Basketball – It’s A Global Game

As a less-than-knowledgeable basketball fan from England (I started following the Denver Nuggets in the Anthony-Iverson era), I love reading the different articles out there about the game. They help people like me to understand the game, and give me reason to write things like this.

Now, anyone who has a passing interest in the NBA knows about the trend for teams to shoot more from beyond the 3-point line and that open looks for relatively poor shooters (say, about 30% career shooting) are more effective than contested shots from better shooters (say, 35+% career shooting). The most effective team with these new shooting trends is the Golden State Warriors – we all know this. So when I read a game plan for the Cleveland Cavaliers that included greatly improving their defensive rebounds if they were to stand any chance of beating the Warriors in the NBA Finals, it got me thinking.

Taking open shots over contested shots, and rebounding effectively on defence are fundamentals. If we extrapolate this further, it can cover other fundamentals of basketball. Ball movement becomes even more vital, coupled with good quality screens, to ensure that shooters can get open effectively. Defensively, the added defensive rebounds ensure that teams do not get second chance points.

If these are fundamental to playing successful basketball, does that translate from the glitz and glamour of the NBA to the less opulent game played in Britain? Answering the question is slightly difficult because there’s less data freely available; you’re stuck with generic box scores. Also, because it’s a bit heavy on the statistical testing this piece is a little ‘dry’.

After scraping data from 51 men’s basketball fixtures (from the BBL, Britain’s professional basketball league for men) and 51 women’s basketball fixtures (from the WBBL, Britain’s professional basketball league for women), I found the differences in frequency between winning and losing teams for every performance indicator. After that, I used SPSS to calculate the statistical differences between winning and losing for each performance indicator. You can see this plotted below.

N.B. The statistic for turnovers was inverted, so despite the graphic showing that winning teams commit more turnovers, in reality they actually committed fewer turnovers per game.

When that was completed I looked into the effect sizes for each performance indicator, which – when coupled with the information above – leaves us with the following performance indicators as the most important in the WBBL: field goal percentage, percentage of field goals missed, free throws made, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, assists, turnovers and field goals made. This suggests that committing fewer turnovers (remember, the statistic for turnovers was inverted), assisting more scorers – rather than having a player score in isolation, collecting more defensive rebounds – and thus preventing the opposition from scoring from a second chance opportunity, while field goal percentage, free throws made and field goals made suggest that scoring more baskets also increases your chances of winning – although, that is a particularly obvious observation. Something less obvious is that percentage of field goals missed has a greater effect size, and perhaps indicates that shooting less, but taking on more ‘open’ shots, is the best way in which to score in the WBBL.

For the BBL field goals missed, field goal percentage, percentage of field goals missed, opposition field goals made, 3 point percentage, defensive rebounds and assits were found to have moderate to strong effect sizes. Combining the information with the table above shows that in the BBL to be a winning team your field goal percentage and 3 point percentage are most important, as they relate directly to scoring, while you also rely on the opposition missing more field goal attempts which negatively impacts upon their percentage of field goals missed. Again, defensive rebounds are vital – this is because they prevent the opposition gaining consecutive possessions, and therefore prevent them from scoring. Assists are also within the moderate to strong effect size, which as suggested for the WBBL, means that to find an open shot as opposed to taking on shots in isolation is important to winning performance.

These are all things that I touched on before with regards to the NBA. While it’s nowhere near as in depth as the data from SportVU, the concept that what works in the NBA also works in Britain is of vital importance. How many coaches, of any sport, stress the need to master fundamental technique before moving on to more difficult skills? Almost all of them do, from my experience. So, the next time you have a young kid trying to run before they can walk just point out that even at the highest level the difference between winning and losing is the fundamentals.

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