Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper provides a guide for identifying skills to develop for each position. Oliver identified the four factors that determine the outcome of each game. They are:
- Shooting percentage differential
- Offensive rebounding differential
- Turnover differential
- Free throw differential
When we discuss skills and talents of positions, we need to reference the Four Factors. A point guard can influence all four factors, but often in ways that go unnoticed. Typically, we rely on assists, turnovers, and steals per game, but these statistics tell part of the story.
The aggressive point guard may make more turnovers than a coach would like, but he may compensate by influencing other areas. By penetrating and drawing defenders, his bad shot may create offensive rebounding opportunities. I wrote an article called the “Allen Iverson Effect” about this idea: Iverson made guys like Theo Ratliff and Matt Geiger a lot of money by driving to the basket, drawing three defenders and taking bad shots that led to offensive rebound put-backs for Ratliff and Geiger. The 76ers built their team around this idea.
The point guard’s aggressive nature might get the other team into foul trouble and create a free throw advantage. He might use his aggressiveness defensively to create steals. Rather than evaluating a player’s impact on his team through one measure — assist to turnover ratio — that is not completely within his control (someone else has to make the shot), the four factors provide four ways (eight if you count offense and defense) to evaluate performance and a player’s impact.
When we look at the success of a point guard through assist and turnover numbers, we look at results. At the developmental level, we should look at the process. If I penetrate, draw a player, and pass to a teammate who misses the shot, I do not get an assist, but I did make the right play. To encourage better decision-making, we cannot focus solely on the result because we know that bad shots sometimes go in, and good shots are missed. A good shot is a good shot whether or not it goes in; a bad shot is a bad shot whether or not it goes through the rim. If we clap and reward a player only for made shots, we reinforce the belief that it does not matter what you do, as long as it ends in a basket. We want to influence and promote sound decision-making that depends on the process more than the result. A team that makes the right play over and over will have a better chance to score or stop the opposition.
If we look at the factors, we want to outline skills that lead to the process of improving these four factors. How do you improve your team’s shooting performance? How do you improve your defense against the opponent’s shooting percentage? Every player should understand their role in this regard. One player may be the lock-down defender on the opponent’s best player, but if he takes numerous shots outside his range, he may do as much harm as good. The player earns his playing time defensively, and becomes an integral part of the unit, but he needs to embrace his role offensively to maximize his performance. When he improves his shooting, his role changes.
Think of Bruce Bowen: Bowen started as a great defender who was not re-signed because he could not make a shot for the Miami Heat. San Antonio signed him, and Popovich told him that he needed to make corner three-pointers. He earned his playing time on defense, but before he could hit the corner threes, he did not have a major positive impact on his team. Once he could make the corner three, he became a starter and an integral member of a championship team. He improves the Spurs field goal percentage defense through his work on the opponent’s star, but he also improves their offensive efficiency through his three-point shooting.
Not every coach plays the same system or emphasizes the same things. The type of point guard or shooting guard or post player will differ from system to system. In the Triangle, a spot-up shooting point guard is more effective than a penetrating point guard, and a good passing big man is more effective than a true back to the basket scorer.
The role of a position changes from coach to coach and system to system. To maximize player development, we need to outline our expectations for players, and the four factors helps to organize our expectations. It is one thing to tell a point guard that he needs to make good decisions. What does that mean? Is a good decision for Chris Paul also a good decision for Derek Fisher? Maybe – some things are universal. Maybe not, as Paul can do things with the ball that Fisher cannot, and Paul’s team relies more heavily on his talent than do the Lakers with Fisher. Paul splitting the trap on a pick-and-roll is probably the right move almost every time, whereas it is probably unnecessary for Fisher because a trap means someone else is open and an open Gasol, Bryant, Odom or Ariza is a better option than Fisher trying to split a trap with the dribble.
If you tell a point guard that his decision-making should increase his team’s shooting percentage or decrease its turnover percentage or increase its free throw attempts, there is a tangible goal for the somewhat abstract concept of good decision-making. Once we set the goal, the results should be a part of the overall evaluation, as a player cannot determine whether a teammate makes the shot or not. Over a long period of time, the averages balance out and the results are more accurate, as a good passer will improve his team’s shooting percentage because he finds players at the right time and makes a good pass that enhances their shooting rhythm as opposed to passing late or making a player reach for the pass. On a single possession, the evaluation should depend on the process, not the result. Encourage the right process, and do not worry about the result.
Did he make the right play given the situation? Feedback should center on the correctness of the decision, as a player who makes the right decision a higher percentage of the time will lead to more positive performances on the four factors than one who makes the wrong decisions, but sometimes makes a spectacular play.