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March 17, 2011
Putbacks for Profit
A Winning Playoff Strategy?

by Dan Feldman


Which teams' offenses are best equipped to handle the playoffs, when pace and effective field-goal percentage decrease?

It might be the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers.

Which teams' offenses are least equipped to handle the playoffs?

That might be the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.

When games slow and defenses tighten, grabbing offensive rebounds and making putbacks would seem to be a logical way to score, anyway. The data--albeit, extremely limited data--supports that theory.

Based on Synergy's information about scoring immediately after offensive rebounds, there was no statistically significant correlation between percentage of misses converted into putbacks and Offensive Rating last regular season.

There was, however, a positive, statistically significant correlation between percentage of misses converted into putbacks and Offensive Rating* in the playoffs.

*Because the quality of the defenses a team faces in the playoffs varies so much, I adjusted Offensive Rating. I determined a team's expected Offensive Rating by averaging its regular-season Offensive Rating with its opponents' regular-season Defensive Rating (weighted by number of games against each opponent). I subtracted the expected Offensive Rating from a team's actual playoff Offensive Rating.

That said, here's a huge caveat--those putback numbers are still from the regular season, because Synergy doesn't provide full data for the playoffs.

Do teams that put back a large portion of their misses in the regular season continue to do so in the playoffs, and vice versa? I don't know.

It's important to note the importance of using putback data rather than relying on offensive-rebounding numbers to draw a similar conclusion. When a team grabs an offensive rebound and doesn't immediately shoot again, it faces a similar defensive challenge as it did for its first shot.

Like I wrote above, logically, putbacks would increase in value when scoring in other ways becomes more difficult. As an expanded focus in advanced stats makes more numbers available in the mainstream, we'll learn whether the results match the logic. For now, consider this nothing more than a working theory.

If accurate, let's look at what the theory indicates about this year's playoffs.

Teams in the upper two quadrants have above-average Offensive Ratings, and teams in the lower two quadrants have below-average Offensive Ratings. Teams in the right two quadrants convert an above average number of their misses into putbacks (indicating increased offensive success in the playoffs), and teams in the left two quadrants convert a below average number of their misses into putbacks (indicating decreased offensive success in the playoffs).

I included teams that most likely will not make the playoffs, so you can see which teams' offenses might fit best in the playoffs if they improve overall in coming seasons (and keep the same style).

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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Tournament Preview (03/16)
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Then There Were Three (03/17)

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