Refocus Your Focus: Real Stats

I recently read a great article by Gabe Kapler, former MLB player and Minor League Manager, on how current MLBers need to reexamine how they are looking at their individual performance. This reevaluation has to do primarily with looking at statistics differently.

In the article Kapler suggests that “Players simply need to stay in ‘baseball school,’ pay attention, keep an open mind and evolve with the decision makers.” Quite profound.

As a basketball coach, I started thinking is our profession thinking outside the box regarding statistics?

As basketball coaches (aka ‘decision makers’) and teachers, we tend to have that favorite stat that we always are interested in and focus on. For some it is field goal percentage, for others it is 3pt field goals attempted. Others have a defensive charts that tally deflections, shot clock violations, etc. The possibilities are endless and probably depend on our personal basketball journey (prior coaches, favorite teams/coaches, clinics, etc.).

For instance, I have known coaches at halftime or the end of the game, who go right to the rebound margin to see how the team was rebounding in a particular game.

The problem for me was that this statistic was most often very skewed. The reason why I believe this was because sometimes this category was very sporadic from game-to-game.

Were we really this good, average or bad on a game-to-game basis? Possibly. Was the team were were playing either this good, average or bad on a game-to-game basis? What about the eye test? Makes you wonder if there is a better way to evaluate such a common statistic such as rebounding.

Well surely the opponent and their personnel matters. However, these up and down statistics were usually a direct result of something else I thought.

I found that some factors that gave the stats a slanted may have been: the opposing team was not pursuing the ball on the defensive or offensive end very well, the ball bouncing was our way (or not), we were simply taller or short than our opponent, there were lots of turnovers which limited shot attempts, or the fact that one team had one of the premier rebounders in the conference/nation who covered up many of his/her team’s rebounding deficiencies.

These factors among many others, are the reasons why I believe that the rebounding margin was not necessarily a true reflection of how well a team actually rebounded. I believe that rebounding margin has as much to do with other factors and not necessarily only rebounding technique, which is a better indicator of true rebounding prowess.

Whether you agree with my conclusion or not, as a Head Coach I never really focused on total rebounds (although that is important and locks up your defensive possession) but rather rebounding technique, i.e. defensive blockouts and offensive pursuit.

My definition of a ‘defensive blockout’ is making contact on each shot by the opposing team while I defined an ‘offensive pursuit’ as having our players taking at least three steps towards the offensive glass.

The result is much more process oriented rather than results oriented. As long as we were making contact or crashing the offensive glass, good things were bound to happen. That was much more of a better indication of our rebounding effort and general skill level than the rebounding margin.

Of course in the flow of the game it is very difficult to gauge defensive blockouts and offensive pursuits with limited staff. However, observant assistants and head coaches can surely get a gauge on the team’s overall effort level during the game (i.e. “Eye Test”) and use film after the game to get a more definitive number to present to the players.

Although getting these numbers are much more time consuming than merely getting a stat sheet from an SID, it will undoubtedly give coaches and players a more accurate glimpse into what is actually occurring on the court. This is important to be able to emphasize any aspect of the game and will reinforce the coaching staffs message. Remember film never lies.

Moreover, each player may get rated on a percentage during the course of a game or practice on how many times they actually execute what coaches are stressing in their program (i.e. in regards to rebounding technique Player A makes contact 70% of the time on defensive end). This is another great tool that can have a true impact on your program by showing your players how being accountable can have impact on teammates, how practices are conducted, morale of the team and ultimately the outcomes of games.

In addition, focusing on statistics for each team in the same category (i.e. rebounding technique), coaches may be able to get an even more analytic view of which team is more disciplined in certain areas of the game.

As Kapler reminds us, coaches too must be thinking of how to evaluate. For instance, if Coach A only sends three players to the offensive glass, while Coach B sends all five players, the number of course will be skewed in favor of Coach B’s squad. However, creative forethought can balance out these variables that coaches use based upon their program’s x and o philosophy.

Kapler continues, “imagine a husband taking out the trash everyday and feeling pretty good about handling his obligation. Meanwhile, his wife thinks, ‘I wish that lazy bum would wash the dishes once in a while!’ If expectations aren’t discussed regularly, they become mismatched. And we are in that place now in baseball.”

Likewise, basketball coaches must be sure to communicate with their players of how they will be evaluated so there is no ambiguity or questioning of what the coaching staff feels is important in their program. This will give the players a feeling of confidence that the know what is important, what will be stressed and how that will relate to playing time. It is the foundation to building accountability in any legitimate program.

Just as important, the coaching staff must come up with the appropriate innovative metrics of how to accurately evaluate their team so they are getting an accurate measure of whatever statistic they wish to emphasize.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo