Do You Make This Mistake? Basketball Stats Can be Deceiving…

By Don Kelbick

I was watching the Mets tank another one last night (yes, cut me I bleed blue and orange though I don’t readily admit it any more) on ESPN and Rick Sutcliffe, whom I am not a big fan of, made a great comment. As David “MVP” Wright came to bat, Sutcliffe commented that even though Wright has 123 RBIs, he has hit under .250 with runners in scoring position. What that means is that Wright must have a huge number of opportunities to hit in that situation. You have to think about the “quality” of his RBIs. By batting under .250, the number of runs he leaves on base may have turned the pennant race into a laugher.

That comment started me thinking. After I read the book “Moneyball” (highly recommended) I look at statistics very differently. I started applying Sutcliffe’s comment to basketball. Think about some of the statistics we use as benchmarks. A big man has a lot of “blocked shots.” Does that make him a great defender or are your perimeter players allowing too much penetration? You have a player who has a lot of steals. Does that make him a great defender or does he take too many chances?

For statistics to be relevant, you have to link them to the game in some manner. If a player makes 4 steals in a game (a lot) but gives up 4 layups on steal attempts that weren’t successful. Was that really good defense? Shooting over 50% does not necessarily mean great shooting, it might mean a lot of layups (not bad but not good shooting)

My favorite example was a meeting we had after we lost a game in double overtime. We looked at the stat sheet which said we had 51 offensive rebounds (that’s right – 51 offensive rebounds). Since it was an emphasis for our season, the other coaches were ecstatic about the stat. I, as usual being the sideways thinker, thought we should try to become better shooters (if the ball goes in more, there are less offensive rebounds. If the ball went in 1 more time, we win!).

Just something to think about.

Related Pages & Helpful Resources

Breatkhrough Stats App – Track Stats on Your iPad
Basketball Statistics – Using Stats
Tracking Your Defensive Statistics And Performance


  1. zoran — November 18, 2008 @ 10:29 am

    I noticed that long time ago. And included in statistics off rebounds quotient (divide number of rebounds with possible rebounds – all missed shots and last free throws)

  2. JayStarStar — October 14, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

    Offensive rebounds are almost always a good thing, since they usually indicate hustle (and following your shot). Plus when you get an offensive rebound you are almost always in prime scoring position and can usually get a bunny-shot and maybe get fouled in the process.

    Of course it would be wonderful, groovy and awesome if you made more shots to begin with, but in the meantime if you are going to miss shots it is better to get the rebound than not.

    No stat tells you everything in isolation. A kid with a lot of offensive rebounds might also be allowing a lot of fast break baskets on the other end or committing over-the-back fouls.

    The five main ‘positive’ stats in basketball (points, assists, rebounds, blocked shots and steals) are all good things for players to do, but if players get too obsessed with any of them their play in other areas of the game will suffer.

  3. DuWayne Krause — July 14, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

    Here’s a radical idea that can simplify how you look at the game. Some of you are going to try to get real technical about this and try to tear it apart, but it does have a considerable amount of logic to it. Basketball is a game of pass and catch. Those teams that are good at pass and catch win a lot of games. Assists is an unneeded statistic that can be decieving. If someone throws a good pass and a teammate scores the person gets an assist. If someone throws the same pass and the teammate misses the same shot there is no assist. Turnovers is a better judge of how your team is doing. It evaluates both individuals and team performance. If a team is good at running their offense they will be able to pass and catch all night and good shots will develop. If they aren’t there will be turnovers. If a player is a good decision maker and a good passer he will have few turnovers. If he isn’t he will have a lot of turnovers. Assists are a result of whether or not your team is good at pass and catch.

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