D-League Showcase will use net rating as tiebreaker

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Imagine two teams, Team A and Team B. Team A makes a 3-pointer every possession. Team B makes a 2-pointer every possession. If they played, Team A would obviously win.

But how much better is Team A than Team B?

The typical way to measure is point difference. If Team A beats Team B, 300-200, we could say Team A is 100 points per game better than Team B (and also not that both teams have amazing offenses). And that’s precisely what the score would be if the teams pushed the pace and each had 100 possessions.

What if the teams played at a slower pace – 50 possessions apiece. Then, the score would be 150-100. So, we’d say Team A is 50 points per game better than Team B.

Yet, they’re the same exact teams. However much better Team A is than Team B is a constant.

So, score difference is clearly not an ideal way to gauge a team relative to its opponent. Pace just disguises true ability. Good teams can look better by playing faster, and bad teams can avoid looking worse by playing slower. In a sport where possessions alternate, there isn’t true virtue in manipulating tempo.

A better method to differentiate the teams is using difference in points per possession. In both the above examples, Team A is one point per possession than Team B. No matter how fast or slow they play, that won’t change.

The D-League – among other things, a testing ground for NBA ideas – is using that logic in its Showcase this season.

NBA release (emphasis mine):

The Santa Cruz Warriors, the NBA Development League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors, will host the NBA D-League Showcase presented by Samsung at Kaiser Permanente Arena for the second consecutive season, it was announced today.  The 19-game Showcase will run over five days, from Jan. 6-10, 2016, and feature the league’s 19 teams playing two regular-season games apiece.

 

“The NBA D-League Showcase was a tremendous success in Santa Cruz last season, and we’re excited to work in partnership with Jim Weyermann and the Warriors’ staff for another memorable slate of games,” said Malcolm Turner, NBA D-League President.  “The Showcase is the NBA’s premier in-season scouting event, and I’m looking forward to watching 19 great contests in front of some of the league’s best fans at Kaiser Permanente Arena in January.”

 

The 12th annual NBA D-League Showcase presented by Samsung will crown a champion based first on a team’s overall win-loss record at the event.  The advanced basketball statistic Net Rating (calculated by subtracting Defensive Rating from Offensive Rating) will be used as the first tiebreaker.  Offensive Rating is calculated by dividing a team’s total points by its total offensive possessions, while Defensive Rating is derived by dividing a team’s total points allowed by its opponent’s total offensive possessions.  Any remaining ties will then be resolved using a team’s Strength of Schedule, as determined by that team’s pre-Showcase opponents’ winning percentage.  

 

Attended by general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA teams, the NBA D-League Showcase presented by Samsung is a platform for players and coaches to display their talents for five consecutive days in one location as the world’s basketball focus returns to Northern California.  More than 45 NBA D-League players have earned GATORADE Call-Ups during or in the days immediately following the last 11 NBA D-League Showcases.

I like the idea here, but there are multiple complications.

Will scorekeepers actually track possessions? Most possession counts rely on estimates – skewed by team rebounds (a missed field-goal attempt out of bounds should count; missing the first of two free throws should not) and free throws (some are the main event of a possession; some come after a made shot in an and-one).

What if a team gets the ball with less than a second left in a quarter? Does that count as a possession? Does it matter if the team gets off a shot or not?

Will coaches alter their strategies in ways that affect winning? There’s an advantage in getting more possessions than the opponent, which is why teams go two-for-one to end a quarter. But rushing a bad shot with 30 seconds left, while increasing the odds of winning, will probably lower a team’s net rating.

These issues can be overcome. Maybe they already have been. Once the kinks are worked out, this could be a really good plan.

Most of all, I hope this leads to more accurate possession counts rather than estimates. There’s no reason, in 2015, a real possession total (however we define that), shouldn’t be included in box scores.

But it’s definitely good this is being tried in the D-League before the NBA adopts any rules related to net rating.