The Hawks are getting smarter at evaluating the game of basketball, and you can too.
Like all sports, the NBA is getting more and more scientific with how it evaluates and analyzes the product on the floor. Much as baseball has undergone the so-called "Moneyball" revolution, basketball front offices are drilling down past the basic statistics we've all come to know (points, rebounds, assists, etc.) looking for a deeper understanding of what drives success on the court.
One set of statistics, the "Four Factors" described above, have become somewhat industry standard in the basketball analytics community in searching for those ingredients.
In order to help fans get a deeper understanding, Hawks.com sat down recently with Assistant General Manager Wes Wilcox to get a better explanation of how these factors play into strategy, player development, and analysis.
Hawks.com: Are all four factors of equal importance?
WW: All factors are not weighted equally. The most important factor is effective field goal percentage (eFG%) which gives weight to three-point shots. Another way to say this is that of the four factors, eFG% correlates the best to winning. As Dean Oliver broke it down, the factors are weighted like so:
1. eFG% (40%)
2. TO% (25%)
3. OR% (20%)
4. FT Rate (15%)
There are thresholds for success for each factor, but those are based upon each individual team and how they are constructed. For one team, free throw rate may correlate more closely with winning, while for another it may be offensive rebounding percentage.
It's also important to mention that these factors are also measured defensively to help us understand how effectively we are defending and what areas we may need to improve.
Hawks.com: Does the team have a certain goal in mind for each in a game?
WW: One of the challenges with advanced statistics is how we communicate what we learn from them. There is a rich and constantly growing language of basketball statistics that we are consistently learning more from and working to translate into action.
Our focus is on communicating the principles that we've learned from these advanced metrics: increasing the number of corner 3's attempted, getting to the free throw line more, and staying away from what we define as "long 2's" (which are universally the lowest percentage shot in the game).
For those that think the mid-range game is a lost art (something we often hear fans saying), you are right and the numbers prove it.
These numbers are used to help our coaches & player development staff to create individualized player development programs for our players. We use these numbers to better understand strengths and weaknesses.
It is important for players to develop areas of weakness, but it's even more important for them to know their strengths and continue cultivating those areas as well.
Simply said, we need to continue working on mid-range jump shots, but not at the expense of maximizing our corner three-point shooting.
Hawks.com: How can fans follow along with this during the game?
WW: We are going to put the "Four Factors" up on our new End Boards so our fans will be able to see where we are at throughout the game. So just as fans can now see our FG% & FT%, they'll also be able to track how we are doing in these critical areas as well.
Hawks.com: Has the emphasis on these factors changed the way in which players are evaluated?
WW: Yes and no. We don't measure a prospect against a specific number or set of numbers. Also, the Four Factors are largely team based. These numbers have taught us that offensive efficiency is a key measure for success in the NBA.
Player procurement can become very complex and when assessing numerous variables it's essential to be grounded by the fundamentals. This may sound simplistic, but the fundamentals of high shooting percentages, high free throw rates, and not turning the ball over are still very good indicators to rely upon when evaluating players.
Those numbers are telling, but they can never measure the heart, mind, work rate or character of a player. The numbers don't tell us who is willing to get on the floor first for a loose ball, or whether a player is unselfish and how they will impact team chemistry.
Basketball is a blend of art and science. These advanced metrics represent the scientific component and we must learn what we can from them; this is critical. Yet, we can never forget the art either. This game is based upon five people playing as one and even the best teams are better than the sum of their parts.