“Wake up in the morning, take a shower, and have breakfast over the box scores. It’s the perfect way to start a day.”
- Where was the game won?
- Estimated Pace of Play
- Numbers that Stand Out
My parents would grab the newspaper and I’d steal the sports section as soon as they’d set it down. Modern morning routines may have changed since Basketball on Paper was published, but box scores still serve a purpose for any coach during or after any game. During my childhood, the focal point while reading these box scores was to simply look at the overall scores and how my favorite players performed. As a coach, my priorities haven’t necessarily changed, but I’d like to think the process to do it has become a bit more thorough in evaluation.
“The first thing to understand about a game is whether it was won on the offensive end or defensive end and, for that, I always look at the pace of the game to get the team’s ratings.”
Unfortunately at the high-school level in the state of Massachusetts traditional box scores are unavailable during or following any game. While as an assistant at the college level print-outs were available during media timeouts and half-time. On first observation my eyes tended to gravitate towards three statistics that I felt heavily influenced the outcome:
- Field-Goal Percentage
A team’s shooting percentage shifts either team’s style of play throughout the course of a game. If opponents are knocking down shots it forces you to go against set defenses often, thus relying upon efficient offense on a halfcourt. From a defensive perspective, it often applies more pressure to string stops together, subsequently leading to possibly more fouls or uncharacteristic decision-making. Which team is applying more pressure by making shots?
Assists-to-turnover ratio can tell the story of possession by possession. Depending on the intended style of play for a team it can answer questions of ball movement, ball-control, and defensive pressure particularly on-the-ball or in the passing lanes.
- Free-Throws (Percentages & Attempts)
Free-throws are possible free points. And good defenses don’t give anything for free. Our coaching staff rule of thumb is to seek more free-throws made than our opponent’s attempts.
From these statistics we can start to generate an idea of what swayed the scoreboard and on which side of the floor was most influential. To get a quick estimation of the pace of play, Dean Oliver references this formula:
Poss. = FGA – OR + TOV + 0.4 x FTA
A quick estimation for the number of possessions can give an interpretation into the pace of play, in addition to the offensive/defensive efficiency ratings. Some of the greatest coaches in history – Dean Smith and Frank McGuire – emphasized points per possession to compare previous performances with average efficiency. Unfortunately making comparisons to previous box scores doesn’t change the results. The ensuing tweet by Coach Chris Oliver looks into the numbers in the midst of the game to make any possible adjustments.
Our program generally prioritizes four statistics to articulate to the team:
- Kills (3 defensive stops in a row)
- Offensive Rebounds (2nd chances)
- +/- Paint Touches (Team vs. Opponent)
Three of the four are traditional box score numbers; paint touches are becoming more commonly kept by staff’s across the country. Despite the lack of accessibility of box scores, our staff does a great job recording these numbers throughout the course of any game to assess any trends that are taking place to make any adjustments we see fit.
The evaluation of these four statistics are intended to get a decent understanding of our defense and offense. There is quite a bit of overlap with 2nd chances, A/TOs, and paint touches. The kills are indicative of stringing stops together instead of exchanging baskets. Second chance opportunities are a huge aspect of any game and charting this statistic can help answer the question of finishing possessions defensively or creating extra scoring chances. Assist to turnover for the reasons we already discussed, but paint touches are all about pressure and conversion. It is one thing to puncture the paint increasing our probability of high percentage shots whether field goal attempts at the rim or getting good looks from inside-out field goal attempts. It is another thing to actually convert on those paint touches. So we gauge the number of paint touches per quarter with the efficiency of those paint touches to determine which team is more in attack mode and is finishing given the opportunities.
The box score is a great way to clearly communicate to the team performance without using coach-speak. Often times we want to go into a locker room or a huddle during a time-out to reference we aren’t playing hard enough or don’t want it as bad as they do as motivation. In some moments it can rally the troops, but there isn’t anything tangible that resonates with the players. Whatever the key statistics are in your program that identify with your style of play, those are the talking points to communicate for future adjustments.
- If you are a team that looks to get out in the passing lanes or apply a ton of ball-pressure, what are the numbers of deflections?
- Team that thrives on crashing the glass, what are the rebounding margins?
We want a team that strings stops together by finishing each possession with a rebound (limiting 2nd chances) and offensively share it, take care of it, and relentlessly look to attack for scoring opportunities.