Indicators of Success - Part 1
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SECAUCUS, NJ, Dec. 22, 2006 -- A month ago, I took a look at assist-field goal ratio and whether or not it was an indicator of success league-wide. During the exploration, I discovered that a team's opponents' assist-field goal ratio is actually more indicative of success than your own. Basically, getting the other team to play one-on-one more often during the course of a game or a season is a good thing.

This has made me rethink about what's the best way to play team defense. I'm over-simplifying here, but maybe it's better to stay at home on D than help and leave your man alone. Maybe the traditional guidelines (that have been ingrained in our heads since elementary school) of being in help position off the ball aren't the best way to play in the NBA. I need to address this issue again and reach some sort of conclusion in the near future.

But for now, to get a better look at the big picture, I think it's a good idea to look at other team stats and figure out how assist-field goal ratio (or that of your opponent) compares to more traditional categories like rebounding or turnovers in determining success league-wide.

This is a big task though, so I decided to split it into two parts: offensive stats and defensive stats. This week, we'll take a look at the offensive numbers and how well they determine success.

I knew that assist-field goal ratio (and therefore assists per game) was a good indicator, and before breaking down the numbers, I thought that turnovers (avoiding them) and free throw attempts would be strong as well.

Not quite.

I looked at 11 offensive stats for this exercise. I then calculated the league average for each and how many teams were above and below it. Finally, I calculated the cumulative winning percentage of the teams above the league average to determine how indicative of success that stat was. Note that these stats are through Wednesday's games.

Here's what I found...

OFFENSIVE STATS
STAT LEAGUE AVG TEAMS ABOVE W-L PCT TEAMS BELOW W-L PCT
FG % 0.457 14 0.578 16 0.431
AST/FG 0.575 16 0.561 14 0.432
3PT % 0.349 14 0.550 16 0.456
AST/G 20.83 13 0.549 17 0.462
PTS/G 98.31 14 0.541 16 0.463
3PT ATT/G 16.71 19 0.536 11 0.438
OFF. REB. 10.22 13 0.523 17 0.482
TO/G 15.74 14 0.517 16 0.485
FG ATT/G 79.31 13 0.491 17 0.507
FT % 0.753 16 0.480 14 0.522
FT ATT/G 26.60 14 0.476 16 0.521

Don't coaches and analysts talk a lot about how important it is to get to the line? Heck, don't people complain a lot if their team doesn't get to the line as much as the opponent? But if you look at it, free throw attempts have no correlation whatsoever to winning basketball games.

I don't know about you, but this fascinates me. Looking at free throw attempts more closely, you will find that three of the four teams at the bottom of the of the league in attempts per game are Houston (23.52), San Antonio (23.54) and Phoenix (23.58), who have a combined winning percentage of .707. Dallas and Detroit are also in the bottom 10.

Turnovers per game just ain't all that important either. The Magic average a league-high 17.59 turnovers per game and they're the second best team in the East. The Lakers, at 17-9, are second worst with 17.27. Denver, Utah and Houston are also in the bottom 10.

Conclusion?

So what does this mean? Well, obviously, as field goal percentage is at the top of the list above, it's important to have players who can make shots. We can also conclude that it's important to take good shots. Since assist-field goal ratio is next, we can conclude that ball movement is key as well.

Looking closer at the teams who are above the league average in assist-field goal ratio... 11 of the 16 are above the league average in field goal percentage as well. So, ball movement leads to made shots. The biggest anomaly is Indiana, who ranks fourth in the league in assist-field goal ratio at .627, but is 26th in field goal percentage at .438. If you can figure that out, let me know.

And of course, if you have any other input on the above, I want to hear it.

Next week, we'll take a look at the defensive numbers, which might be just as interesting.