Explanation of the Stats

In Coach Dean Smith’s book, Basketball – multiple offense and defense (Prentice-Hall, 1981), he explains that in order to assess a team, one needs to look at offense, defense, and rebounding. This is best approached by the “possession evaluation”. By determining the number of possessions each team has in a game, one can determine the differential of total possessions, and the average points per possession for each team. According to Coach Smith, total possessions are calculated by totaling all stats which end a possession: field goals attempted, trips to the FT line, and turnovers. Unfortunately, the FT trips stat doesn’t appear in the newspaper’s box score, so one must keep this stat through the game (I tend to pay better attention to the game when I keep this stat). One note about free throws; a traditional 3-point play should not be counted as a trip to the free throw line as this possession is accounted for by the attempted FG. If the player missed the FG attempt and gets 2 shots, no FGA is tallied, and the miscellaneous FG trip should be calculated. Additionally, offensive fouls are tallied as turnovers in the official box score.

Total possessions is a better indicator of rebounding than the actual rebounding statistic, according to the coach. For example, in one game UNC won 93-69. In that particular game, they had 106 possessions while the opponent had 109 possessions. So, UNC was outrebounded, and thus the other team really lost the game due to poor offensive efficiency.

Offensive (OE) and Defensive (DE) Efficiency go hand in hand. They are easily calculated by dividing the number of points by the number of possessions. The opponent’s OE is actually UNC’s DE. This allows one to compare offense and defense from game to game. Coach Smith once told me that with the advent of the three point line and shot clock, UNC’s goals are to score 0.95 points per possession while keeping the defense below 0.85 ppp. While this sounds surprisingly low, you may notice that early season DE stats are too high, meaning that the defense is not where it needs to be. In the 2007 season which resulted in a 31-7 record, UNC scored more than 0.95 points per possession in 23 of their 38 games (61%) while holding their opponent below 0.85 in 22 of their 38 games (58%).




FG Attempted






Trips to FT line



Total Possessions






Points Per Possession



% Loss of Ball



In this losing effort to Maryland (2/25/07 – @ College Park), UNC “was slaughtered in the battle of the boards 46-33″. In reality, UNC rebounded quite competitively and only had one fewer possession than Maryland.  Even though Maryland turned the ball over on about 1 out of every 8 possessions, they shot many more free throws (20 compared to 8) which really helped their offensive efficiency. The FT Trips difference was only 3, so Maryland must have had many traditional three point plays to overcome their excessive number of turnovers.

% Loss of Ball is another interesting statistic. This statistic shows what portions of a team’s total possessions ended in a turnover. 10 turnovers is much better in a 90 possession game than it is in a 70 possession game. In the above example, UNC took better care of the ball by 8%. Usually 16% for us is a good offensive showing, but we would like to make the opponent turn it over 22% of their possessions. The 2007 team wasn’t one of UNC’s historical best at putting ball pressure on opponents. One final point is that the number of possessions gives a more realistic representation of the game’s pace than any other stat. Games which approach 90 possesions per team tend to be on the fast side. The particular Maryland game shown in the example was a brisk 189 possession game. Most ACC conference games are in the 170s these days.By the way: Basketball – multiple offense and defense is an excellent book for any UNC basketball nut.