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Sometimes numbers DO lie

Hi there!

For a moment, I want to take you back to Game 3 of the NBA Finals between the Raptors and the Warriors.
With 5’15 to go in Q4, the Raptors have the ball.
Lowry runs a pick-and-roll with Ibaka on the top of the key. Each of the two corners of the court are filled with a shooter (Green and Van Vleet). Leonard cuts on the baseline, behind his defender Draymond who has to focus on the rolling Ibaka. 
Lowry feeds Leonard for the easy basket, putting the Raptors 113-97 up with the decisive lead in this crucial Game 3.

This crucial possession can be identified in the boxscore as two points for Leonard and an assist for Lowry. However, this boxscore gives zero credit for the timing and quality of the screen of Ibaka and neither does it value the shooting threat of Green and Van Vleet in the corners, prohibiting any help from their defenders in the PNR action.

A boxscore is almost as old as the game itself and shows only a limited set of data which are easy to chart. But there’s tons of info not in a boxscore! Basketball analytics are a indispensable tool ifor a staff in modern basketball at the highest level… During my recent Vegas trip, I learned that the Rockets have a fulltime staff member traveling all year long with the team, assisting on every staff meeting, … just to explain and translate the numbers from the analytics department into usefull information.

To really UNDERSTAND the game, one needs analytics that go way beyond a simple box-score. As a coach, these analytics either confirm or go against your gut basketball feeling. They either help you to defend your decisions, either they give you a good reason to go and study the game: on the court, in the video room, in the staff meetings, with the analysts … to try to understand why the numbers are indicating something else.

I really think that the level of European basketball can still grow a lot once the importance of basketball analytics is fully understood and valued. There’s one anecdote I like to share whenever I give a clinic on analytics. It’s about the ’17-’18 season in the Belgian professional league. After 9 gamedays, one front office decided to change the staff. The official reason which was mentioned in every newspaper was that their offense was very good, but their defense insufficiently. At first sight, that explanation made sense for a team that scored 81,5 ppg (above league average 78,8 ppg) and was scored on 82,0 ppg (also above the league average of 78,8).

I took a deeper look. The timing made it an interesting studycase. In a league with 10 teams, the staff was changed at a moment where they played every opponent exactly one time. After some studywork, I found out that their offense was ranked 6th in the league (Offensive RATING of 107,1) while their defense was ranked … 4th (Defense RATING of 107,9)!!! So actually their defense was better than their offense…

What was going on? Well, this team had by far the highest pace of the league. Having more possessions a game, results in more of … everything, right? Proportionally more points scored, more points allowed, more assists, more turnovers, more threepointers, … Common sense, no? But these factors don’t say anything about how EFFICIENT that team plays, therefore you need take the pace out of the equation.

Even when this example is very extreme, it is exactly this poor understanding of basketball analytics that pushes front offices and clubs to bad decisions! As a professional coach, you will be faced sooner or later with these advanced stats. The better you understand the numbers, the better you can defend and explain your choices on the court. And even more important, if you’re able to TRANSLATE these analytics to the X’s and O’s in your gameplan, you create an edge over your opponent before the game tips off!

A digital version of my book “How to win more by … PLAYING SLOWER” can be downloaded HERE for free.

Stay tuned for some more!

Pascal.

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Recently I did a podcast with Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion.