Monday, May 30, 2016

Is pace contagious?

Possessions, despite being analytical bedrock, are not an officially tracked NBA statistic. As a result, the counting of possessions in an NBA game has historically been indirect. We tease them out of the box score by counting the ways a possession can end, like physicists searching for the Higgs boson by tracking the particles into which it immediately decays[1].

This indirect measurement has limited our ability to understand how pace works in the NBA, and who controls it. The box score can tell us that the Golden State Warriors play at a very fast pace, and squeeze in an above average amount of possessions into 48 minutes of regulation play. The Warriors are clearly fast on offense, but does that spillover into their defense? Do their opponents get caught up in the Warriors' hectic flow?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Endgame strategy in the NBA

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the #quick2 (sometimes).

When a team is trailing by three late in a game (e.g. less than 30 seconds left), are they better off going for a tie with the three pointer? Or is the superior strategy to attempt a quick, high percentage two point shot, and hoping for a turnover or missed free throws on the ensuing possession?

The "quick two" approach draws plenty of derision from my analytics-heavy Twitter feed. Probably because it's emblematic of the conservative, risk averse thinking that mars strategic decisions across a number of sports. Football coaches punt too often on 4th down. Baseball managers still call for the sacrifice bunt, even though it reduces run expectancy. And NBA teams were historically slow to embrace the three point shot.

But punts, bunts, and three pointers have all been thoroughly analyzed from a statistical perspective. As far as I know, no one has run the numbers on whether that quick two really is a suboptimal strategy. In this post, I will examine which strategy leads to victory more often. I'll start with teams that trail late by three points, and then look at the same situation, but when trailing by four.