“This is the problem for coaches, a lot of whom have been raised with the thought that more equal distribution of the ball is better, especially when their stars aren’t very efficient. Coaches want even more distribution of the ball, but should they?”

Key Takeaways:
  • Volume Scorer Conundrum
  • Individual W/L Contribution
  • G.O.A.T.
Volume Scorers

The best player often is the best scorer, but are they the most efficient? Recently, I just had a conversation with a close group of coaches discussing the difficulty of defending a system versus a star. There was a resounding response iterating the system is easier to prepare for over a star. Playmakers are problems when there is the ability to shift the momentum of a game in a few possessions despite any scouting report’s best effort.

It is a coach’s responsibility to create the best approach that will put the ball in the hands of the best scorers on the team most often. Depending on the scheme, this decision can come at a cost.

  • The green light can come with a higher frequency of poor shot selection
  • Role players can become disengaged
  • Shooting slumps of stars can anchor team offensive productivity
  • Star may not increase the performance of the rest of the team

The objective of optimizing offense combines usage with efficiency, in other words, ball movement and shooting percentage. Based on Oliver’s observations the higher the usage rate the lower the efficiency (with the exception of Jordan, of course). The expected response by coaches is to take the more equitable approach by moving the ball more to increase higher percentage scoring opportunities, which subsequently leads to more shot opportunities for possible role players.  The optimal makeup of an offense has an emboldened group of role players to catch lightning in a bottle given the increased chances during the natural flow of the game; yet, a reliable scorer that embraces the challenge of beating any scouting report at any time when the team depends upon it.

The question then arises what is the best system for a ball-dominant scorer? Is it to remove the pressure of performance for one player, or to apply it to the best player and hope for efficiency by the supporting cast?

“So game-by-game records suggest how well players carry out their roles. It’s a soft-science kind of description, but it seems right. If you have a bunch of players who perform their roles well, you will have a winning team …”

Individual W/L Record

I grew up with the misconceived notion that a win or loss was a result of the point guard’s ability to manage the team. As a point guard growing up, I took a lot of ownership in the ability to impact the rest of my teammates success. The individual W/L record would have been an interesting stat that could have possibly confirmed or denounced my theory.

Based on the logic of teams with higher offensive rating beat teams with lower defensive ratings Oliver surmised a win-loss projection based on individual offensive rating compared to individual defensive rating. So, when we are discussing volume scorers or teams that are dependent upon one or two key players to carry a significant weight towards success, this statistic could measure their effectiveness. What was interesting about this portion of Basketball on Paper was how analytically recognized great players do not always equate to great team records.

“… [W]hat this says to me is that a team can be as good as its best player and probably should be as good as its best player. But that best player sometimes has to take the tough shot, or do whatever it was that (David) Robinson didn’t do – that thing that no one can quite put their finger on.”

Coaches recognize the consummate practice player or the one that lacks the killer instinct in late-game situations. The actual team record which may be good, still may not match the individual performances for whatever the reason. It is something that coaches are subconsciously analyzing throughout the course of the season. Suggesting that the talent on the team is good enough to win, but the record doesn’t quite reflect the potential for success. The win/loss statistic can allude to an intangible aspect of the game that is not quantifiable. It is from numbers like these that open up pandora’s box of the endless debate of greatest of all time.


“In discussions over whether Chamberlain or Russell was the better player, Chamberlain supporters commonly point to his individual numbers, and Russell supporters highlight his team numbers. But the individual numbers are part of the team numbers, and the team numbers contain the individual numbers.”

It is an exhausting argument that we will spend next to zero time discussing. Whether it is Chamberlain or Russell. Jordan and LeBron – really Jordan versus anybody else – the argument typically begins and ends with ring talk. It is an endless zero-sum conversation, one that the author doesn’t seem to entertain but is clear in mentioning that “(Jordan) was probably the best player to have played.”


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