible states depending on the type of physical matter parametrized by an equation of state parameter \gamma . In particular, some examples are:

  • \gamma = 0: Vacuum energy
  • \gamma = 4/3: Radiation
  • \gamma = 2: Stiff Fluid

Note: Click the image below to access the simulation!

In these simulations, we present phase plots of solutions to the Einstein field equations for spatially homogeneous and isotropic flat, hyperbolic, and closed universe geometries. The different points are:

  1. dS: de Sitter universe – Inflationary epoch
  2. M: Milne universe
  3. F: spatially flat FLRW universe – our present-day universe
  4. E: Einstein static universe

Note how by changing the value of \gamma , the dynamics lead to different possible future states. Dynamical systems people will recognize the problem at hand requires one to determine for which values of \gamma is F a saddle or stable node.

Attempts at a General Einstein Equation for an Arbitrary FLRW Cosmology

I tried to derive a general Einstein field equation for an arbitrary FLRW cosmology. That is, one that can handle any of the possible spatial curvatures: hyperbolic, spherical, or flat. Deriving the equation was easy, solving it was not! It ends up being a nonlinear, second-order ODE, with singularities at a=0, which turns out to be the Big Bang singularity, which obviously is of physical significance. Anyways, here’s a log of my notebook, showing the attempts. More to follow!