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How analytics lead to winning playcalls

In today’s article I highlight how analytics helped Real Madrid to be successful in the Euroleague.  After a rough start of the season, the mathematics behind the game whispered the winning playcall in Coach Laso’s ear!

Ever since I spent some time with Pablo Laso at Real Madrid some years ago, I follow them with special attention.  Being one of the most crowned teams of the last decade, they had a very particular start of this current season.  While starting 7-0 in the Spanish ACB, they struggled 1-4 in the Euroleague. 

For many teams in the EL, the domestic competition is a walk in the park.  But that’s different for the Spanish teams which compete in the toughest national league behind the NBA. 

Digging deeper into the numbers

Real combined so far this season for the #2 offensive rating in Spain (1.04 Points-Per-Possession), while being #15 (0.94 PPP) in Europe.  Scoring 10 points less for every 100 possessions is huge and translates to all aspects of the offense. 

I won’t bother you with summing up all the advanced stats that were lower in the EL.  It’s more interesting to analyze which playtypes caused these low % possessions. 

While Real was effective (with a PPP close to or above 1) in all kind of pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop and catch-and-shoot situations (created by penetrations followed by a kick), two things stood out:

  • Transitions: Real scored <0.8 PPP in transition (8% of the possessions)
  • Post-ups: 9% of their possessions ends in a post-up, leading to only to <0.6 PPP with a high turnover rate.  Video analysis shows how the bigs were pushed out of position against the physical opponents in the EL, ending up in a back-to-the-basket possession from mid-range.

All of the above were my observations before last weekend.  So I was very curious how Pablo Laso would change his gameplan with the confrontation with two EL teams around the corner: Bayern and Valencia.

Changing the gameplan

So far these stats have been nothing more than observations.  And that’s where many analyses stop.  The challenge is to understand better what’s going and to connect the dots with the X’s and O’s on the court.  I’ll reveal here how Real changed their gameplan in order to beat their next two EL opponents:


In both games, Madrid slowed down the game, opting more for their half court sets than transitions where they were unsuccessful over the last weeks.  In both games, Real slowed the game down to 80 and 79 possessions respectively (PPP of 1.1 and 1.3), while they combined for a pace of 83 possessions before. 

Some time ago, I wrote a ebook on this exact topic: “How to win more … by playing slower”:


Coach Laso started the game with the “bread-and-butter” action for their veteran shooting guard Jaycee Carroll: catch-and-shoot coming of a screen.  Instead of posting up their bigs, they were creating a shot for Carroll.  The next possession ended exactly the same, and so did the next BLOB play.  And again.  And again.

In the video below I breakdown the setplay that was crucial for success against Bayern and Valencia.  It’s a classic floppy set that they have been running for years with three screens to open up their shooter.  But they run it to perfection. 

In Q1 and Q3 vs Bayern they ran the same action 12 (!) times, resulting in 6 made field goals and 5 provoked fouls!  Jaycee Carroll played most of his 19 minutes in these quarters finishing the game with 19 points!  He averaged a +/- of +15 over both crucial games.

How come their opponents weren’t able to take away or prevent the same action over and over again?  Well, in the video I focus on how the team ran the same action from different scenarios and alignments as a cover up: out of transition, as a diamond set, out of a Horns set, from a BLOB play, … turning into the same screening action for Carroll:

And the beauty of the game is how many easy baskets it gave to … the bigs of Real.  Whenever the defense of the screener had to show to cover Caroll, the pass was open.  Instead of static post-up situations, they were granted with open looks in the paint while creating shots for Carroll.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for more.  In the upcoming weeks, I’ll continue to share my insights with you.  Insights that arise when you bring the best of two worlds together: the X’s and O’s of the game and the mathematics behind it. 

Highlighting the actions in the videobreakdown has been made possible by the magnificent Coach Paint.  To analyze the numbers, Instat is a great resource.


This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Great stuff! For me the +/- is a collective stat. Used as a individual obvious 9 players. For example in Carroll case… if the opponent had been more successful in attack his +/- would have been affected… without perhaps his fault. For me +/- is very useful applied to lineups and always in large samples.

    1. Very true. Lot to say about +/-… Just wanted to use it as a shortcut to describe the impact which was obvious for every spectator of the game. Thanks for the comments!

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