Stats Review: Scoring efficiency on and off the ball

Oct 04, 2021 by Synergy sports Print
Stats Review: Scoring efficiency on and off the ball

Turkish Airlines EuroLeague offenses have a complicated relationship with on- and off-ball efficiency even though the competition's prowess at the latter is unmatched in elite world basketball.

High-Gravity Matchups:

After just one round, there are few takeaways from looking at the standings, but the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague schedule is often unforgiving to teams that do not exploit every opportunity. While eight of nine host teams capitalized on home-court advantage in Round 1 – most in convincing fashion – opening week featured several marquee matchups, as well. 2021 Final Four teams AX Armani Exchange Milan and CSKA Moscow played to nearly the same result as they did in last spring's Third Place Game while Real Madrid scored a 13-point win over reigning champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul.

Neither game likely moves the needle for these clubs, but the 2020-21 season saw the line for postseason qualification drawn distinctly at 20 wins. That daunting total is the equivalent of going undefeated at home and also winning 3 road games. Setting benchmarks like that is a dramatic oversimplification of the ebbs and flows of a EuroLeague season, but if the standard for playoff qualification approaches to the historically high near-60% victory rate of last season, these early games between heavy hitters may hold major significance six months from now.

Minding the Gap

Just as the adage "every game matters" means a lot in the EuroLeague these days, so too does the colloquial term "good look."

Synergy tags 11 different play types. Throwing out transition, miscellaneous, and put-back possessions to focus on what teams tend to do in half-court situations, the remaining eight play types can be conveniently split into two groups: on-the-ball, shot-creation situations like pick-and-rolls or post-ups; and off-the-ball situations like cuts or spot-ups. In essence, on-the-ball covers what happens when teams lean on their shot creators to score, while off-the-ball counts mostly assisted "good looks." The graph below compares the efficiency of on- and off-ball actions over the last 14 EuroLeague campaigns.

While producing this graph for every elite league in the world would reveal a similarly steady, significant gap in efficiency between on- and off-ball actions, what stands out about the EuroLeague is the size of the gap.

Last season 56% of all first-shot half-court possessions came in off-ball situations. They were converted for 1.13 points per possession – 0.28 points per possession more than on-ball possessions – the largest differential of any high-level competition in the world.

The reason for this gap is simple: the EuroLeague's off-ball efficiency is unmatched. What are often described as "good looks" are probably better described as "great looks" in the EuroLeague. The relevance of that to the league landscape is somewhat complicated. Many of the best off-ball looks teams generate require an on-ball component to distort the defense enough to create them. Indeed, reigning champion Efes has drawn a blueprint for success by taking the numbers into account.

Efes ranked first in off-ball efficiency last season with an astounding 1.22 points per possession, however a league-low 54% of their possessions came in off-ball situations. What made last year's champions so dangerous was that they averaged 0.94 points per on-ball possession, as well – the highest mark in recent history. Despite not creating many off-ball possessions compared to the rest of the league, Efes's balance in terms of efficiency made that far less relevant than it was for everyone else.

This on-ball versus off-ball comparison takes for granted much of what leads to both types of possessions. Even so, the overwhelming value in the EuroLeague of the spot-ups, cuts, off-screens-and-rolls that make up off-ball situations puts an offense's ability to earn "good lucks" under an especially powerful microscope. But it also adds perspective to the success of the teams that thrive without so many "good looks."