Cartographer takes Kobe to school

Admittedly the title for this post would make for a great story, but unfortunately it’s only fantasy for now. Skill and talent may still have a large part to play in basketball, but Kirk Goldsberry thinks there’s more to it and that thinking like a cartographer (i.e. you know, those guys that makes maps) might actually help people understand the game better and improve the way the NBA plays and manages it.

Goldsberry’s quest to map every moment of basketball really stood out for me in WIRED magazine last month. This excerpt from Mark Mclusky’s new book “Faster, Higher, Stronger” (Xmas present anyone?) is about maps and basketball. Two of my favorite things. I can’t help but think where was this research when I was studying Geography in university – I would’ve jumped at the chance to work on it.

Goldsberry’s research is different compared to that of data-analytics-driven baseball (i.e. Moneyball). He saw the constant flow of basketball as just a problem in information flow.

Unlike the static, state-to-state action in baseball, basketball is a constant flow. Players switch from offense to defense, from posting up to double-teaming. If a baseball player is a left fielder, you know the basic area he will patrol on defense. If a basketball player is a forward, he could be anywhere on the court at any time. The game has no states, so statistically you can’t determine the odds of a given outcome.

Basketball hoop

So the whole problem with basketball wasn’t so much percentages and probabilities, but of space… more specfically the spatial distribution of players in where they have their strengths when shooting, playing defense, or driving the lane.

Instead of focusing on the numbers that defined a state in baseball, Goldsberry began to focus on the locations and movement of objects—specifically, the players and the ball. It was a mapping problem… To understand basketball, you also have to understand space. You need a cartographer.

The best thing about this project isn’t so much the geek-factor of collecting stats and visualizing it, but what Goldsberry wanted it to do.

“I wanted to find a way to get this data to sing a new song, to tell us things like where Kobe is good and where Kobe is bad… and to communicate to players, and fans, and the media.”

By charting the location and frequency of every shot in the NBA, Kirk Goldsberry can create a map of the strengths and weaknesses of each player’s offensive game, like the ones below.

Midrange shots aren’t very productive for most players—except Nowitzki, who loves the right baseline.
Even the most prolific three-point shooter of all time has relatively weak areas, like from the left wing.

If this really is going to change the face of basketball like how Moneyball did for baseball, I’m looking out for a future movie. In the meantime, it would be great to see a head-to-head match up with Goldsberry and Kobe!

Stop calling these events ‘natural’ disasters…

In the first week of November 2013, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones every recorded made it’s way through Southeast Asia. Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, left a trail of destruction which galvanized international humanitarian support and media attention. There was a lot of interest in how many people were affected, killed, and how the public can help – and a lot of this awareness was being visualized using infographics (see below screenshot from a Google image search). With all this focus on the death and destruction, I was urgently requested to come up with a visual.


Rather than continuing along the same lines like everyone else, I wanted to highlight the long-term impacts and economic implications from the disaster and a message that our UNISDR team has consisted drilled home: that disasters are not natural, but an interaction between where we live, how we create risks, and how vulnerable we are.

Disasters don’t happen in isolation and have far reaching implications than just the people who died. The bar and line graph was an attempt to show that while deaths from disasters have been decreasing for the Philippines over the last 20 years, the economic costs are increasing impacting the future development of the country. There was also a lot of talk about the height of the storm surge and I wanted to show what a 4m high storm surge looked like in comparison to the average height of a two-story house – interviews with people verified that in some places waves reached the second floor of buildings. With a concept brewing around the graphic, our team was also covering the climate change conference (COP 19) which took place in Poland as the Philippines felt the wrath of Haiyan. When it came time for the Philippines to speak, they also repeated UNISDR’s message – a great quote to tie everything together for the graphic.


More probably could’ve been done with the graphic if there was more time, data, analysis, and research, but overall it’s a unique forward-looking visual to communicate a complex situation – something to inspire people to think more broadly about disasters like Haiyan. Download the graphic here.

ECHO-funded UNISDR Media Trainings on Disaster Risk Reduction: 2010-2011

Conceptualized and designed this infographic to highlight one of UNISDR’s key activities with the media between 2010-2011. Given the global scope of the project, a map was chosen to best represent this scale and breadth of the trainings. A scale is used at the bottom of the graphic to provide more details to compare the organization’s project target audience, it’s work and what the number (i.e. 193) it would like to reach. To download the infographic, visit UNISDR’s Flickr account.

The UN’s disaster risk reduction office (UNISDR) conducted a media training program to educate journalists and media-related government officials about DRR issues. Organized by UNISDR in collaboration with Thompson Reuters, the project was funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate General (ECHO). According to UNISDR, the media have an important role to play in creating awareness and distributing information before, during and after a disaster. By exploring the root causes of disasters and their social dimensions, the media are a key ally for disaster risk reduction (DRR).


In early 2010 I decided to redesign my resume or Curriculum Vitae in somewhat of less traditional way. The idea was to highlight my work around the world in a visual way and make the document standout more given that I was applying for highly competitive jobs in the United Nations and other international organizations. The document is only two pages. The first page is designed with a map to highlight my experiences around the world and also to show that when I say I know how to “map” things, I know what I’m talking about. The second page is the designed in the traditional format of chronological listening of work experiences and education. The document is designed in landscape.

NGO Small Grants Funding

The Early Recovery Project for the United Nations Development Programme needed to report on the progress of the Project to their donors. This map was part of the report to highlight the number of projects in Timor-Leste funded under the NGO Small Grants Fund. This includes the total funding for the projects, as well as the locations of these small grant projects to help the development and rebuilding of communities around the country.

IDP Households and Projects Map

As part of an Early Recovery project with the United Nations Development Programme in Timor-Leste, one of the objectives of the project was to help communities that were displaced during the political crisis resettle back into their communities. UNDP and IOM were working on community infrastructure projects to help with reintegration of communities. The map was produced based on information submitted by both organizations and the number of internally displaced people (IDP) compiled by IOM. The provided an overview of the situation for planning purposes for current and potential early recovery projects.


In cooperation with the Government of Timor-Leste, I co-chaired the countrys Geographic Information Group (GIG) between 2008-2010. The GIG was used as a forum for all government bodies and international organizations using spatial information and data for development projects to come together to share information, challenges, and experiences. One of the key activities the GIG accomplished in 2009 was to organize a one-week event to celebrate GIS Day and to showcase the importance of spatial information and mapping in development and planning projects. The flyer was designed and distributed throughout the capital city to inform and encourage people to attend the event.

Houses at Risk from Flooding

This map was created to provide an overall analysis of the flood vulnerability of areas in Timor-Leste, as part of an assessment prior to the rainy season in the country. The map was developed to support the humanitarian response as well as to help develop contingency plans by the United Nations and emergency preparedness measures to support the Government of Timor-Leste. The spatial and statistical data used was from national statistics and the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).

Non Formal Education in Oecusse

In preparation for a planning meeting with one of the poorest districts in Timor-Leste, this compilation was created to highlight the education issues in the district. The statistics were drawn from a database the Ministry of Education was maintaining. One of the areas that the government wanted to look into was non-formal education since the education sector required both formal and non-formal education opportunities, particularly in this isolated district.

Natural Hazard Risks in Asia-Pacific

Developed an A1-size poster for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to highlight the offices work, as well as to showcase the hazard and risk mapping the organization was involved in. It was made as an educational piece to support the offices work on emergency preparedness and hazard risk in the Asia and Pacific region.