Points per Possession: The Versatile, Practical Barometer for Effectiveness

It’s sim­ple. It’s easy to mea­sure. And you can apply it to almost any area of the game with certainty.

Points per Possession: The Versatile, Practical Barometer for Effectiveness

It’s sim­ple. It’s easy to mea­sure. And you can apply it to almost any area of the game with certainty.

There’s a stat for seem­ing­ly every­thing these days. Have you seen all the intri­cate­ly-nuanced met­rics the NBA tracks?

In this age of über-ana­lyt­ics at every turn, it can be hard to sep­a­rate the sig­nal from the noise. Making things even more com­pli­cat­ed is the break­neck pace-and-space ethos that has quick­ly become the new nor­mal at every lev­el of the game. It’s not enough just to play with poise — you have to be fast, too.

That’s why, to account for the speed, many coach­es are turn­ing to points per pos­ses­sion. As one of the most indus­tri­ous met­rics, it cuts through the forest. 

How It Works

At its core, the objec­tive is sim­ple — divide points by num­ber of pos­ses­sions. The for­mu­la for points per pos­ses­sion is cal­cu­lat­ed as follows:

Put points per pos­ses­sion through any fil­ter and you’ll learn very quick­ly where you stand. Take, for instance, this sea­son-long line­up effi­cien­cy snap­shot from a nation­al­ly-ranked boys bas­ket­ball pro­gram in the Northeast. Each of these line­ups aver­aged at least five or more min­utes on the floor. 

Looking at this col­umn, which line­up are you most like­ly to throw out there when you need some bas­kets late in the game?

How Teams Value It

If we look at bas­ket­ball ana­lyt­ics as a vast night sky of con­stel­la­tions, con­sid­er this stat your North Star.

At the high­est lev­els of bas­ket­ball, you’ll see video coor­di­na­tors and assis­tant coach­es using it to mea­sure every­thing from a cer­tain play’s suc­cess, to how they hedge off screens or deploy a cer­tain defense.

I can look and go, okay, if we’re play­ing a team and they’re play­ing zone, you know, points per pos­ses­sion, where are we weak basi­cal­ly,” says Garrett Winegar, head boys bas­ket­ball coach of nation­al­ly-ranked Warren Central (Ind.). 

I think points per pos­ses­sion can show us that. And I just want to play at a faster pace, so I want to make sure I can keep that effi­cien­cy we’ve had, while play­ing faster.”

At the high school lev­el, you’ll see teams using the points per pos­ses­sion marks to judge how effi­cient their offense was on a par­tic­u­lar night, tak­ing the final point tal­ly out of it. But they’ll also use it on the defen­sive side of the ball, to see how effec­tive they were at get­ting stops or forc­ing poor shot selection. 

We want every­body under .8,” Imhotep Charter (Pa.) boys bas­ket­ball head coach Andre Noble said. If they’re above .8, we’re not hap­py. We’ve kept some pret­ty good teams under a .7 even, which is out­stand­ing really.”

How You Can Use It

There are many dif­fer­ent appli­ca­tions of this stat, but the one thing vir­tu­al­ly every coach at every lev­el can agree on is the Mendoza line. Anything above a 1.0 is good. Anything below it? It needs some work.

Isolating by shot type, free throws are usu­al­ly going to be your high­est points per pos­ses­sion total, hov­er­ing some­where near 1.3. The next most-effi­cient shot? That might depend on your style. Pair with effec­tive field goal per­cent­age to get a clear­er picture.

Using points per pos­ses­sion with line­ups can help you man­age them much more effi­cient­ly. Without hav­ing to account for pace, points per pos­ses­sion can tell you right away which line­up com­bi­na­tions are work­ing, and which aren’t (or should be dashed alto­geth­er). You might even dis­cov­er one that isn’t get­ting enough play, spark­ing new strategies.

Looking at the num­bers bro­ken down by quar­ter can also give you an idea of how your team responds to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Say your PPP total dips in the sec­ond quar­ter, when your oppo­nent began to apply a press defense. What can you work on improv­ing so you’re bet­ter pre­pared next time to han­dle that press?

I love those charts,” says Lynden Christian (Wash.) girls bas­ket­ball coach Brady Bomber. We had a group where the first and fourth quar­ter were were real­ly good num­bers, but for some rea­son in the sec­ond quar­ter we just weren’t as good effi­cien­cy-wise, so we’re try­ing to fig­ure out, why is that?

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