How the Four Factors go Deeper Than Traditional Counting Stats

Basketball games aren’t played in a vac­u­um. The Four Factors help coach­es adjust for pace of play to get a more accu­rate view of their team.

How the Four Factors go Deeper Than Traditional Counting Stats

Basketball games aren’t played in a vac­u­um. The Four Factors help coach­es adjust for pace of play to get a more accu­rate view of their team.

All shoot­ing per­cent­ages are not cre­at­ed equal.

Take the case of Marcin Gortat, the reli­able Wizards cen­ter who shot a ster­ling 58 per­cent this sea­son. On the whole, he makes a high­er per­cent­age of his shots than team­mate Otto Porter, who shot 51.6 percent.

But Porter has some­thing in his game Gortat does not. Porter shot 4.3 3-point­ers a game, can­ning 43.4 per­cent of them. Considering how much more valu­able a made 3 is com­pared to a 2, Porter’s shots are typ­i­cal­ly more valu­able than Gortat’s. Porter’s effec­tive field goal per­cent­age is 60.8 per­cent com­pared to 57.9 per­cent for Gortat.

This is just one exam­ple of how tra­di­tion­al count­ing stats often fail to tell the true val­ue of a play­er. They don’t account for pace of play, dif­fer­ent shot types or play­ing time, leav­ing them use­ful but ulti­mate­ly flawed.

Dean Oliver set out to fix this issue in his 2004 book, Basketball on Paper, where he unveiled the Four Factors to more defin­i­tive­ly gauge per­for­mance. Oliver high­light­ed four main traits that helped define win­ning teams – accu­rate shoot­ing, strong rebound­ing, being turnover-averse and get­ting to the free-throw line. He then cre­at­ed sta­tis­tics that show teams how they’re doing in these areas.

We want to help you take full advan­tage of these num­bers next sea­son, so we’ll break down each one by show­ing how it’s cal­cu­lat­ed and why it’s impor­tant. And to ver­i­fy the num­bers’ worth, we’ll pro­vide the top five NBA teams in each cat­e­go­ry, prov­ing that the best teams excel in these areas.

Effective Field Goal Percentage

Field goal per­cent­age alone is a use­ful stat, but it doesn’t take into account the added ben­e­fit of that extra point from a 3. This is an easy way to bal­ance the val­ue a 3-point­er provides.

How it works: Factors in the added val­ue of a made 3-point­er ver­sus a 2-pointer

NBA lead­ers: Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets, Clippers, Nuggets

We real­ly used to preach the in-between game, the pull-up jumper,” Greg Miller, the head coach at Robinsdale-Armstrong High School (Minn.), said. Now I’ll let kids do it, but the per­cent­ages show that it’s just not a good shot. So we do a five-out offense and spread the floor. We have a big man who can get dou­bled. We obvi­ous­ly don’t tell them to spot up at the elbow. We tell them to spot up at the 3. The trends in bas­ket­ball are chang­ing because of the ana­lyt­ics. You saw that in the NBA this year. Shots are up 35 per­cent from last year. It’s a shot that is chang­ing the game for sure.”

Turnover Percentage

Every coach rec­og­nizes that turnovers are bad and avoid­ing them is crit­i­cal to win­ning. But sim­ply count­ing turnovers doesn’t take pace of play into account. A team that walks the ball up the floor is like­ly going to have few­er mis­cues than one that fast breaks at every oppor­tu­ni­ty, but they’re also using far few­er pos­ses­sions. Turnover per­cent­age fac­tors in how many pos­ses­sions each team has, mak­ing it a more accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of ball security.

How it works: Factors pace of play into typ­i­cal turnover stats

NBA lead­ers: Hornets, Pistons, Mavericks, Pelicans, Raptors

Turnover per­cent­age is big for us,” Ryan Fretz of Clyde High School in Ohio said. We know who we can force into turnovers. Every time our oppo­nent turns the ball over, that’s one less shot that they get to take. We want to take more shots than them, so we don’t want to turn the ball over. It changes the game big time when we look at the dif­fer­ence in turnovers.”

Offensive Rebound Percentage

The more oppor­tu­ni­ties a team has to score, the more like­ly they are to do so. Gobbling up offen­sive rebounds cre­ates more pos­ses­sions and can demor­al­ize a defense that worked hard to get a stop. Once again, pace of play is a fac­tor here. A team that takes more shots is going to get more chances at offen­sive boards.

How it works: Adjusts rebound­ing rate with pace

NBA lead­ers: Thunder, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Bulls, Knicks

Free Throw Factor

Oliver defines free throw rate as more impor­tant than free-throw per­cent­age. Sure, it’s great to make most of your free throws, but if you’re not get­ting to the line often, that’s not very use­ful. Teams and play­ers that shoot more free throws earn more oppor­tu­ni­ties at easy points while get­ting the oppo­si­tion into foul trouble.

How it works: Measures how often a team or play­er gets to the foul line

NBA lead­ers: Clippers, Rockets, Suns, Thunder, Hawks

It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that suc­ceed­ing in just one or two of these areas prob­a­bly won’t be enough to get your team over the top. Use the Goals report to make sure you’re thriv­ing in all four.

There is still val­ue in look­ing at raw num­bers, but coach­es are increas­ing­ly dig­ging deep­er to find more valu­able stats, and the Four Factors are a huge part of that. Checking in on these num­bers pro­vides a more valu­able barom­e­ter of team performance. 

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