Basketball is NOT Basketball

There are very few absolutes in basketball. (To be honest, the only one that I can think of is: High score wins!)

One of the dangers or blind spots we all have is that our perspective is influenced by our experiences—and the story we tell ourselves about those experiences. It’s like being a frog at the bottom of a well. Perspective is tied to the confines of the well.

The frog at the bottom of the well starts to make conclusions about how the world works based on what they’ve been exposed to. Yet, for any frog that manages to get to the top of the well, they come to realize that the world is far bigger than the confines of the well. It’s more nuanced. Their ‘well thinking’ doesn’t necessarily hold up in different domains.

Some things do. Other things do not. It depends.

It started with a tweet…

And then, that tweet was chased by another…

As I shared in my Twitter response, I agree… There is a trickle-down effect in tendencies and trends from the NBA to other contexts. I think this is especially true as the game has evolved, players have become more multi-skilled at each position; and, style of play and what’s deemed ‘beautiful basketball’ (read: efficient) has shifted. Recognizing that, it’s also important to note that so much of the trends we see in the game today are being driven by deeper insights from analytics.

A good example of this can be seen in the work of Dean Oliver. Considered by many to be one of the forefathers of modern day basketball analytics, Oliver developed the Four Factors – to help coaches go deeper than traditional stats. Adopted by most analytics departments in the NBA and WNBA, the Four Factors adjusts for pace and gives teams a clearer picture of the impact of how efficiently they score the ball, control the ball, rebound the ball and the impact of free throws on winning.

The underlying premise holds up across the various levels of play. By example, generally speaking, scores at the rim are higher point per possession plays than shots made from 8-15 feet. The trend holds up; as it does with 3-point shots. But, and this is a big but, the ratios vary from NBA to WNBA to NCAA to Euroleague to national teams; men’s versus women’s, at the various ages, depending on rules (e.g. 24s shot clock vs 30s vs no shot clock… a narrow key vs wide key… defensive 3-sec violation vs true zone, etc).

That statement is incomplete. It’s overly reductionist and lacks specificity. Dare I say it’s a bit dangerous – because it could lead a less discerning mind to believe that what they see at the bottom of their well will translate into other contexts.

Somethings will. Somethings won’t.

Knowing versus believing what tendencies and strategies transfer – and how much – is the next step we as a coaching community need to make in order for us to go deeper in our coaching analysis.

I share all this to say that I’m confident that there are ‘performance indicators’ from the NBA that are transferable; and yet, which ones will, I nor anyone else IMO, can be certain – until they measure it.

Context is 👑. Everything requires context. (Oops! Guess that’s an absolute too. 🤦🏾‍♂️)

I love how Annie Duke puts it: “Confidence and certainty shouldn’t be confused” .