10 Ways to Improve Using Stats

Brian Williams, The Coaching Toolbox

Statistical data and advanced analytics are tools that help coaches to make better decisions on how to bring out the best in their individual players and to develop offensive and defensive systems that give your players the best chance to succeed.

They are certainly not the only tool coaches should use. It will always be true that some things that make a difference in winning and losing are difficult, if not impossible, to measure. However, I do believe that improvement as a coach involves finding more sound coaching tools. I also believe that the use of simple data as well as advanced metrics, and more importantly analyzing what they tell us, will play increasing important roles in the next few years at all levels of basketball.

I am a firm believer that what gets measured (with the results being consistently communicated to our players) will improve because it will become an area of concentration. I also believe that by setting goals or targets, measuring progress, and giving specific concrete feedback to your players that they will find ways to self correct and work towards those goals in addition to the coaching that your staff provides.

Here are 10 ideas for ways to improve your program through the use of some simple statistics and also some more advanced analytics. I am not suggesting that you can use all of these, but to pick a few that will have the biggest impact in your program.

    1. Use possessions to set and measure your team’s statistical performance goals. In my opinion, the best way to define a possession is when the ball changes hands from one team to the other. So, by my definition, an offensive rebound is not a new “possession,” but rather an extension of the same possession that resulted in the initial shot. Use points per possession to evaluate your offensive and defensive efficiency rather than points per game. That removes the tempo aspect and is a more true statistical evaluation of your effectiveness.
    2. Keep as much data as you can in your off-season workouts on how many shots your players shoot, where they shoot from, how many they shoot from game spots at game pace, and how many they make. Establish benchmarks to hold them accountable for both quantity and quality. The benchmarks don’t have to be the same for all players. A returning starter should have higher goals than an incoming freshman in order to keep both of them motivated.
    3. Develop your own four factors to winning and plan your in season practices and improvement season workouts around them. Dean Oliver’s statistical research and analysis is that the following four factors have the biggest influence on the outcome of a basketball game (The number in parentheses is the weight each one yields) Effective Field Goal Percentage (40%), Turnovers Per Possession (25%), Rebounding Percentage (20%), Getting to the Free Throw Line (15%) The measurement he uses is FTA/FGA. They apply to both your offensive play and defensive play, so really 8 factors.

      Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with those factors and the weights given to each, develop your own beliefs as to what is most important for your team to win games.Spend the majority of all of your activities both during your games season and in the spring, summer, and fall improvement seasons working in the ratio of what you need to be able to do well to win.For example, If you do agree that effective shooting percentage has a 40% impact on winning, then 40% of your practice and workout time should involve working on getting and making shots that you your offense and players’ skills will be able to get and make in games under game pressures. And, your defensive work should have the objective of keeping the opponent from getting easy shots and the shots that they want to take and can make. This data will help to hold your players accountable.

    4. Find a way to quantify two or three things that are important to your team’s performance. Have an assistant or capable manager chart the one or two statistics that are critical to your team’s success that aren’t a part of a normal box score. Things like first to the floor on a loose ball, shot selection, post touches, post feeds, number of passes/reverals, block out percentage, challenged shots, deflections, going to your offensive rebound positions, time from offense to half court for transition defense to measure who is loafing and who is sprinting can be tracked in game and using video. You can’t do all of them, but you can do what you need to do to hold your players accountable. In addition to holding players accountable, it also gives you a way to reward your role and glue players by recognizing their contributions.

      Some defensive factors you can measure are defensive transition, easy baskets, help and recover, and charges taken.

    5. Strongly Consider using effective field goal percentage or true scoring percentage in place of traditional field goal percentages. The links are to more information about both in previous articles that I have posted.  They provide more accurate measurements of your team’s scoring efficiency per shot and per scoring opportunity.
    6. Determine your offensive and defensive efficiency (Points per possession) for various sets that you run, against various defenses that you face, when you get the ball into the lane and when you don’t before shooting, and what you allow for varying types of defenses that you play.
    7. Measure your player’s effective field goal percentages from specific distances. Measure catch and shoot vs. shooting off the dribble. This link to the bulls page shows how they shoot as a team from various distances and with various types of shots. http://stats.nba.com/team/#!/1610612741/stats/shooting/ Being able to give specific details about what shots your individual players shoot best helps you determine what shots to work at getting and what are and are not good shots for your players.  For post players, determine their field goal percentages on each scoring move they use and on both sides of the basket.
    8. Just as you develop plans for your players to improve themselves in their improvement season workouts, develop a plan for yourself to learn more about the use of analytics in the NBA and major college levels. There is more information published online Do some research online by visiting sites like kenpom.com, statsheet.com, basketballanalyticsbook.com, and the stats.nba.com for ideas that you can apply to your team.

      As a part of your plan, take some time in the spring and summer to go back and look at this past season’s game videos and stat sheets through the lens of the new analytics that you are focusing on.

    9. Time your possessions to determine your Points Per Possession for Transition (Less than 5 seconds), and varying lengths of possession in the half court. At times, I have been able to use that data with our teams to stress the importance of ball movement, reversals, and breaking the defense down to create scoring opportunities.
    10. As much as your resources allow you to, keep the same stats in practices that you use in games.  If you use statistical goals to measure performance in games, placing an emphasis on metrics in practice that you use in games is another way to make your practices more like your games.
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