Basketball On Paper

Table of Contents

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  • Dedication

  • Acknowledgements

  • List of Abbreviations (for statistics)

  • Chapter 1: How to Read This Book

    Whether you’re a coach, a fan, a general manager, a player, a parent of a player, a scientist, a fantasy basketball player, or a football player, this chapter tells you what you can look for in this book.
    Quote: "...A winning team is the goal of all the methods herein..."

  • Chapter 2: Watching a Game, Offensive Scoresheets

    Replay a forgotten classic basketball game on paper. See how the ebb and flow of a game illustrates the basic concept of possessions… and what it means for the quality of a team.
    Quote: "Both teams have the same 48 minutes, but they will also have the same number of possessions."

  • Chapter 3: The Best Offenses and Defenses – And Some of the Worst, Too

    Using points per possession, what are the best offenses and defenses in NBA history and what can we learn from them?
    Quote: "The list of top defensive teams can be considered a list of Who's Who in Coaching."

  • Chapter 4: Reserve Your Playoff Tickets Now! We Won Three in a Row!

    If your team has just won three in a row, what does it actually mean for your ultimate winning percentage? Is it more important if you’re in a short high school or college season than in the NBA?
    Quote: "[There is] a 68% chance that a 0.250 team is going to win 3 in a row. That's a pretty high percentage, again proving that the 3-game Warrior win streak that the San Francisco Chronicle is crowing about is not something for me to get excited about."

  • Chapter 5: Teamwork

    The first of three chapters highlighting how teammates cooperate for the purpose of emphasizing their strengths. Can simple statistical tools – like TENDEX – capture this?
    Quote: "Whether it is a standard post-up set or a perimeter passing game, the interaction between teammates to increase the odds of their team's scoring is a fundamental and constant aspect of basketball."

  • Chapter 6: Rebounding Myths and Roles

    Is it easier to rebound a 3 point shot than a 2-point shot? How valuable is rebounding relative to other areas in terms of winning games?
    Quote: "Offensive rebounds really are no harder on 2-point shots than on 3-point shots. Strike that one down as a myth."

  • Chapter 7: The Significance of Derrick Coleman’s Insignificance

    Derrick Coleman’s presence on the Charlotte Hornets of the late 1990’s was detrimental to the team to the point that Sports Illustrated picked up on it. Studying why he was so detrimental uses a tool that can be used to show how other players influence their teams.
    Quote: "In every season, the Hornets' offense and defense both improved when Coleman was out, but only the defense was statistically significant over the long haul and in any individual season."

  • Chapter 8: Amos Tversky’s Basketball Legacy

    Amos Tversky was a psychologist who showed that players don’t have hot and cold shooting nights. But was he right?
    Quote: "If there are teams out there that can identify hot hands before they are 'statistically significant', those teams can gain a big advantage competitively."

  • Chapter 9: The Power of Parity

    Sports economics suggests that balance among teams is an admirable goal of a league like the NBA or the WNBA. So how balanced are they? How much turnover is there at the top? Why does it matter?
    Quote: "It is easier for bad teams to climb to 0.500 than it is for the league to bring a good team down to 0.500."

  • Chapter 10: Teamwork 2: A Game of Ultimatums

    The second of the teamwork chapters, highlighting how teammates both cooperate and compete against each other. Finding that balance between competing and cooperating is critical.
    Quote: "Allowing your star player to score 70% of your points may seem like an optimal theory because he is so much better than his teammates, but does it start infringing upon the fairness that the teammates need to feel is there?"

  • Chapter 11: Basketball’s Bell Curve

    A bell curve is a statistical tool that predicts how teams do, suggests game strategy, and even indicates how to teach kids to compete and to learn.
    Quote: "On the other hand, teams that are composed of a lot of young players really should look 'inconsistent' on paper...They should worry more about taking the right shot or making the right pass - not whether the shot goes in."

  • Chapter 12: The Effect of Bad Referees and Other Short Stories

    Based on statistics of how people behave, you can see the importance of bad referees, you can understand why it doesn’t make sense to crush an opponent, and perhaps see that defense is where effort is put in.
    Quote: "The 2002 New York Knicks, which had a winning percentage of about 35%, could thank the refs for three or four of their wins, something I doubt New York fans would ever do."

  • Chapter 13: Teamwork 3: Distributing Credit Among Cooperating Players

    Should the passer or the shooter get more credit for a made shot? Answering that question leads to a philosophy of optimally assigning credit among cooperating teammates.
    Quote: "Players shouldn't look for their own points, they should look to maximize team points...If a player has better shooting teammates around him, it makes more sense to get them the ball. Hence, an assist on a good shooting team tends to be more valuable than one on a poor shooting team."

  • Chapter 14: Individual Floor Percentages and Offensive Ratings

    An individual’s floor percentage is the fraction of his/her possession on which he/she contributes to a score. An individual’s offensive rating is the number of points produced per 100 possessions used. This chapter shows several examples for the NBA and the WNBA.
    Quote: "Big men have to do it all and they used to be able to do so. Now, big men are specialists - specialists at rebounding or blocking shots or, these days, fouling Shaq...In 1982, there were 9 guys who created 15 points per game and the top 6 were at least as efficient as Shaq or Duncan."

  • Chapter 15: The Holy Grail of Player Ratings

    Don’t get your hopes up for the ultimate player rating. It really does not exist. But people try and there is value to that.
    Quote: "Depending on how much of performance is talent, the player rating could be valuable or it could be meaningless. If performance is only 10% talent, then taking that talent away from its coaches, its scouts, its system, its mistress, or even paying it differently could entirely change the performance."

  • Chapter 16: Insight on a Boxscore

    Can you just look at a boxscore and get a solid understanding of what happened? These are the quick inferences.
    Quote: "The boxscore summarizes one game, the unit of basketball time that is most important to coaches and players. A team can play great through three quarters then collapse in the fourth to lose. Those first three quarters don't matter. Just the big L that goes on a coach's record and into a player's reputation. Because the boxscore gives a picture of one game, it provides a valuable means of evaluating players and teams over an appropriate time span."

  • Chapter 17: Individual Defensive Ratings

    Defense is the most difficult asset to measure in a player. Here is what we can do, what we’re building, and the problems that will continue into the future.
    Quote: "If positional matchups are important, it is coaches that are critical in making decisions about those matchups. A good example is Dumars. Dumars' defensive rating was bad as a rookie then got better, which is what you'd hope. Then around 1993, Detroit's first year without Coach Chuck Daly, his defensive rating got really bad. I doubt that Daly's replacements, Ron Rothstein and Don Chaney, used Dumars at power forward or something crazy like that, but Dumars' defense became much less effective when they were around."

  • Chapter 18: Should I Firebomb Billy Donovan’s House?

    Billy Donovan is just one of many coaches beleaguered by expectations. This chapter measures the quality of coaching by comparison with expectations.
    Quote: "The way that people evaluate a coach's ability to coax success out of players is to compare actual success to Expectation...Donovan isn't a net positive coach...His teams are blowing out a lot of bad teams, then losing the close ones."

  • Chapter 19: The Problem With Scorers

    Jerry Stackhouse can’t get a shot to go in, but he can almost always get his shot off. Steve Kerr could only get a shot off through a pass, but he could often get it in. Blending these abilities together – that’s chemistry. This chapter actually presents tools for how to optimize it.
    Quote: "Coaches want more even distribution of the ball, but should they? With stars using such a high percentage of a team's possessions, they allow other players to use fewer possessions, raising their offensive ratings."

  • Chapter 20: Individual Win-Loss Records

    How do players take their offense and their defense to create wins and losses? There are a couple basic answers that are very illustrative.
    Quote: "David Robinson always took the smart shot, but maybe not the big shot. If he'd created more, his offensive rating would have come down, but the team would have won more."

  • Chapter 21: Player Evaluation Files: The Great Ones

    A look at the careers of some of the NBA’s best players in history. How many wins and losses did they create?
    Quote: "[Bill Russell] made the entire team defense 5-6 points better than average, [which] is an impact on the order of Jordan's during his prime."

  • Chapter 22: Player Evaluation Files: Freaks, Specialists, and Women

    A look at the careers of some of the other players. How much do shooting specialists or defensive specialists contribute to the success of a team? How good were some of the really tall and really short players? How good are the best women in the world?
    Quote: "Dennis Rodman was effectively the anti-Reggie Miller, doing things that Reggie did not do and not doing things that Reggie did. In that capacity, he added 8.3 wins and 2.0 losses per 82 games. As a purely subjective judgment, it doesn't seem bad that these two opposite style extreme players end up with similar individual win-loss records."

  • Chapter 23: Basic Tools to Evaluate a Team

    Taking everything in the book, how would you evaluate a team’s performance? Using the 2002 Toronto Raptors as an example.
    Quote: "Right now, Lenny Wilkens is expected to be let go in Toronto. Expectations for team success were set a couple years ago and his teams haven't lived up to them, even though the team decline in 2003 was predictable."

  • Chapter 24: Weather Forecasts

    This book is not about making predictions of the future – it’s about lessons you can use to change the future. This chapter summarizes those lessons.
    Quote: "Predicting the future often means understanding things well enough to be able to change the future. That's what a coach or a scout is supposed to do...I hope I've provided some concepts to aid in making forecasts and, more importantly, making a difference."

  • Appendix 1: Calculation of Individual Offensive Ratings and Floor %

  • Appendix 2: Individual Floor %’s and Offensive Ratings for History’s Great Offenses

  • Appendix 3: Individual Defensive Formulas

  • Appendix 4: Team Statistic Historical Regression

  • Glossary

  • Other References

  • Index