What Makes Winning Team Basketball?

I have be thinking recently about what qualities cause some teams to win basketball games and some teams to lose basketball games. I have been thinking about this from a team perspective rather than from an individual player perspective. Obviously in some cases it boils somewhat down to things like "some teams have Lebron James and some teams don't." Anyway, that is not what I am intending to look at in this post.

Originally I was thinking about this in terms of pick up basketball. My recent non scientific analysis of 40 year old men playing basketball in a church gym has led me to believe that a given team's shooting ability is less important than traits such as rebounding and taking care of the basketball. Also, as is often said about NBA championships, church pick up ball seems to be won on the defensive end. In the past I might have simply taken my quick analysis of this as truth and moved on. I might even have applied my pick up ball eye test analysis to NBA basketball and assumed that I had cracked the code. In the past I would have been happily content with my conclusions and rewarded myself with a lollipop or a beer or some other preferred item. But alas, the past is the past and I am a frequent poster on the Canis Hoopus. That means I am no longer allowed to simply enjoy things that I know about basketball. Not at all. Now I have a need to investigate what I "think" I know and see if it stands up to rigorous and methodological testing. These damn Google Boys ruin everything. Please, promise me to never scientifically study sex. Never. It is none of your damn business anyway what I do with MY slide rule in the privacy of MY home. Google Jerks.

Fine. I will try. I promise nothing. Well, almost nothing. I do promise this: I will likely choose the wrong statistics to look at and combine that with the wrong way to look at them. In fact, the more I think about it, readers of this post will almost certainly learn nothing useful about winning team basketball. Still I trudge onward in minor hopes of building up the mathematical neuro-passageways in my left cerebral hemisphere. That thing is too wordy anyway. I need more math if I have any realistic hopes of ever retiring.

Thinking back to the statistics course I took at Normandale Community College (which, by the way, was shockingly similar to Key Dae's favorite show) I know that I have a responsibility at the front end of any scientific experiment to first confess the limitations of my experimental design. My analysis, as I see it, has three primary flaws:

1) My starting point was pick up basketball which has little, if anything, to do with NBA basketball.

2) As any regular commenter at Canis Hoopus knows, I SlowBreak am not especially great with numbers.

3) I don't actually have an experimental design.

OK, let's get started. First I want to choose the five best and five worst teams from last season. According to these are, respectively, the Heat, Thunder, Spurs Nuggets, Clippers and the Hornets, Suns, Cavs, Bobcats and Magic. These are the ten teams I will be looking at. I have chosen to look at Field Goal percentage, Turnover Differential, Rebound Differential, Defensive Field Goal Percentage and Steals. I chose these stats as a generic snapshot of what I have been thinking about on both sides of the ball combined with what I have the energy to research. Who's still with me?

Field Goal %

Turnover differential

Rebound Differential

Defensive FG%






























































* I'd like to extend a very special thank you to the internet for providing me with these stats.

** I'd like to extend an even more special F#@K You to the internet for not building league averages into the tables.

Ok, I'll admit it. My brain hurts from trying to format this table of numbers and now I have information that I am not sure what to do with. Still, I have come this far so I will continue. Why not. What are you going to do? Withhold my next Canis Hoopus paycheck? I have asked around town and almost no legit business even takes Hoopus Points anymore. I blame Obama. (Go).

Field Goal Percentage

I don't think we really learn anything shocking here. The better teams shoot better and the worser teams shoot worser. I am impressed with that .496 from Miami. Aside from that nothing else really jumps out. It is, I suppose, worth pointing out that this seems to go against my original idea that shooting percentage might not matter as much as one would suspect. I should remind you, dear reader, that this idea was born from pick up basketball in which I think the percentages are likely in the low 30's (maybe) so I suppose that could change things.

Turnover Differential

Thunder, Cavs and Bobcats are all on the wrong side of this (at least according to what I would assume). Weird. I wonder what that is about. It especially weird that the Thunder would have lost the turnover battle given their status as an elite NBA team. Again, perhaps this is not as meaningful as I had originally assumed.

Rebound Differential

Minus 1.5 for your world champion Miami Heat? Really? Is this a historical outlier? I suppose that shooting percentage might have made up some ground here. Lebron James probably helped some too. Wait, the Spurs sucked too and the Hornets were plus 2.3. I seriously give up. It's becoming clear that I know nothing about basketball. Damn. This is especially distressing given that it is one of the things I know the most about.

Defensive Field Goal Percentage

Apparently defense does matter. I am starting to feel better about myself. I thought defense was important and this one brief look at 10 NBA teams suggests that I was correct. I can feel my back posture getting better already. This is a good thing all around. Circulation is important people.


Clippers win. Must all be Chris Paul. He steals good right? I think I read that somewhere. Defensive field goal percentage seems to mean more than steals- at least from this admittedly too small study. Interesting. I guess the message is that one should stay in their assigned spot rather than gamble for steals. Is Corey Brewer reading this? By the way, this actually matches what I have noticed in pick up ball. I play with some guys who do collect a bunch of steals but I have noticed that this tendency can often be exploited for easy lay ups.


No huge shockers here really. The biggest surprise to me is that Miami lost both turnovers and rebounds. This goes against conventional wisdom and likely explains why, despite wining the championship, they looked vulnerable against both Indiana and San Antonio. If you asked me to guess I'd say that shooting percentage and Lebron James percentage is what made the difference. What I learned from this then is that in NBA basketball shooting percentage and superstar having percentage probably matter more than I originally thought.

What this means for pick up basketball

I'm not really sure. It might mean something but it still might not. It could be the case that in a game in which turnovers are high and shooting percentage is low everything is different. I was also recently wondering why so many guys hate women's basketball when that is the style we are attempting to play. Perhaps I should be looking at WNBA numbers if I want to figure this out. Perhaps not. Maybe I just need to accept that, despite my own poor shooting, shooting percentage really matters.

What I now know for sure

Number crunching is hard. I mean look at this post. I hardly did anything. I made a cute little spread sheet on my MacBook and pasted in a few numbers from a couple of different websites. Still, it hurt my brain (from a formatting perspective) and created as many questions as it answered. My hats off to the numbery people out there. Keep up the good fight. I still like words better than numbers but it takes both darkness and light to make a balanced world.

Rock on everyone.

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