“Every coach wants to win and every player wants to win, but one of the difficult things about being a coach at an amateur level is deciding the degree to which you want to win games versus everything else you want to do as a coach.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Project Defensive Score Sheet
  • Coaching Success vs Expectations

How often have you been on the bench as a player or assistant to hear the head coach after watching a possession unfold suggest, “(S)he can’t guard anyone.”

There are no statistics readily available in a box score to evaluate individual defensive performance as there are for offensive output. Sure, we can gauge total points relative to matchup assignments, but as coaches, we all have an understanding for the flow of a game that can cause offensive numbers to be inflated. Dean Oliver looked to fill that void by initiating the Project Defensive Score Sheet as an attempt to measure individual defensive performance based on actual 1-on-1 matchups throughout the course of a game.

The key statistics tracked are in the third column:

  • Forced Field Goal Misses (FM)
  • Forced Turnovers (FTO)
  • Forced Free Throw Misses (FFTA) – Defender fouls an offensive player that misses the ensuing free throws
  • Allowed Field Goals (DFGM)
  • Allowed Free Throws (DFTM)

“It’s not a complicated system, and it’s not supposed to be.”

What I found while reading this is asking if I would want access to these stats in the middle of a game or not. Consider at the collegiate level during a media time-out during the first half: a staff member comes up to inform you that your best defender has only 1 Forced Field Goal Miss (FM) to this point and the opposing player is off to a hot start with 16 points already late in the first half. Based on the number of direct 1v1 matchups that have already occurred, does this statistic provide enough evidence to make an adjustment?

I’d like to think I watch quite a bit of basketball, and to this day I still don’t know that I have heard or seen coaches discuss the implementation of this kind of statistic with consideration to in-game decision making. The author does recognize the challenges in applying this statistic because of the variability between positions, matchups, and natural flow of the game. However, all things considered, I think if I were at a higher level with the abundance of resources and hands I would be very interested to know how my players are doing on an individual basis from a defensive standpoint. We are constantly evaluating our substitution patterns based on who is making shots, rebounding, or sticking to scout. I would think that if I have reliable information readily at hand to consider how Player A has not been the best matchup defending Opposing Player A based on the number of possessions there have been 1v1 scoring situations; I would consider making the necessary adjustments.

Coaching Expectations vs Success 

“The ‘win at all cost’ philosophy is education suicide and cannot be defended or advocated, but winning is, and always will be, one of the primary goals of any basketball coach.”

– Dr. Joseph Palmieri

Once known as ‘Billy the Kid’, then head coach of the men’s basketball program at the Universtiy of Florida, Billy Donovan guided the Gators to new heights with back-to-back national championships and numerous NCAA Tournament runs. The topic of gauging coaching performances firing was based on an interaction that once took place with a fan that was frustrated with Coach Donovan following a disappointing finish to a season. This book was written prior to the national championship bids which makes it all the more interesting. This lead Dean Oliver to consider how coaches are evaluated based on the metrics of team-outcome projections in relation to fan expectations. Essentially, the lower the expectations the more the coach could get away with from a record standpoint, and vice-versa if the team underachieved with fans feeling deserved of a parade by season’s end.

This isn’t anything new for coaches. Our job is to win, yet our priorities are to create a culture most conducive to the holistic development of the student-athlete. There are so many variables that come into play influencing the results of games that are later – fairly or unfairly – used as key metrics for coaching efficacy. The winning percentage predictions would appear to be more reliable at the NBA level where personnel is more predictable and an abundance of data behind player performances to support future outcomes. At the amateur level, the ability to coach is still left to social media approval ratings or parent satisfaction. At the end of the day take from Wooden or Wooten:

“Success is a peace of mind which comes as a direct result of knowing that you did the best you could to be the best you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden

“A trap every coach must avoid falling into is evaluating the success of the program in terms of wins and losses … [I]f you and the players evaluate performance strictly on winning and losing, the team will not reach its potential.” – Morgan Wooten



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