Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Fun with numbers – basketball edition

Wednesday March 3, 2010

I’ve been enjoying David Hale’s look at some of the stats that could play a role in the outcome of the 2010 football season, and we can turn some similar analysis on the basketball team to understand what’s behind Georgia’s rebuilding effort.

Most sports have stats that aren’t listed in the box score but have become part of the vocabulary of those trying to understand the games. Sabermetrics has taken over baseball analysis. Football fans talk about hidden yardage and SDPI. Basketball fans try to identify hustle plays and are even starting to apply Sabermetrics-like analysis to hoops.

There’s a basketball stat that goes back over 50 years – points per possession (PPP). It’s a way to measure a team’s efficiency: the more points you can get out of each possession the more efficient your offense. The reverse holds true for defense. It applies whether you are a slow-paced team or an up-tempo team. There are many ways to determine the total number of possessions in a game (other than outright charting them as some teams do), but a formula like this can be used to approximate total possessions from most box scores:

Possessions = field goal attempts – offensive rebounds + turnovers + (0.475 x free throw attempts)

Generally speaking, better offenses seem to have a PPP around 1.10 or higher. A number under 1.00 isn’t great, and below 0.90 is putrid.

To illustrate how far Georgia’s offense has come under Mark Fox, Georgia’s PPP last year was a dismal 0.88 – Georgia managed far less than a point per possession. You’ll have to dig to find many major programs worse than that. In a typical game with 65-75 possessions, Georgia could expect about 57-66 points. That won’t win many games.

Georgia’s PPP has improved this year by a whopping 20% to 1.06 PPP. Defensive efficiency has dropped marginally this year, but it pales next to the improvement on offense. Anyone watching Georgia hoops has seen it; these numbers quantify the improvement.

For all the talk of Wall and Cousins and Patterson and the rest of the explosive Kentucky offense, their PPP on offense is only one tick better than Georgia’s: 1.07 vs. 1.06. What’s propelled Kentucky to the top of the national rankings has been its ability on defense to hold opponents to 0.93 PPP. A Basketball Prospectus notes, Kentucky is holding opponents to 27% from behind the arc this year.

Georgia’s ability to play close at Rupp Arena earlier this year raised a lot of eyebrows. Was it a case of Georgia playing well that kept it close? Not really – it was one of Georgia’s least efficient offensive performances of the year. Kentucky managed about 1.02 PPP in that game – slightly below their season average but not by much. It was an above-average performance by the Georgia defense. The key stat was Kentucky going 2-14 from behind the arc. Georgia on the other hand had a PPP of just 0.92 – far below their season average but pretty close to Kentucky’s average defensive efficiency. Georgia stayed in the game thanks to shooting 43% on three-pointers, but their 26 turnovers destroyed their efficiency and ultimately cost them down the stretch. If Georgia had managed a PPP of just 1.00 in Lexington with the same number of possessions, they would have scored around 74 points and made the ending much more interesting.

Valuing possessions is important in any sport, but it becomes acute against a team like Kentucky that has been so effective all year in crippling opponents’ offensive efficiency. Georgia will have to shoot well, but they’ll have to focus on turnovers in order to have a chance tonight. That’s not just a concern for Ware the point guard – Trey Thompkins led the Bulldogs with 6 turnovers against the Cats in January, and the inability to hold on to the ball was truly a team effort. If Georgia can maintain possession and get off a good shot within their offense, chances are they’ll be able to score in the 70s and give us a much better result this time.

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