9 Stats That Every Serious Basketball Coach Should Track

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I'm a big believer that you should track what is important. As a basketball coach, you can't track everything -- so you pick what you believe are the most important stats and focus on them.

Here's what we believe are the most important basketball statistics for a competitive level coach (high school level and higher) where the primary objective is to win games. (Note: Youth coaches should focus primarily on development and youth appropriate stats like rebounds, assists, high fives, completed passes and so on.)
 


The First Four Stats (Top Level Stats)

The first four stats give you an instant snapshot of what's happening in the game.

If you beat your opponent in ALL four stats, you will always win. Always.

Basketball is really simple! To win you either need to shoot a higher percentage or take more shots than your opponent. That's all you can do. That's the only way to win a game.

Let's take a look at the stats...


Stat #1 - Field Goal Attempts (FGA)

If you can find a way to consistently take more field goal attempts that your opponent takes (take more shots), then you have a good chance to win games. You can even win if your shooting percentage is lower than your opponent (you know... you're having one of those "off shooting nights").

If you're having an off shooting night, you better have a team that is capable of getting more FG attempts than the opponent!

That's why you need to know if your team is getting more FG attempts or not. It's a critical stat.

Now you don't always have to get more FG attempts than your opponent. For example, if you're shooting 93% and your opponent is only shooting 14%, then you probably won't be getting more FG attempts than your opponent (due to fewer offensive rebounding opportunities).

That's why you should look at your FG attempts and then immediately look at the next stat to put things in perspective...


Stat #2 - Effective Field Goal Percentage (EFG%)

Effective Field Goal percentage gives you an accurate reading on who is shooting better... you or your opponent. EFG% gives more credit to made 3 point field goals since they yield 1.5 times the scoring of a 2 point field goal. The formula is... EFG% = (2Pt + 1.5 x 3Pt) / FGA.

If you can shoot a higher EFG% than your opponent, you have a chance to win the game. We all know shooting is important. So it's certainly something you want to track. I like EFG% because it objectively tells you whether you have the shooting advantage over your opponent or not.

EFG% affects many areas of the game. A good percentage will help you cut down your opponent′s fast break opportunities -- which allows your defense to get set and cut down on personal fouls.

If your EFG% is lower or about the same as your opponent, you better be getting more FG attempts and/or winning in the next two stats...


Stat #3 - Free Throw Attempts (FTA)

This stat will tell you who gets to the free throw line more often. Of course you want to get there more often, for a variety of reasons. For one, getting to the line gives you a "free shot".

Defensively, fouling keeps your team from running in transition, can get key players in foul trouble, and thwarts all your hard work on defensive possessions.


Stat #4 - Free Throw Percentage (FT%)

Free throw percentage is the last piece of the puzzle. We don't put a lot of focus on this stat (although we do shoot a ton of free throws in practice), but this final stat gives you the rest of the story and helps you determine where points are coming from.


Comparing to Your Opponent

By looking at these 4 stats and comparing them to your opponent, you can always tell whether you are winning or losing a game. For me, these are KEY Performance Indicators that all coaches should look for each game. (Note: Be sure to look at the summary report at the end of this article to get a better visual of how you can use these stats. )

Again, if you can beat your opponent in the 4 stats above, you will always win the game. It's impossible for you to lose. And if you beat your opponent in 3 out of the 4 stats above, you'll usually win that game too.


Our Goal

So as a goal, we're always trying to beat our opponent in at least 3 out of those 4 stats. That's our goal every time we play a game.

If you're not looking at those 4 stats above, how can you objectively determine what you should be focusing on as a coach? Maybe you're focusing on the wrong things? Looking at stats helps you figure out what you should be practicing and avoid that mistake.
 


The Next Five Basketball Stats

Now after looking at the 4 stats above, you can drill down into the next 5 key stats to get a clearer picture of what's happening. The 5 stats below feed directly into the 4 primary stats above.


1) Turnovers - As a coach, you want to know how many turnovers you commit and how it compares to your opponent.


2) Defensive Rebounding Percentage (DReb%) - DReb% is the percentage of available rebounds the defensive team gets. The formula is... DReb% = DReb / (DReb + Opponents OReb).

As we've explained in other articles, you should look at rebounding percentages instead of totals -- because totals do NOT give a true indication of your rebounding performance.


3) Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OReb%) - OReb% is the percentage of available rebounds the offensive team gets. The formula is... OReb% = OReb / (OReb + Opponents DReb).


4) Fouls - Fouls are the enemy of good defense. Nothing is worse than working really hard on a possession only to foul your opponent and gives them two easy free throws.


5) Attempts in the Paint - This is a critical stat that affects offense, defense, and all areas of the game. We want more attempts in the paint than our opponent.


These 5 key stats have a big impact on the game and have an impact on the "4 top level stats" at the beginning of the article.

For example, committing turnovers will lower your FG attempts (a top level stat) and conversely raise your opponent′s FG attempts.

Also, what happens after most turnovers? They turn into easy lay ups for your opponents, which increases their EFG% (another top level stat).

And when the lay ups are missed, you're very rarely in good box-out position. So the opponent gets more rebounds (thus affecting DRB%). In addition, players often commit fouls trying to make up for mistakes and stopping lay ups in transition. And so on.

So as you can see, turnovers alone affect your FG attempts, rebounding, free throws, fouls, defense, and offense.

And if you examine each of the 5 stats above, you'll see they have a big impact on the game and feed directly into the 4 top level stats.


What Do You Look at First?

I always start by looking at the first 4 top level stats because they are directly related to each other and are what I consider "high level indicators".

Then I look at the bottom 5 stats. As an example, I might see that everything is pretty even except our opponent has 10 more FG attempts than us. I want to know why!!

So I look down and might see that our defensive rebounding is terrible and we have 5 more turnovers than the opponent. Now I objectively know what's happening in the game -- and what's helping or hurting us the most.


How to Make it Easier to Collect and Calculate the Stats

That might all sound great and all of us coaches would love to have detailed stats at our finger tips. So how do you easily keep track of all these stats?

To make it easier to collect and calculate the stats above, you can try our app called Breakthrough Stats. You can download the app in the iTunes store.

The app makes it much easier to collect and calculate all the stats you'll want to improve the performance of your team.

Below you'll see a screen shot of the Key Stats Report. In just a couple taps of the iPad or iPhone, you can instantly calculate all the stats.

This report is the first thing I look at during half time and after the game is over. It gives me a quick and clear story of the game and an objective snapshot of what we need to work on.

You can see the 9 stats above (that we believe are most important) are conveniently grouped into this concise report.

Look at the "Difference" Row

You'll notice the row on the bottom called "difference". I immediately look at the difference to see how our team is doing. If it's a negative number, that means we're not doing good. If it's a positive number, that means we're beating our opponent in that area (and just as importantly I can see exactly how much we're beating them by).

This is a critical report for us and this tool makes me a better coach.

Of course there are other ways to collect and calculate this information. But this app will make it easier.





What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...



Comments

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dude123 says:
12/23/2021 at 7:28:46 PM

Awesome Article! Really help me with the project I am working on!!!

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dude123 says:
12/23/2021 at 7:28:12 PM

Awesome Article! Really help me with the project I am working on!!!

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Gary Sexton says:
8/7/2021 at 5:39:13 PM

Do you make BreakthroughStats App for Windows 10?

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  1 reply  

Jeff says:
8/11/2021 at 12:00:11 PM

Sorry it's only available on Apple IOS devices (iphone and ipad).

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Coach Bill says:
11/13/2020 at 1:19:02 AM

I've been using Breakthrough Stats for the last 3 years or so, and it's been a great way to get the raw numbers for each game. I watch my game videos, and track everything.

The one thing it lacks is a tie-in to the video itself - so ideally you can click on turnovers for example, and find the spot in the video where all turnovers occurred.

If you're looking for this sort of video + stats integration, check out Hoopsalytics.com. It's a web-based video and analytics app specifically for basketball. As a coach, being able to see the box score numbers and watch video clips for the corresponding events is pretty awesome.

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wayne says:
2/26/2020 at 10:47:23 AM

I think youth development stats should be looked at differently than college and pro stats. Also, I am not seeing a stat on assists. In my "unqualified" opinion, stats should be tallied on each player. Then some sort of formula should be applied to come up with the individual players "+/-" number. Players with the most positive numbers should be encouraged to do more of what they are doing. Players with negative rating should be similarly educated....and played less until they can correct. It seems that playing time stat per player also needs to be implemented. Some players do not do well with low minutes and other players have diminishing returns with high minutes. Just an opinion from a novice : ) .

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Jeff Haefner says:
2/26/2020 at 11:37:51 AM

For youth development, I agree with you. This article does not give good advice for youth coaches. I believe youth coaches should focus on development. Winning should be a secondary goal, not the primary goal.

This article was written competitive level coaches (high school level and higher) where the primary objective is to win games. If fact, I'm going to add something to the beginning of the article to mention that. This was based on what I was doing at the high school level and it didn't occur to me (until now) that youth coaches might think this was intended for them. My mistake. Thank you for the comment! Appreciate it!

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Jeff Haefner says:
2/26/2020 at 11:55:17 AM

Also, here are a couple good articles about stats for youth teams:
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/stats/3-adjustments-youth.html
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/coaching/Bigelow-Encouraging-Players.html

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Jim Taylor says:
3/27/2022 at 1:59:07 PM

With all due respect, I think your stats are important at any level, starting with youth sports. We sell our children way too short. They are capable of learning so much at early ages. I played organized basketball starting in 7th grade and I was terrible. By the time I was in 9th grade, I became one of the starting guards on our 9th grade team. I can assure you that winning was just as important to me as it was for my Jr. High coach. The youth of today IMHO is handicapped by the Participation Trophy mentality that many parents and coaches have imposed on them so as not to hurt their fragile egos. I learned a lot from losing. It was easier than winning. Learning how to win served me well later in life as a Youth Coach and in the workplace. As a youth, I played Little League ball at a time before coaches were required to play Little Jimmy the same amount of time as all other players on the team. I rode the bench unless my team, The Glasva Orioles, were either way ahead or way behind. Fortunately, I got into a lot of games b/c the Glasva O's were quite good. It was to me a microcosm of life then and now. It didn't break my will; it made me stronger. As a Youth Basketball Coach, I was not hampered by having to allow each of my players to play an equal amount of minutes. We won our share of games. I used to tell my players that I didn't care who started each game and to prove it I would start different players every game. I told them what was more important was who was in the game at the finish when the game was on the line.

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Coach Wright says:
11/19/2019 at 12:43:12 AM

I absolutely LOVE the "Raider" stat on so many levels! It is such a positive way to reinforce good habits. 1) It reduces the damage done by turnovers, 2) it helps to prevent a negative reaction (bad body language, frustration foul, etc.) which keeps everyone mentally in tune to what is happening on the court, and 3.) it reinforces habits of effort and aggression, which apply to all areas of the game. I hope you don''t mind, but I will definitely be stealing this idea. Thanks for posting!

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123 says:
10/21/2019 at 11:34:01 PM

123

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Abel says:
8/7/2019 at 9:11:03 PM

Overall I enjoyed your thoughts, and found them valuable. However, I have one quibble. In an article on statistics, I hate to see an early sentence that isn't true:

"To win you either need to shoot a higher percentage or take more shots than your opponent. That's all you can do. That's the only way to win a game. "

Consider team A that only shoots 2 pointers. They go 20 for 20, scoring 40 points. 100% shooting, and 20 attempts. Now think about team B, that only shoots 3s. They go 14 for 19, scoring 42 points and winning the game. But their shooting percentage is lower (74%) and their attempts are lower as well.

So there is a way to win a game by shooting a lower percentage and taking fewer shots. 10 years ago I would have said this is mostly a mathematical exercise, but given what the Warriors and Rockets have done to the NBA, I see it becoming a practical concern.

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  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
8/8/2019 at 7:33:10 AM

Good point. The sentence can be true or false depending on how you interpret it.

If you shoot a higher FT, higher, 2pt, and higher 3pt % and take same number of shots... you're going to win the game.

I kept the wording "shooting percentage" somewhat vague to keep the statement simple. In a sense, it is very simple and that's part of the point we're trying to make...

Stats can be simple but they can also be complicated. I like to keep it simple.

But in reality FT shooting has to be considered in addition to the 2pt and 3pt shots you take.

That is why the article lists the "4 most important stats" to be:
- FGA
- EFG% (which considers both 3pt and 2pt shots)
- FTA
- FT%

I suppose I could reword the sentence you pointed out to say...

"To win you either need to shoot a higher EFG and FT percentage -- or take more shots than your opponent. That's the only way to win a game."

Is that any better? I'm not sure. Again, it depends how you interpret it.

But I don't think that matters. If as a coach, you can find a way to consistently take more shots than your opponent and shoot a higher percentage, you're going to win a lot of basketball games!

If anyone has a better way to convey these ideas or a better way to look at stats, we'd love to hear it. Always appreciate suggestions!

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Coach Drew says:
4/10/2017 at 12:28:13 PM

Great thoughts. I love the simplicity of your level 1 stats and the breakdown of how your level 2 stats directly relate to level 1. Your players do need to understand the stats you are trying to produce and it seems that most players would easily understand FGA. Great stuff!

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  1 reply  

Jim Taylor says:
3/27/2022 at 12:53:40 PM

I agree. I believe it's over-simplistic to rely on only the 4 level 1 stats. In general, all things considered equal, if both teams have the same number of possessions, the team shooting the highest percentage generally comes out on top. If both teams shoot identical %s, the team with the most possessions will generally prevail. So, possessions is a key Stat that is directly related to FGA and is critical. Also, winning teams generally make more free throws than their opponents attempt. And, because possessions are key, don't underestimate the importance of Turnovers. I expected my teams at any level from youth thru high school age to score 2pts for every minute of the game. It was true before the 3pt shot was allowed and is still true and it works at any level even at the college and pro level. Do the arithmetic. It's not rocket science. It presumes of course that your team plays great defense. By scoring 2pts per minute and playing great defense, any team at any level should win most of its games if they are 24, 32, 40 or 48 minutes. The reason that it doesn't hold as true in the NBA is that the defense played at the Pro level is lousy.

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Jacob Kelly says:
11/19/2016 at 11:06:26 PM

Jeff,

I have tried using similar apps for stat tracking for baseball and found it really difficult to keep up with the pace of the game. Obviously with basketball the game moves much faster. Is this app easy enough to use during a fast paced game? Or does it take more than one person? Who usually keeps the iPad/iPhone during the game?

Thanks for all your help. I really appreciate you and your website.

-Jacob Kelly

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  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
11/21/2016 at 9:00:29 AM

Jacob -

Good question. We have kept live stats for around 100 games... ranging from 3rd grade to 10th grade.

You need a spotter (two people). One person has iPad and other person is there calling out stats (spotter)... just in case the person with iPad looks down and missing something.

I will tell you... some people are more comfortable with entering stats on an iPad than others. Most of the time, it's fine. But sometimes you get people just not comfortable. It also takes some practice.

We use the same one or two stat keepers all season. At the beginning of the season I will just ask they keep a handful of basic stats I want. Then after a couple weeks I have them add more stats as they get comfortable. If you ask them to do everything on day one, they will probably get frustrated.

We have also done stats for baseball games... again you need a spotter... otherwise it gets hard to keep up with a live game.

As far as who keep stats... with youth teams it's a parent or relative. Often times, assistant coaches are spotters. I almost always find one relative that loves to keep the stats. At high school level, it's usually a student manager or player for one of the teams not playing.

If you have any questions, let me know. We have been doing this for several years now and have learned a few things along the way.

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