5 ADVANCED STATS
THAT EVEN LEBRON COULD LOVE
After carrying the Cavs to victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James was asked by a reporter
to comment on being the slowest player in the series, with an average playing speed of 3.4 miles per hour. Quoth
That’s the dumbest (expletive) I’ve ever heard. That tracking (expletive) can kiss my (expletive). The slowest guy? Get
out of here. Tell them to track how tired I am after the game, track that (expletive). I’m No. 1 in the NBA on
how tired I am after the game.
James isn’t just the best basketball player alive — he’s also the smartest. And here, as in most cases, he’s absolutely right: average playing speed doesn’t mean [expletive] when you’re talking about a vet in his 15th season who just put 44 points on the board while playing nearly every minute of the game. Was he really the slowest player on the court? Or was James, surrounded by subpar teammates, unleashing the galloping beast within only when necessary, pacing himself in order to ensure that he’d have enough energy for the homestretch?
It’s moments like these that give analytics a bad rap. Nevertheless, advanced stats are here to stay, with teams at every level using ever more sophisticated datasets to get an edge on the competition. Which is why anyone not named LeBron who dismisses the usefulness of analytics usually comes off sounding old and out of touch, if not willfully ignorant. Are eggheads ruining the game? Nope. The action on the court is as thrilling as it’s ever been. Haters gonna hate. Let ‘em.
While the tech is still relatively new, the tactical mindset behind analytics is as old as basketball itself. Since long before automated locational tracking came along, coaches have compiled shot charts by hand, generating actionable insights into where on the court a player shoots most efficiently. And as any college coach can tell you, manually compiling shotcharts is a tedious, time-consuming process. Video- and sensor-based systems capture that data automatically. You don’t have to look at that data, but you’ll probably lose to coaches who do.
SHOTTRACKER, an easy-to-use sensor-based system that delivers 70+ stats, makes advanced analytics accessible to everyone. The real challenge lies in using stats wisely. Here are five ways to go about it.
1 PLUS-MINUS (+/-)
WHAT IT MEANS: Measures a team’s total scoring versus their opponent’s when a player or a specific combination of
players is on the court.
HOW TO USE IT: Plus-minus can help you uncover lineups that you might not have thought to try before. Say your starting point guard and shooting guard are a combined -2. In other words, your team is losing by two when they share the floor. Say that number soars to +12 anytime you spell your shooting guard with your backup point guard. It might be time to shake up your starting five — and if your shooting guard complains about getting demoted, you can back up your decision with hard data.
2 POINTS PER POSSESSION IN TRANSITION VS. POINTS PER POSSESSION IN HALF-COURT
WHAT IT MEANS: Measures offensive or defensive efficiency by dividing the total number of possessions from
the total number of points scored. ShotTracker breaks it down even further, delivering PPP in transition (referring to
possessions that reach completion within 7 seconds of the previous event, be it turnover, missed shot or made shot)
and “in half-court” (possessions that last 8 seconds or longer).
HOW TO USE IT: Controlling the pace is key to winning games. The question is, how fast or slow do you want to go? Is your team more efficient on the open floor or grinding out hoops in the half-court? Having access to these two stats will give you the answers you need. Say your team scores 1.2 PPP in transition, but that figure only accounts for 15% of your total possessions. The rest of your possessions unfold in the half-court, where your PPP dips to 0.8. Forget grit and grind. It’s off to the races.
3 PPP ON PAINT TOUCHES VS. PPP ON BALL REVERSALS
WHAT IT MEANS: ShotTracker breaks down PPP into another two categories: possessions where the ball entered the
paint, and possessions where the ball got reversed from wing to wing. It also provides the number of ball reversals.
HOW TO USE IT: Swinging the ball tends to make a defense scramble, which leads to open looks. But what if your best player is a one-on-one assassin? By drilling down on these two stats, you can see if that player defies common coaching wisdom, generating a higher PPP for your team when he’s left alone to work his magic. Or maybe your under-used big man with exceptional post-up skills boasts the highest PPP on the team — reversing the ball one or two times may not be as efficient as feeding that big man from the get-go.
4 CATCH AND SHOOT VS. OFF THE DRIBBLE
WHAT IT MEANS: Compares two types of shots: one where a player shoots the ball after catching it, the other where a
player shoots it after dribbling (also known as a “pull-up”).
HOW TO USE IT: An uncontested catch-and-shoot is the best type of shot there is. To get catch-and shoots, you need to swing the ball. But let’s say your team isn’t passing enough. They’re taking way more pull-ups than catch-and-shoots. This despite the fact that they’re shooting 45 percent on catch-and-shoot 3’s, and just 25 percent on pull-up 3’s. Everybody wants to score more, right? Share the data. It’s the proof you need get your team to follow the philosophy of “everybody eats.”
5 USAGE RATE
WHAT IT MEANS: Measures the percentage of possessions in which a player either assisted, shot or turned the ball
over. In other words, the percentage of plays in which he or she participated in the end result.
HOW TO USE IT: Cross-compare usage rate with PPP to see if a player is handling the ball too much — or not enough. Say you’ve got a would-be Westbrook on your team with a 38.4 percent usage rate, with a PPP of just 0.9. Your small forward tends to camp out in the corners, waiting for a pass that rarely comes. His usage rate is low at 19 percent, but his PPP on catch-and-shoot corner 3’s is off the charts. In this hypothetical example — as in real life — the analytics show that Westbrook is long overdue for a talk.
Deny the usefulness of these stats as much as you’d like — just know that it sounds like you’re fishing for an excuse to avoid facing facts. Stats don’t lie. They’re here to stay. And if you don’t use them wisely, the other team will. With a sensor-based system like ShotTracker, accessing advanced stats is easier than ever before. Even LeBron is reaping the benefits of analytics, whether he’s willing to admit it or not.