The Key NBA Handicapping and Fantasy Analysis Statistic: Possessions (8/27/09)

Handicapping NBA games and playing fantasy basketball are very closely related and having a good grasp of one definitely improves the other.  One of my favorite stats for making my NBA handicapping game picks AND setting my daily fantasy cash game rosters is the ‘possession’.  The Possession statistic measures the ‘quantity’ of opportunities that a team gets to score points.  All stats flow from this concept.

Possession is defined with the basic formula:  Possessions=FGA+TO+(.4 x FTA)-OREB.  Sometimes you will see .44 x FTA used but I normally just use .4 to make the math easier and quicker as I review the boxscores.  Some also prefer to discount the entire possessions number by multiplying it by .96.  I stick with the above formula. 

To determine the number of possessions for the entire game, simply do the formula for each team and then add the number of possessions together and divide by 2.

Last season one of  the teams with the highest number of possessions per game was Golden State.  Plugging in their season numbers you get 7055 FGA + 1201 TO + (.4 x 2392) – 953 OREB = 8355/82 games = ~101 possessions per game.   The scores of their games tended to be relatively high.

One of the slowest teams was the Detroit Pistons, who are known for their tough defense.  Plugging in their numbers you get 6559 FGA + 973 TO + (.4 x 1849 FTA) – 949 OREB = 7397/82 games = ~89 possessions per game. The scores of their games tended to be relatively low.

If you were considering a totals bet, the possession figures should be the first statistic you look at.  Once you understand possessions, you can see why Warriors games usually have higher totals numbers than Pistons games.  The real trick is to determine where to put the line when you have a matchup of the Warriors versus the Pistons. 

It should also be clear how a knowledge of the possessions statistic can help you with daily fantasy decisions.  If you have to choose between two players, one playing against Golden State and one playing against Detroit, the roster decision becomes really easy given the possessions statistic and all the extra opportunities the fantasy player will have with Golden State as the opponent.  This becomes really helpful in daily cash game fantasy contests with a salary cap.  Many times the two players you are considering may have similar salaries, but the matchups make one player a much better deal than the other.

The possessions statistic is an important one, but sometimes can be misleading since it only measures quantity of opportunity.  In the next post of this series I will take a look at qualifying the possessions statistic with the statistic of ‘efficiency’ using Offensive Ratings and Defensive Ratings.  While Possessions measure ‘quantity’ of scoring opportunities, Off/Def Ratings measure ‘quality’ of scoring opportunities.

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