Monday, August 25, 2014

Basketball Efficiency, or How Do You Measure Knowing How to Win?

Suppose you and I are playing a game. We each get ten chances to achieve the object of the game. If you succeed seven times compared to my five, your higher rate of proficiency means that you win.

Given that basketball is a game of alternating possessions (except, of course, for “make-it-take-it” on the schoolyard or driveway)…

And applying the same logic we’d presumed in our hypothetical little competition…

Then the team that converts its scoring opportunities at a higher rate of efficiency should win a basketball game, right?

Not only is this conclusion syllogistically valid – there’s a good bit of data that offers confirmation.

Nevertheless, there are occasions where a team that plays less efficiently manages to score more points than the other guys. Consider this recent example:

Team “A” converted 48.7% of its possessions (37) in scoring a moderate 67 points at home. Team “B” tallied 33 conversions (45.2%) but 71 points and a victory.

Such an illogical outcome (in which a team “plays better” but loses) is invariably explained by missed free throws (too many) and/or made three-pointers (too few). Team “A” misfired on seven of 15 foul shots, essentially squandering three “successful” possessions. Team “B” was near perfect on free throws and added six treys, essentially adding three “successful” possessions. Now the adjusted conversion count is 36-34 in favor of Team “B” – a four-point victory. Hmmm.

[This game actually happened, fittingly enough in a New England casino, earlier this month.]

For fun, I thought I’d rank the league by fewest missed FT’s this season:

San Antonio – 97 (FTA, No. 11; FT%, No. 1)
Los Angeles – 116 (FTA, No. 10; FT%, No. 4*)
Washington – 116 (FTA, No. 9; FT%, No. 4*)
Seattle – 119 (FTA, No. 12; FT%, No. 7)
Chicago – 123 (FTA, No. 5; FT%, No. 3)
Phoenix – 129 (FTA, No. 4; FT%, No. 2)
Minnesota – 131 (FTA, No. 6; FT%, No. 6)
Connecticut – 156 (FTA, No. 8; FT%, No. 11)
New York – 156 (FTA, No. 7; FT%, No. 10)
Indiana – 173 (FTA, No. 2; FT%, No. 9)
Tulsa – 174 (FTA, No. 1; FT%, No. 8)
Atlanta – 186 (FTA, No. 3; FT%, No. 12)

Now, the other pertinent statistic in these anomaly games is successful three-point field goals. Let’s try a ranking by these raw numbers:

San Antonio – 226 (3FG%, No. 1; Opp. 3FG%, No. 6*)
Seattle – 201 (3FG%, No. 5; Opp. 3FG%, No. 8)
Tulsa – 183 (3FG%, No. 10*; Opp. 3FG%, No. 12)
Phoenix – 178 (3FG%, No. 2; Opp. 3FG%, No. 1)
Washington – 178 (3FG%, No. 8; Opp. 3FG%, No. 5)
Indiana – 175 (3FG%, No. 3; Opp. 3FG%, No. 2)
Atlanta – 153 (3FG%, No. 12; Opp. 3FG%, No. 11)
Connecticut – 151 (3FG%, No. 7; Opp. 3FG%, No. 6*)
Minnesota –128 (3FG%, No. 4; Opp. 3FG%, No. 9)
Chicago – 119 (3FG%, No. 6; Opp. 3FG%, No. 3*)
New York – 103 (3FG%, No. 10*; Opp. 3FG%, No. 10)
Los Angeles – 89 (3FG%, No. 9; Opp. 3FG%, No. 3*)

Clearly, San Antonio enhances its adjusted efficiency most significantly – the equivalent of 67 possessions, essentially two per game. New York’s misfiring most negatively impacts performance, 23 possessions worth.

Here’s one last ranking (if you can stand it), for the number of conversions gained or lost when adjusting efficiency as we’re discussing here.

San Antonio – 67 to the good (2013, No. 3)
Seattle – 43 to the good (2013, No. 1)
Washington – 34 to the good (2013, No. 7)
Phoenix – 28 to the good (2013, No. 5*)
Tulsa – 8 to the good (2013, No. 2)
Indiana – 5 to the good (2013, No. 4)
Minnesota – 2 to the good (2013, No. 8)
Chicago – 1 to the good (2013, No. 5*)
Connecticut – 1 to the good (2013, No.9)
Los Angeles – 11 to the bad (2013, No. 11)
Atlanta – 12 to the bad (2013, No.12)
New York – 23 to the bad (2013, No. 10)

While I can’t quite get my head wrapped around it, I think there’s something in all this mess of numbers that shows why Brian Agler’s team, with or without star-power, is always in the mix some kind of way. If Magic really wants a contending team, there’s the guy to whom to hand the “keys to the jeep.”