The Four Factors of Basketball - The Factors

Factor #1: Shooting

Oliver listed the factors in order of importance, and shooting from the field is by far the most significant. In the NBA, the team that shoots better from the floor wins about 80 percent of the time. In Wizards games this season, the better shooting team has won all nine games.

The most commonly available statistic to measure field goal shooting was an excellent measure until the league added the three-point shot in the 1979-80 season. Then field goal percentage became old-fashioned — especially as teams have shot an increasing number of treys.

The better measure is called effective field goal percentage (or eFG), and it accounts for the fact that three is worth 50 percent more than a two-point field goal.

To illustrate — Team Inside shoots 3-6 from two-point range while Team Outside shoots 2-6 from three-point range. Who’s winning? The scoreboard says it’s 6-6. Field goal percentage says Inside is better — 50% to 33%. eFG agrees with the scoreboard and says they’re even — 50% to 50%.

So far this season, the Wizards rank 12th in eFG at .491. They’ve been better on the defensive end, holding opponents to a .457 eFG — 7th best in the league. This is a marked improvement from last season, when the Wizards were among the worst in the league at forcing opponents to miss.

Factor #2: Ball Handling

Last season, the Wizards won 45 games despite regularly shooting worse than their opponent. They did it by winning the other three factors, including committing fewer turnovers. Protecting the ball gives a team more opportunities to shoot — and, as Wayne Gretzky once said, “One hundred percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.”

Once again, we don’t want to rely on per game stats, which can be distorted by pace differences. Instead, we look to turnover rate, which is also sometimes called turnovers per possession.

So far this season, the Wizards are doing an excellent job in this category both offensively and defensively. They’re committing the fourth fewest turnovers per 100 possessions (14.2) while forcing opponents into 16.9 turnovers per 100 possessions. The league average is 16.5.

Factor #3: Rebounding

When a team misses a shot, its possession hasn’t ended until the defense secures the ball. Grabbing offensive rebounds can boost offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) by giving the offense another chance to score during that same possession. Conversely, corralling defensive rebounds limits the opposing offense’s opportunities to score.

Per game stats once again do a poor job of expressing rebounding effectiveness both because of pace, and because there’s no accounting for how many rebounds are available. For example, last season the Wizards led the league in offensive rebounds per game. This fact was used in various media outlets to demonstrate that the Wizards were the league’s best offensive rebounding team. But, the Wizards played at a fast pace and shot a middling percentage — both factors that would serve to increase offensive rebounding opportunities.

Going by the better measure — offensive rebounding percentage — the Wizards were still the league’s fifth best offensive rebounding team. Slow-paced and accurate Seattle was the best offensive rebounding team, successfully retrieving 34 percent of their own missed shots.

While the Wizards were an excellent offensive rebounding team last season, this year they’re about average. They’ve rebounded about 28% of their own misses — the league average is 28.7%. Last season, the Wizards were a bad defensive rebounding team, but this year they’re even worse — dead last in the league so far, grabbing fewer than 65% of opponent misses. The league average is better than 71%.

Factor #4: Getting To The Free Throw Line

Although it sounds odd, getting to the free throw line is more important than actually making the free throws. Even so, making the free throws is obviously the ideal, so free throw rate is measured as free throws made per field goal attempt.

In 2004-2005, the Wizards were among the league leaders in this category. Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes attacked relentlessly, and Brendan Haywood drew fouls in the middle. This season, the Wizards have slipped back and rank just 14th both offensively and defensively in this category.