“I start with the team because it is the team that wins and loses, not individuals. I have not emphasized this enough throughout the book: Understand the team first and its players second (assuming the goal is winning, not improvement of players, which is more common at lower levels).”

Key Takeaways:

  • Basic Tools to Evaluate Team
  • Review of the Book

The end of the book got into the basic tools and process that the author would normally use to study team performance.

“Again, once I understood that the team’s problem was offense, not defense, it told me what to look for in the players.”

Start macro then let it lead you to the evaluation of personnel. Team statistics reveal what to look for when evaluating particular players. If the team is struggling to shoot the ball, then it is easy to quickly identify who has low-efficiency numbers. Or if the team is struggling defensively, there first few numbers to find could be based on rebounding percentages or number of turnovers that have likely lead to higher transition offense for opponents.

The objective of the book’s ending was to encapsulate how analytics support the gut feeling and actual observation of a game or season. Statistics are meant to be used to find problems as opposed to adjusting or reinforcing what you already felt or saw over a period of time – game(s) or season(s).

“Finally, I should emphasize that this kind of statistical report is a complement to education observation, not a replacement for it.”

Overall Thoughts from Basketball on Paper

I have been meaning to read this book for quite some time. My initial apprehension was in the time commitment; it is a thicker book of over 350 pages, which as a slow reader could take me months. Overall, the author provides a really good perspective of analyzing a game from the vantage point of someone who appreciates the game as a spectator, in addition to breaking it down through statistics. Dean Oliver has been around the game in a variety of roles for decades and writes with a pure appreciation for the fan side of the game. He recalls championships moments with superlatives and jokingly chides poor performances like any other fantasy manager.

Meanwhile, the essence of the book is to steadily introduce the role of numbers to reflect and advance the sport of basketball. Keep in mind this book was published in 2004, so there are some points that feel either outdated or stories that need a quick Google reminder that occurred. But, the infrastructure of the game itself has not changed so there are a lot of observations that still hold true today:

  • Four Factors – Shooting Percentage, TO Rate, OReb. Percentage, and FT Efficiency
  • Individual Defense is still hard to quantify
  • Best defenders are those that can stop their own matchup & protect the rim (i.e. “Bigs”) in support
  • Individual numbers are a reflection of the team & team numbers contain individual performances
  • The best offensive teams typically have 3 players above average from an efficiency standpoint
  • General rule of thumb of risk & strategy: Favorite = conservative/consistent VS. Underdog = High Risk/Reward

One of my favorite quotes to leave you with,

“The statistics won’t replace a book on how to coach a team and certainly cannot replace the experience of learning/playing the sport with your hands on a basketball. But for a coach whose job revolves around getting players to cooperate, it is important that statistics reflect, to some degree, how well they are doing.”


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