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 uber-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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