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The Dream of Better Stats

Ty Corbin: How can I put out my best lineup if I don't have the right data to tell who the best guys are?
Ty Corbin: How can I put out my best lineup if I don't have the right data to tell who the best guys are?

Edit: I attached a poll to se what stats you would be most interested in seeing tracked. I also thought many of these needed a shorter catchphrase. So I came up with some. Some don't have one yet, and I'm open to ideas.

Edit 2: The Poll is super long, so it's at the end of the post and not viewable on the main page. That's okay. You have to read the entire post for the poll to make sense anyway.

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I've been doing a lot of research about points per possession vs. points per shot. I'm still mulling through results and what I think they mean ... that will be a later post.

As I've been doing this, however, I'm amazed at how little official stats tell us about what happens on offense and defense. Advanced stats help, but they're still all based on the officially tallied ones: minutes, FGA, FG made, FTA, FT made, 3PA, 3P made, assists, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, turnovers, fouls, steals, and blocks.

That's it. That's all we have to work with.

I remember reading old, ornery, curmudgeon Charley Rosen when he wrote almost daily at Fox Sports. He complained that fans were stupid (a common Rosen theme) and that they missed 90% of what happens because they only watch the ball. And despite his ornery attitude, I realized that he may be right. I decided to watch the off-ball stuff more, and I was amazed at what I had missed.

Well, if you notice all those stats above focus primarily on the interactions players have with the ball.

So if 90% of basketball happens away from the ball, then 90% of what happens has no data. Nothing.

And so it's really hard to figure out all the contributions players are making to teams. We can try, and things like adjusted +/- are starting to get there. But even that can tell you only so much. They tell you that a team generally plays worse or better with so-and-so on the court ... but why?

And that why matters, because a perfect basketball team has players that are both highly skilled and perfectly complement each other. You can't find the right complements unless you understand 100% of what a player contributes to an offense or defense.

And so I'm bringing up several stats I wish were kept. Things that I think would help us understand so much more about how players are contributing (or not) to the team.

The stats are after the jump:


Redefine the Assist (Deron Line ... in memory of his great passes leading to missed Harpring Layups)

Include both passes that directly lead to scoring opportunities and then those that result in points (made FG's or trips to the line). So a line would have two numbers, like this:


Twenty six scoring opportunities created by the guy's passing—fourteen of which led to scores. My hunch is the best assisters would have a higher percentage of scores vs. scoring opportunities, i.e. the passes lead to a higher frequency of open, easy shots.

Screens Set, Screens Hit, & Screens Nailed (Stockton Line)

This would look a lot like FG-FGA. Screens set would simply state the number of times a player sets a screen. Screens hit would be the number of set screens that successfully free up a player. Screens nailed would be the nimber of set screens that actually make physical contact with the intended defender. A Screens line would look like this:

35-14-5 (35 screens set, 14 hit, 5 nailed)

I wish I knew if that line was good, bad, or mediocre.

Screens Run, Screen Plays, Screens Rubbed (Korver Line)

This focuses on the opposite player in the screen—the guy the screen is supposed to free. Screens run states the number of screens a guy runs through. Screen play would identify individual plays run. For example, if Ray Allen goes from one side to the other through three screens, that's 3 screens run but only 1 screen play. Screens rubbed indicates the number of times the defender was successfully run into the screen and thus stopped. Tony Parker's line would for a game probably look like this:


Screen Assist (an AK ... not to be confused with an Kirilenko line, defined below)

Kind of like a regular assist. If a player scores right off a screen, that's a screen assist. The most obvious example is Kyle Korver scoring off a curl. Deron gets the assist for passing it to KK. AK gets the screen assist. And like the assist, it should include both both scoring opportunities created and then screens that led to scores.

Scramble Pass

Kevin Arnovitz mentioned rewatching a play when the Spurs were destroying the Clippers in the 2nd round. The Spurs had hit a wide open three, and Arnovitz wanted to see who missed the rotation. When he rewatched the play, he realized that the Spurs had penetrated and passed to the point that every single Clipper was out of position defensively. Every single Spur was wide open.

This is the idea to a scramble pass. It's a pass that causes the entire defense to rotate and shift off-balance. Think of Duncan in the post. Defenders are starting to lean toward him, and Duncan passes across the court to Ginobili on the weak side. The whole defense suddenly has to scramble because it was leaning the wrong way. It overreacts, over-rotates, and Ginobili passes to Parker. The defense is in even worse position now, they scramble even worse, and Parker passes to Green standing in the corner, and no defender is within 20 feet.

Those are scramble passes. Passes that make the entire defense off-balance. It's a higher-level pass than had Duncan just passed it back to the guy 10 feet away that had initially made the entry pass.

And although a scramble pass is usually a higher level of difficulty, that's not the real point. The point is the way it puts the defense off-balance and into scramble mode.

Decoy Routes and Decoy Screens

Playing defense is harder when an offense is unpredictable. Some of my favorite plays ever have decoy cuts and decoy screens (I'm thinking specifically of Deron's winning shot in OT against the Thunder two years ago—Deron was open because he set a decoy screen and CJ Miles made a decoy cut off Deron's screen. The defense went the wrong way (expecting Boozer to pass to CJ), and Deron was open for his shot.

This is probably more a team stat than an individual one. Though individual ones would highlight unselfish play.


Just the number of times on offense a guy touches the ball. We probably would have understood AK's frustration in 2007 a lot more if we had data showing us that his touches go from 197 per game the season before to 11 that year.

Passes per Possession, Unique Touches per Possession, & Seconds per Possession (Flex Line)

A fun possession would be like 16-5-11 (16 passes, all five players touched the ball, 11 seconds to the shot). A not-so-fun possession would be 1-2-20 (1 pass, two players touched the ball, 20 seconds to the shot).

Defenders Beat Down the Court (Mailmans)

It's simple: did you hurry down the court and beat the defender (thus getting the chance to get the spot you want without a fight).

Karl Malone averaged 37 per game. Mark Eaton averaged 1.

Outlet Pass leading to Fast Break

It's easy and safe to hand the ball to the PG to walk up the court. It's harder, but so much more fun and effective, if you can throw a pass to Hayward or Burks streaking down the court for an easy layup.


Deflections (Kirilenko Line)

How many times do you bonk the ball away from what the offensive player wanted to have happen? A perfect compilation here would include both steals and blocks (which are specific types of deflections):

58-4-6 would be one of Andrei Kirilenko's better days.

Paint Stops (Eatons)

We hear over and over how the effect of a shot-blocker is felt in more than the blocked shots—but in the way an offense has to constantly worry about the shot blocker. Well, here's one effect: because of the shot-blocker penetrators and cutters have to stop in no-man's land (3-9 feet from the basket) and shoot either an inefficient, contested shot or pass/dribble out to reset the play.

Challenges and Misses caused (Favors Line)

The other effect of a shot blocker. The offensive player has to worry about the shot blocker so much his layup is contested and missed. The stat includes the number of shots challenged and then number of misses. A great defender would have a high number of challenges (because he's rotating and protecting against as many shots as possible) and a higher rate of missed shots (because his challenges are effective). A blocked shot would be included as a miss.

Derrick Favors might be like this once he starts:


Carlos Boozer's average line was this:


Post Denies & Pass Denies (Haywards)

The first is when a player tries to post up, but the defender refuses to give the desired position. Hayward is awesome at this. The pass deny is when an offense intends to pass to someone, but the defender is on a guy so tightly that the pass can't be made.

Weakside Blows

Number of times a player ends up out of position on the weakside, allowing his man to sneak to an open spot or cut.

Screens Encountered and Screens Through

How many screens does your guy run through, and how many of those are you able to get back in defensive position immediately? Hayward against the Spurs (when guarding Tony Parker) would have looked something like this:


Screen Show Opps, Screen Shows, In-the-ways

This is for the defender who's guy is setting the screen. First it shows how many times your guy sets the screen. Then it indicates how many times you were able to show and stop the dribbler until his defender gets back. The third number shows the number of times you blew it and accidentally screened your teammate because you were in the way instead of showing.

Unnecessary Reinforcements

In a lousy defense, when a guy penetrates or cuts to the hoop everybody collapses and tries to help, leaving four guys wide open for shots. At times this happens even though the post defender has already rotated to cut off the penetration. That's what this counts: how many times do you offer help defense, leaving your guy wide open, even though another player was in better position to provide the help?

Josh Howard did this approximately 39.6 times per game in the Spurs series.

Bill Laimbeers

How many times do you disrupt the offense just because you're a dick and the other team is caught up thinking about how much they can't stand you? This is the only stat I'd like the Jazz to compile in a below average way. Nobody likes Bill Laimbeer.

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Anyway, these are things I wish I could look at and see actual data. What do you think? And what would you add or take out?