Blog: Paradigm Shift in Practicing Shooting

”But calling for a paradigm shift is not the same as making one.”

Kelso and Engstrøm referred to a paradigm shift in science but it’s true everywhere. For example, there is an obvious need for a paradigm shift in the way shooting basketball is taught but the shift is not happening too rapidly.

Exhibit one: Here Klay Thompson scores 52 points hitting 16 field goal shots of a wide technical variety. But here Klay Thompson’s shooting mechanics are discussed as if they were constantly the same – as if for example he followed through the same way each time.

Exhibit two: this video by Australian Institute of Sport Basketball. In Part A, they present seemingly ironclad rules on what a jump shot should be like (no dipping et cetera). Then in Part B, they show drills on how to “develop a more adaptable shot”!

You see how difficult it is to escape the idea of one correct shooting technique – even when you know better.

How then should we go about making the paradigm shift? How should variability be added to training? How could an adaptable shot be developed?

This other video by AIS Basketball shows some valid ideas. Plus we need to get back this question later on.  Let me know if you have some ideas. It’s a question worthy of pondering for a while.

Blog: Forget About One Correct Shooting Technique

A lot of writings regarding shooting technique are useless because of their underlying assumption that there is one correct shooting technique. A starting point for a more fruitful dialogue is changing the assumption to that appropriate solutions in different situations may be quite different.

The traditional line of thinking goes something like this: A coach’s job is to figure out what the correct shooting technique is. Then it becomes the player’s job to learn and execute that correct technique.

Anyone’s who’s been in the game for any length of time has been dragged into these discussions: What should the position of the feet be like? Should the ball be dipped? How come the players do not follow through properly? Et cetera et cetera.

These debates go on forever for a simple reason: there are no correct answers because there is no correct one shooting technique – not even for one person, let alone for all players. Rather, all technical details should depend on the situation and on the shooter’s characteristics.

Most coaches have adopted the wide open mid-range jump shot off the pass as the primary shooting technique – i.e. as the technique that is varied according to the constraints of different situations. This is a really bad idea. It hampers learning because it makes the changes made to the primary techniques seem unwanted, even incorrect.

How should a coach then approach teaching shooting technique? He should help a player develop and learn techniques appropriate to the situations the player will face in games. Even though some general guidelines do apply, these techniques are contextual and personal.

There should be a lot of variability in training because there is a lot of variability in the types of shots players actually take in games. Also, variability enhances motor learning per se. Generally speaking, practice schedule should be random rather than blocked.

All this personalization, variability, and randomness does not imply that anything goes – that any technique is just as good as another one. Rather the coach and the player should look for techniques that optimize the combination of accuracy, quickness, release height, and power given the constraints of the situation.

FT Frequency Revised – Or Why Four Factors Should Be Six Factors

FT frequency is one of the Four Factors, the basketball analysis framework developed by Dean Oliver. The equation he uses is:

  • FT frequency = FTM / FGA

However, there are severe problems with the equation – in fact so severe that the FT factor should be split into two.

One of the problems with Oliver’s equation is that negative occurrences may cause FT frequency to rise. I.e. if the shooter misses a FG shot where he gets fouled it affects the FT frequency more positively than if he gets fouled and makes the shot. That is because a missed foul FG shot will not add to the number of FG attempts, as a made foul FG shot does, and because a missed foul FG shot provides the offense with two FTA, whereas a made foul FGS will only provide one.

Example: Say you have made one 2-point FG shot where there has been no foul. Then you take a second one, and this time there is a foul. If you make the FG shot, you earn a bonus FT. Make it, and the equation becomes:

  • FT Frequency = 1 / 2 = 0.5

Should you instead miss your second FG shot and make one of the subsequent FT attempts, the equation is:

  • FT frequency = 1 / 1 = 1.0.

So, now the FT frequency is higher even though your FT% is lower and even though you have drawn the same number of fouls as in the previous case.

The other problem with Oliver’s FT frequency equation is practical. A team’s FT frequency will not tell how they have done regarding the two basic aspects of free throws: earning FTA and making them. Hence they must have separate indicators.

This is hardly surprising since in 2007 Kubatko, Oliver, Pelton and Rosenbaum wrote: “This would imply Five Factors, but this one term [FT frequency] tends to capture the most important elements of both.” As shown above, their second claim was incorrect.

To measure a team’s ability to hit FT’s there is no better tool than FT%.

To measure a team’s ability to earn FT’s I suggest this equation:

  • FT frequency = FT Sets / Plays

As shown above, neither FTA nor FTM should be the dividend since getting fouled and missing the FG shot would lead to more FTA and FTM than getting fouled and making the FG shot. I.e. a less positive outcome would have a more positive effect on the FT frequency.

So, the only options left for the dividend are the number of number defensive fouls or the number of FT sets. The context here is Four Factors where the independent variables cover endings of plays. Since a defensive foul will not necessarily be the ending of play but a FT set will be, it makes sense to choose the number of FT sets as the dividend. Also, FT sets are more directly linked to FT frequency than the total number of defensive fouls is. In a previous blog I already turned Four Factors into Five Factors.

This splitting the FT frequency into two factors turns Five Factors into Six Factors. And this is where it ends. Hence the Four Factors turned into Six Factors are:

  1. Clean effective field goal percentage
  2. Foul effective field goal percentage
  3. Turnover percentage
  4. Offensive rebounding percentage
  5. Free throw frequency
  6. Free throw percentage

Five Factors – or Improving the Validity of Four Factors

Four Factors, developed by Dean Oliver, is a widespread concept in basketball performance analysis. Yet there is a serious flaw in it: it uses eFG% to measure the efficiency of field goal shooting. This is an invalid procedure, as shown here.

What then would be a valid indicator for the efficiency of field goal shooting within the framework of Four Factors?

Actually, two indicators are needed: eFG% of FG shots where the shooter is not fouled in the act of shooting (clean eFG%) and eFG% of FGS shots where the shooter is fouled in the act of shooting (foul eFGS%). This is the most useful way of including all FG shots  in the analysis – even those shots where the shooter is fouled and misses the shot.

The equations are:

  •                       Clean eFG% = (Clean FG + .5 x Clean 3P) / Clean FG shots
  •                       Foul eFG% = (Foul FG + .5 x Foul 3P) / Foul FG shots

Adding to the number of variables adds to the complexity of the analysis. However, the practical value of the analysis is also improved since now getting to the free throw line and hitting FG shots are measured as separate issues. At this point Four Factors have turned into Five Factors:

  1. Clean effective field goal percentage
  2. Foul effective field goal percentage
  3. Turnovers per possession
  4. Offensive rebounding percentage
  5. Free throw frequency

However, Five Factors will eventually become Six Factors, since there is a practical and theoretical problem with the factor of free throw frequency.

Blog: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet in Basketball

Last summer, Team USA won the FIBA world championship easily. Not one team could actually compete with them. What was that about?

To me the main teaching was that basketball is an underdeveloped sport – a work very much in progress.

That is because Team USA overwhelmed everyone with their combination of athletism and sufficient amount of technical skill. In other words, no opponent was physically capable of putting them in a position where any advanced tactical skills would have been required.

The fact that that type of one-dimensional dominance was enough to win a world championship, showed that the sport itself is underdeveloped. In more fully developed sports – say, European or American football – a combination of high-class tactical, technical, and physical capabilities is needed in order to be the best in the world.

Okay, maybe the FIBA World Cup is a bad example? Maybe it’s rather the NBA champions San Antonio Spurs that have it all: techniques, tactics, athletism?

Much has been made of the Spurs’ collectivistic team play. And yes, relatively speaking they do play collectivistically – in other words, collectivistically for an NBA team.

That is because in that league, the individualistic line of thinking is the default setting. When NBA star players work towards the common good – i.e. do the job of a basketball player – they are thought to nobly sacrifice their game.

In European high-level basketball, it is rather collectivism that is the default setting. Compared to the top European teams, the Spurs’ tactical competence nothing to cheer about. Just consider what happened in their preseason loss to Alba Berlin.

What does all this mean regarding future, then? That when it comes to basketball, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There is plenty of room for improvement. First, a combination of high-class techniques, tactics and athletism must be reached. Only after that, we can really go to work.

Blog: Much of Basketball Performance Analysis Is Invalid Because eFG% Is an Invalid Metric for Measuring the Efficiency of FG Shooting

Whenever you see basketball performance analysis where eFG% is used as the metric to measure the efficiency of FG shooting, you immediately know that the whole analysis is invalid.

Since eFG% is widely used, much of the current basketball performance analysis is invalid.

Nothing helps: not the huge amount of the data, not the sophistication of the analysis methods, not the great looks of the graphics. In a way, they only make matters worse sonce they help hide the invalidity of the underlying assumptions.

The invalidity of eFG% is due to an obvious yet ignored fact: eFG% does not consider all FG shots. The equation of eFG% is:

eFG% = (FGM + 0.5 x 3PM) / FGA

The problems is that not all FG shots count as FGA. If the shooter gets fouled in the act of shooting and misses the shot, that FG shot is not considered an FGA in the statistics.

Consequently, eFG% does not measure the efficiency of all FG shots but the sample is systematically biased. This makes all performance analysis, where eFG% involved, invalid when it comes measuring the efficiency of FG shooting.

Despite this obvious bias, eFG% continues to be widely used. Why? Probably because it is easily derived from the basic box score stats.

Thus implementing eFG% requires no extra work. Rather than ponder the validity the underlying assumptions, analysts concentrate on putting together new formulas or new graphics.

For glossary of terms, see Basketball Reference.

Blog: Teachings of NBA Playoffs 2014

These ideas occurred to me when watching the NBA Playoffs 2014. A half of these ideas are gathered from my previous (now deleted) posts, but the other half I have not posted before.

Idolizing Spurs

* Some basketball people now seem to think that all NBA teams should now try to implement the strategy and tactics of Spurs. However, as in any business, this type of imitation is bound to lead to failure.

* Even though Spurs’ tactics worked last season, who says they will be any good this season?

* Think of Lakers in 2011. After winning two championships in a row, they got swept in the playoffs by Mavericks – partly because their famed triangle offense had gotten outdated.

* What happened to idolizing the strategy and tactics of Miami Heat? They have made it to the championship series four times in row and won the championship in 2012 and 2013.

Performance Analysis

* In team sports, the analysis of past performances will never be able to tell what the future performance should be like.

* Performance analysis is an important tool for developing performance, but its importance and predictive power are exaggerated by the PA industry and the media.

* The more precisely and rigidly a team follows the guidelines derived from the analysis of past performances, the more vulnerable it becomes.

Misusage of Terms

* Usually there is nothing extra about an “extra pass” but the term simply refers to a pass that is made by a player, who is in a decent position to shoot, to a teammate, who is in a better position to shoot.

* What are often referred to as “little things” in basketball tend to be not little things but big things that are called little only because they do not appear in the box score.

* The term “look-away pass” is most often literally incorrect, because the passer does not look away but rather keeps facing the basket and sees what the defense does. In other words, he does not turn his shoulder towards the direction of his eventual pass.

Positionless Basketball

* At the highest level of play, any simple-sounding action is hard to execute successfully. The physical, technical, and tactical constraints are strict.

* That is why “positionless basketball” will never happen at the highest level of play. Players must specialize in certain skills to be able to execute them efficiently even where the air is thin.

* A paradox: The more optimally a coach wishes to utilize his players’ unique skills, the more functionally specialized his system should be. Yet the more functionally specialized a system is, the more difficult it becomes to make it functionally integrated.

Watching and Learning

* If a coach watches basketball in order to improve himself as a coach, he shouldn’t watch exclusively NBA basketball (or any other one league).

* Rather, a coach should watch a wide variety of b-ball: different countries, different levels, different age groups, both sexes.

* Exposure to wholly different types of basketball will allow a coach to learn more than watching the NBA teams over and over again.