“This book does not introduce new offensive structures or defensive schemes.” 

“Instead, this book was originally conceived as an aid to coaches in a more general manner. The most obvious specific contribution is through several statistical measures.”

Key Takeaways: Chapters 1 & 2

  • What to Expect
  • Score Sheet
  • Intro to PPP

Former NBA/WNBA Front Office and Assistant Coach Dean Oliver starts with ‘How to Read’ Basketball on Paper. For us coaches,

“It was created to compliment the coaching you already do and to provide insights for making that coaching more effective.”

And that is exactly how I hope to read it because if I get caught up in the formulas or the science, this could be a very long read for me. Some of the questions that were brought up early:

  • What goals does a team have? To win now? To win later? To win this game? To win a title?
  • In what ways does teammate interaction matter? Is teamwork adequately represented in existing stats? What purpose do plays and different offensive sets serve in terms of enhancing teamwork?
  • Does defense win championships? Does rebounding win titles? What is the value of a time-out?
  • Are there good rules of thumb for applying different game strategies?
  • What are good ways to assess the value of individual players? What are the pros and cons of different statistics How should a coach use statistics in the context of the job?

These questions seem to provide a good roadmap of what you can hope to answer by the end of this book.

Score Sheets


The score sheet is like a statistician’s play-by-play transcript of the game. By detailing every possession using the shot-chart location map from above; the score sheet is written in a shorthanded way to describe the action of the game as it ensues (similar to keeping the scorebook in baseball).

106 BOS 3D 00 3 44 33 ++X (3pt)
107 LA 32 33PF(00)*x TIME (0:07) 32 +2 (Hook!)

Above is a sample of two possessions Dean Oliver scribed from his first score sheet in 1987 during the matchup between the Boston Celtics and L.A. Lakers during Game 4 of the NBA Finals. A quick crash course on reading a score sheet; the 1st column identifies the score during the possession indicating after the Lakers final possession they took the lead 107 to 106. The middle column is the play-by-play with each jersey number representing a pass during the possession and letters (typically in subscript) like “D” indicating a dribble move or “PF” for a personal foul. The final column finalizes the possession by acknowledging a missed or made field goal attempt that went assisted (++) or unassisted (+) followed by the designated number or letter to show where the shot was attempted.

Try to see if you can follow along with the clip:

These are the back-to-back possessions from the score sheet diagrammed above.

What did the Score Sheet accomplish? And why does it matter today?

“Thinking in terms of possessions and efficiency is the biggest thing that comes out of scoring a game with the score sheet above.”

The two key-terms recognized by most are possessions and efficiency, this, in turn, introduces the concept of points per possession. Dean Oliver admits to not being the first person to recognize offensive/defensive ratings via PPP (see Defensive Basketball by Frank McGuire); however, Oliver was on a mission to reveal that totals from a statistical measurement are no longer the benchmark for success.

Tempo wins the press conference; it doesn’t always win games. An increased number of possessions can inflate total points scored, or scored against. If you aren’t capitalizing on the majority of the total number of possessions more than the opponent, it really doesn’t matter how fast you play. Points per possession became an instrumental statistic evaluating the efficiency of those possessions.

“Separating pace from estimates of quality allows a lot of useful analysis to be done on teams and players.”



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