‘Numbers don’t lie.’ You may have heard that expression used in sports, more so in a numbers game like basketball. However, numbers may not lie, but it also does not tell the whole story. You see, in basketball, there are more stats to crunch than just points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. In this article, let’s delve more into the world of basketball statistics and learn what basketball statistics actually matter.
What Do Basketball Stats Mean?
A simple meaning of basketball stats is that they are numbers kept to evaluate a team’s performance. Basic basketball stats are either offensive or defensive.
Points, assists, FG%, and FT% fall under the offensive stat umbrella. Steals, blocks, and forced turnovers are examples of defensive basketball stats.
Aside from the usual statistics that we see in box scores, there are also called advanced stats or analytics in basketball. It is defined as analyzing basketball stats based on objective evidence.
Two of the most basic principles of advanced stats are evaluating possessions and assessing a team or player’s efficiency based on per-minute statistics.
Evaluating possessions allows us to see how teams score or defend. For example, knowing that a team scoring 120 points per 100 possessions tells basketball personnel that this squad plays a fast-paced type of game.
Conversely, we can’t automatically say that a team giving up 110 points every game. That may be so because they prefer a faster style of play; with more possessions per team, the better.
Therefore, a better grasp of a team’s defensive capability is points given up per 100 possessions or defensive rating. This way, all teams can be measured against one yardstick and, therefore, can be a better benchmark of defense than just looking at ‘opponents’ points per game.’
Do Stats Matter in Basketball?
Everyone who plays fantasy basketball will say ‘ABSOLUTELY YES!’ For anyone who has followed basketball for a long time, there is no doubt that they recognize the importance of stats in basketball. Yes, it does matter; still, it’s not everything.
Here is an example of how stats don’t tell the whole story to put things in perspective. Team A lost in triple overtime to Team B. However, Team A dominated the offensive glass, 50-35. If you’re a coach, would you focus on that one stat and scratch your head trying to figure out why?
It’s actually not that hard to see why a team with more offensive rebounds loses the game. It’s because offensive rebounds are essentially equivalent to made shots. If Team A made some of the shots that ended up as the team’s rebounds, they would have one.
What’s the point? Basketball statistics matter, but when not linked with other statistics, they can be misleading. Knowing how to read basketball stats is just as critical a skill.
What Statistics are Used in Basketball?
There are hundreds of statistics used in basketball, but here are some of the most common along with a short definition:
- Refers to the score. It can be racked up by making field goals and free throws.
- A statistic awarded to a player who retrieves the ball after a missed shot. A rebound can be offensive or defensive. It’s called an offensive rebound if a player retrieves his teammate’s missed shot. Otherwise, it’s called a defensive rebound.
- A pass that directly leads to a made shot by a teammate.
- A statistic awarded to a defensive player who legally takes control of the ball from an offensive player. This may be done by deflecting the dribble or catching a pass of any offensive player.
- A breach of the rule in terms of illegal contact.
- Happens when the offense loses possession of the ball before they can even attempt a field goal.
- Offensive Rating. An estimate of how many points a player produces per 100 team possessions. This is also used to a team’s offensive production per 100 possessions.
- Defensive Rating. Uses the same theoretical base as offensive rating, but instead of points scored, it looks at points allowed.
- Player Efficiency Rating (PER). A statistic invented by John Hollinger that attempts to summarize a player’s contributions to one number.
- Plus/minus. Plus minus in basketball is a reflection of how the team does when a certain player is on the court. If Player A has a plus/minus of +10, that means the team outscored the opponent by 10 while he was on the court. Not a perfect stat, but a quick way to measure the impact of a player.
- AST/TO ratio. An excellent example of the interconnection of basketball statistics. It puts a player’s assists numbers in context with his turnovers. If a player has five assists and five turnovers, his AST/TO ratio is 1. If another player records five assists and one turnover, his AST/TO ratio is 5. The higher the number is, the better.
- An estimate of the number of possessions a team has per game.
- Field Goal Attempts (FGA). The total number of shots, 2s or 3s, that a team takes.
- Effective FG% (eFG). Considered as a more accurate FG% statistic since it accounts for the extra difficulty and points of three-point shots. In eFG%, a three pointer is 1.5 times as much as a two pointer.
- Free Throw Attempts (FTA). Total number of free throw attempts by a team. More often than not, this is an indicator of the overall aggressiveness of the squad.
How are Basketball Stats Calculated?
Most of the simplest and best basketball stats that fans know are counting statistics. That means it can directly be calculated just by the frequency. For example, Player A grabs a rebound 15 times and therefore has 15 rebounds. That’s the same way with points, assists, steals, blocks, and others.
On the other hand, when basketball stats now touch about ratings, that’s when you have to use a different formula. Here are a couple of examples:
- Effective FG% is calculated by this formula: (2Pt + 1.5 x 3Pt) / FGA
- Individual Offensive Rating follows this formula: Offensive Production Rating = (Points Produced / Individual Possessions) x OAPOW × PPG + FTM/FT * 3pt% + FG%
What are the Most Important Stats to Track in Basketball?
Of the dozens or even hundreds of stats, the best basketball stats to track are the simplest. That means they are easily recognizable as the game takes place. After all, you can’t keep track of a player’s PER (and it’s a complicated formula) within the game.
If you want to know what basketball statistics actually matter, especially as the game is going on, these are the 5 most important stats to track:
1. Number of assists on FG made
Field goals made is a simple stat to track, but you know what’s even better? How many of your field goals are assisted. This stat will tell you how well the offensive is moving and how well the team is finding the open man.
For a rule of thumb, draw the line at over 50%. If 65% of your field goals are assisted, that’s phenomenal. More often than not, that means you are doing great offensively.
Of course, this statistic does not have its own little box in the traditional box score. Members of the coaching staff should collaborate and look at multiple stats and do a little math afterward. It’s not a very difficult stat to track, but you need to pay attention to everything happening on your offense.
2. Turnover Differential
Turnovers literally mean more offensive chances by the other team. The number of turnovers is a good indicator of how well a team is playing, but the turnover differential could instantly tell you who’s winning. If Team A has nine turnovers to Team B’s 11, the game would still probably be hanging in the balance. Now, make it the turnover count 9-17, and that’s a different story.
3. Total Rebounds
Good rebounding teams are often good defensive teams and are aggressive in nature. A defensive rebound is the most common way to end a defensive possession, and offensive rebounds give teams second-chance opportunities. Last year, if you look at NBA team stats, nine out of the top 10 rebounding squads made the playoffs. The eventual champion Bucks was the second-best rebounding team in the 2020-21 regular season.
The plus minus in basketball is a quick way to tell which players are making an impact. This is still a flawed statistic because it does not account for who you’re on the floor with. Still, there is no other running stat to quickly explain who’s playing well than the plus/minus.
5. Free throw differential
Sometimes, it’s not about the percentage but the sheer number of chances you are given. In basketball, if a team has lots of free throw attempts, that’s a good indication of their aggressive mindset. If the disparity in free throw attempts is substantial, that means the team with the lower number is in foul trouble and may not be able to defend as well as the game goes on.
Looking for more basketball stats? Check out our ultimate guide to basketball statistics here.
Top 10 NBA All-Time Points Leaders
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387)
Kareem played for two teams during his lengthy NBA career, and he took his scoring prowess anywhere he went. He was not the 30-points-per-game-scorer like he was in his Milwaukee days, but he hasn’t averaged less than 21.5 in 11 straight seasons with the Lakers. At age 40, the guy is still contributing 17.5 PPG!
2. Karl Malone (36,928)
Malone gets a lot of flak because he has no rings to show. But when it comes to putting the ball in the basket, there are a few players better than the former two-time MVP. From his sophomore year up until his penultimate season, the Mailman was a legit 20-PPG scorer! If you haven’t counted, that’s 17 straight seasons of at least 20.6 points a game.
3. LeBron James (35,445)
If there’s someone who has a legitimate shot of dethroning Kareem, then Bron is that guy. If everything goes to plan, the career scoring title will change hands in 2022-23, when is 38 years old. Not bad for a guy whom many do not even consider a pure scorer! If Malone had 17 consecutive seasons of averaging at least 20, James hasn’t had a sub-20PPG year since day 1. Yes, people, that’s 18 seasons and counting!
4. Kobe Bryant (33,643)
Kobe took a different path than most here, simply because he had to earn his stripes. As someone drafted straight out of high school, Bryant was a reserve in Years 1 and 2 after establishing a decorated career as a Laker. He averaged 35.4 points in a single season, good for ninth in the history of the NBA.
5. Michael Jordan (32,392)
Considered by many as the greatest of all time, MJ settled for fifth mainly because he played the least amount of games of anyone in the top 5. Even so, he holds the record for the highest PPG of all time at 30.12. Jordan also averaged at least 30 points in eight seasons and was still a 20 PPG scorer at age 40.
1. Dirk Nowitzki (31,560)
2. Wilt Chamberlain (31,419)
3. Shaquille O’Neal (28,596)
4. Carmelo Anthony (27,423)
5. Moses Malone (27,409)
Carmelo Anthony moved up the all-time scoring list after a 28-point performance off the bench in a Lakers win over Memphis on October 24, 2021.
Wrapping Things Up: What Basketball Statistics Actually Matter?
Basketball stats are not created equal. There are some designed as in-game indicators, while others are developed as a way of studying or delving into the game deeper. That is why they are called “empty stats.”
In a general sense, basketball statistics are making sense of basketball numbers to evaluate teams and players. The two main types of statistics are counting (most basic) and advanced stats. Under those two types, these stats either fall under offense or defense.
Now, suppose you’re coaching a game, and you want to figure out what’s happening out there, what are the best basketball stats to keep track of? The simpler, the better. Keep track of the assist totals on your made FGs, turnover differential, total rebounds, plus/minus, and free-throw differential. Knowing how to read basketball stats of this nature could help you monitor and make adjustments as the game goes along.
If you want to know what basketball statistics actually matter, the five mentioned previously is a good start. Now, if you’re going to study certain players, perhaps as part of a scouting report, you need more advanced stats. Again, they won’t tell the whole story, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what the plot is all about.
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