Possession is Nine-tenths of the Law

Suppose that baseball statisticians had developed a complicated mathematical formula involving hits, walks, strikeouts, put-outs and errors in order to calculate … Pitch Count.

Seems a rather convoluted method for determining something that can easily and quite simply be tallied, huh?

But ya know …

… that’s pretty much the way hoop folk keep track of a piece of game data that is just as elemental to basketball as a “pitch” is to baseball. Hell, the Naismith Number-crunchers take their digital diagnosis in this regard to a whole ‘nother level – they “average” a team’s performance in matters of shooting, rebounding and protecting the ball with their opponents’ corresponding numbers … take a look at the actual computation.

FGA + [(0.4) x FTA] + TO’s – [(FGA – FG) x OR% x 1.07]

And can you guess what aspect of basketball all that ugly arithmetic computes?

Possessions – the total number of a team’s opportunities to score.

Though more than a little daunting, that algebraic symbolism is framed in reasonable logic – you combine TO’s and “Free-throw Conversions,” then add in any FGA’s for which there is not a corresponding Offensive Rebound. Pretty simple concept.

Of course, the formula assumes that 40% of FTA’s represent the completion of a successful offensive possession (i.e. conversion) – and that a factor of 1.07 will account for a squad’s “Live-ball” Team OR’s.

It was a little over 50 years ago when my junior high school pals and I started regularly attending C’s games at the old Garden – even got to meet several Baltimore Bullets one Friday night.

It took a little “sneaking,” but if you foraged around by the press table (or even some of the more expensive seats) at halftime or after a game, you often could find copies of the “paperwork” that was provided to the newspaper writers and "high brows" as the game progressed – quarterly stats and even a running play-by-play.

This data was typed up on good old-fashioned “ditto masters” as the game was going on. You could see Howie McHugh passing them out a couple of minutes into each quarter of play, sending a bunch of them via string and clipboard up to Johnny Most & Co. high above courtside.

Alas, here in 2019, the NBA’s method for tracking “Possession” seems about as sophisticated as ol’ Howie’s string and clipboard.

Abacus Revelation for the Road

Regarding the formulaic calculation of Possessions:

Over the last two regular seasons (and according to my own perhaps-slightly-fallible record-keeping), the Celtics attempted 3,295 FT's, good for 1,430 "Free-throw Conversions" -- a rate of 43.4%.

Opponents took 3,620 FT's, accounting for 1,550 conversions and a rate of 42.8%.

Maybe the "equation" for tallying possessions needs a re-calibration?