February 15, 2016
The February 14 NBA All-Star Game featured a record-setting 369 combined points, and a record-tying zero memorable moments. What was hyped as a must-see Kobe Bryant sendoff failed to deliver for two primary reasons:
- On this particular night, Kobe didn’t play very well (shooting 4-11 overall, and 1-5 from three-point range, when virtually everyone else was scoring at will)
- On any given night, the sport of basketball, with its frequent scoring, fluid nature, and entirely time-based duration format, is more susceptible than any other major sport to serving up highly-anticipated games that are completely devoid of memorable moments
The hybrid duration format explained here ensures that every game ends with the swish of a net instead of the blare of a horn. And on Kobe’s night, Kobe could have (and would have) been given the honor of sealing a Western Conference victory with a walk-off basket. The image would have been replayed for years to come.
The hybrid format is also designed to eliminate a number of other flaws that warp the quality, style, and pace of play during the late stages of so many basketball games currently. These flaws are examined below.
This particular sample includes each of the 65 nationally-televised NBA games played from January 1, 2016 – February 14, 2016 (six of these games proceeded to overtime, so 71 total 4th quarter/overtime periods are considered), and each of the 126 NCAA men’s games televised by ESPNU from January 1, 2016 – February 14, 2016 (11 of these games proceeded to overtime – including three which proceeded to double overtime – so 140 total 2nd half/overtime periods are considered)
Trailing NBA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 31 of the 65 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. The effectiveness of this strategy can be categorized in the following ways:
- Counterproductive: fouling team ends same period with a deficit equal to or greater than its deficit at the time of the first deliberate foul; 25/31 (80.6%)
- Futile: fouling team ends same period with a deficit narrower than its original deficit, but still trailing (and losing, necessarily); 4/31 (12.9%)
- Partially Successful: fouling team ends same period in a tie with its opponent, forcing overtime (or an additional overtime); 2/31 (6.5%) (specific games/periods shown below)
- Completely Successful: fouling team ends same period with the lead (and the win, necessarily); 0/31 (0.0%)
- 1/4 (4Q) Heat, vs. Pacers, before winning in overtime
- 1/18 (4Q) Rockets, at Clippers, before losing in overtime
Trailing NCAA teams committed at least one deliberate foul in 89 of the 140 sampled 2nd half/overtime periods.
- Counterproductive: 67/89 (75.3%)
- Futile: 16/89 (18.0%)
- Partially Successful: 5/89 (5.6%) (specific games/periods shown below)
- Completely Successful: 1/89 (1.1%) (specific game/period shown below)
- 1/1 (2H) Stanford, vs. Utah, before winning in overtime
- 1/19 (2H) Fresno State, at San Diego State, before losing in overtime
- 1/28 (2H) George Washington, vs. Richmond, before losing in double overtime
- 2/3 (2H) Arizona State, at Washington, before losing in overtime
- 2/4 (2H) Temple, vs. Tulsa, before winning in overtime
- 1/18 Hampton, at North Carolina Central
Leading NBA teams stalled in the overwhelming majority of the 71 sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods. In many other games, the leading team was deliberately fouled before it had the chance to stall. And in nearly all of the remaining instances, the trailing team overtly conceded the game before the leading team would have normally considered stalling. None of the sampled 4th quarter/overtime periods was truly stalling-free.
In only three of the 140 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods (2.1%) did circumstances align to allow a truly stalling-free period:
- 1/16 (2H) Cincinnati at Temple
- 1/16 (OT) Cincinnati at Temple
- 1/23 LSU at Alabama
At least seven sampled games (four in NBA, three in NCAA) included the riveting display of a leading team willingly accepting a shot clock violation in the closing seconds.
The game clock further contributes to an ugly brand of basketball by forcing the trailing (and in some cases, tied) team to attempt ugly shots. This effect is strongest during the final possession of a 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime period.
Consider that ten of the sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. Only one of those possessions (10.0%) was converted (on 0.20 points per possession):
- 1/4 (4Q) Heat’s Dwyane Wade makes driving lay-up vs. Pacers
- 1/10 Hornets’ Nicolas Batum misses contested deep three-pointer off side of rim at Nuggets
- 1/14 (4Q) Magic’s Jason Smith misses catch-and-shoot three-pointer off side of backboard vs. Raptors (in London)
- 1/14 (OT) Magic’s Nikola Vucevic misses two-hand overhead halfcourt shot off back of rim vs. Raptors (in London)
- 1/18 (4Q) Clippers’ Chris Paul misses long two-pointer vs. Rockets
- 1/26 (4Q) Knicks’ Arron Afflalo misses spinning fallaway two-point jumper vs. Thunder
- 1/26 Lakers’ Julius Randle misses three-pointer off back of rim vs. Mavericks
- 2/1 (4Q) Pacers’ Monta Ellis misses fallaway long two-pointer off backboard vs. Cavaliers
- 2/4 Pelicans’ Jrue Holliday airballs three-pointer vs. Lakers
- 2/8 (4Q) Time expires before Hawks’ Paul Millsap can attempt stepback long two-pointer vs. Magic
35 of the sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods ended with a possession that could have tied or won the game. Only one of those possessions (2.9%) was converted (on 0.11 points per possession):
- 1/1 (2H) Time expires before Stanford’s Dorian Pickens can attempt three-quarter-court heave vs. Utah
- 1/1 (OT) Utah’s Kyle Kuzma misses catch-and-shoot turnaround halfcourt shot high off backboard at Stanford
- 1/2 (2H) Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu misses running deep three-pointer off back of rim vs. West Virginia
- 1/2 (OT) Time expires before Kansas State’s Barry Brown can attempt running halfcourt shot vs. West Virginia
- 1/3 Stanford’s Marcus Allen misses running halfcourt shot wide of backboard vs. Colorado
- 1/10 South Florida’s Nehemias Morillo misses three-pointer vs. Cincinnati
- 1/13 Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll misses catch-and-shoot deep three-pointer high off backboard and rim vs. Oklahoma
- 1/16 (2H) Cincinnati’s Shaq Thomas misses three-quarter-court heave wide of backboard at Temple
- 1/16 (OT) Cincinnati’s Coreontae DeBerry misses putback off backboard at Temple
- 1/16 (2OT) Cincinnati’s Troy Caupain misses three-quarter-court heave wide of backboard at Temple
- 1/18 North Carolina Central’s Dante Holmes inbounds pass deflected away vs. Hampton
- 1/19 Mississippi State’s Craig Sword unable to catch full-court inbounds pass at Florida
- 1/19 (2H) Fresno State’s Cezar Guerrero makes turnaround three-pointer at San Diego State
- 1/21 Gonzaga’s Josh Perkins’ airballs running deep three-pointer at Saint Mary’s
- 1/23 UNLV’s Patrick McCaw misses halfcourt shot off backboard at Nevada
- 1/24 (2H) Time expires before Washington’s David Crisp can attempt three-quarter-court heave vs. Utah
- 1/26 Nevada’s Marqueze Coleman airballs running three-pointer vs. San Diego State
- 1/27 Texas A&M’s DJ Hogg misses deep three-pointer off backboard and rim at Arkansas
- 1/28 Connecticut’s Jalen Adams misses turnaround three-pointer off front of rim vs. Cincinnati
- 1/28 (2H) Richmond’s ShawnDre’ Jones airballs three-quarter-court heave at George Washington
- 1/28 (OT) Time expires before Richmond’s TJ Cline can attempt three-quarter-court heave at George Washington
- 1/30 Georgia Tech’s Adam Smith misses halfcourt shot off front of rim at Syracuse
- 1/30 (2H) Texas Tech’s Devaugntah Williams misses reverse lay-up off opposite side of rim at Arkansas
- 2/3 (2H) Oklahoma State’s Jeff Newberry airballs halfcourt shot at Texas Tech
- 2/3 (OT) Oklahoma State’s Jeff Newberry airballs three-quarter-court heave at Texas Tech
- 2/3 (2H) Washington’s Andrew Andrews misses spinning lay-up off backboard vs. Arizona State
- 2/4 (2H) Tulane’s Shaquille Harrison has running long two-pointer blocked at Temple
- 2/4 Pepperdine’s Lamond Murray, Jr. has three-pointer blocked vs. Portland
- 2/6 Central Florida’s Shaheed Davis misses retreating, turnaround, deep three-pointer off backboard and rim vs. Temple
- 2/9 Pittsburgh’s James Robinson airballs halfcourt shot at Miami
- 2/10 (2H) Texas Tech’s Zach Smith misses halfcourt shot off top of backboard vs. Iowa State
- 2/11 UNC-Asheville’s Ahmad Thomas misses three-pointer off backboard while falling down vs. Radford
- 2/12 Time expires before Rider’s Xavier Lundy’s errant pass can be recovered vs. Monmouth
- 2/14 Loyola-Chicago’s Milton Doyle misses turnaround jumper vs. Evansville
- 2/14 Florida State’s Malik Beasley misses three-pointer from hash mark off backboard vs. Miami
Even if we broaden the definition from actual buzzer beater possessions to potential buzzer beater possessions (any possession where the offense is tied or trailing by 1-3 points, with the shot clock turned off), NBA teams still converted only five of 25 (20.0%) such possessions (on 0.60 points per possession), and NCAA teams converted only 18 of 87 (20.7%) such possessions (on 0.60 points per possession).
Trailing NBA teams conceded 52 of 65 sampled games (80.0%) by choosing not to foul deliberately (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace (on at least one late possession when the strategy would have been advisable) while on offense and/or by taking its best players out of the game. This does not include a number of instances when teams conceded by choosing not to use all of its available timeouts (to automatically advance the ball into the frontcourt). This includes at least five instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.
Trailing NCAA teams conceded 87 of 126 sampled games (69.0%) by choosing not to foul deliberately while on defense and/or by choosing not to play at a frantic pace while on offense. This includes at least eight instances when a team conceded while trailing by six points or fewer.
Such close games would never be conceded under a hybrid format.
The final three minutes of all 71 sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods included three clock reviews/errors/malfunctions.
The final four minutes of all 140 sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods included 19 clock reviews/errors/malfunctions, including the ultimate buzzkill of a clock review on February 6, when Central Florida’s AJ Davis’s would-be game-tying putback (which had initially been ruled good) vs. Temple was later ruled to have been released after the buzzer.
INTERMINABLE FINAL STAGES
The final minute of 12 NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:
- 1/18 Pelicans at Grizzlies: 11 minutes (1* made field goal)
- 1/18 Rockets at Clippers: 15 (3)
- 1/20 Hawks at Trailblazers: 17 (2)
- 1/26 (OT) Thunder at Knicks: 13 (1)
- 2/1 (OT) Cavaliers at Pacers: 11 (0)
*Included one uncontested field goal
The final minute of 18 NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods lasted ten actual minutes or longer, including the following noteworthy instances:
- 1/2 (OT) West Virginia at Kansas State: 10 (0)
- 1/3 Wake Forest at Louisville: 10 (0)
- 1/24 (OT) Utah at Washington: 16 (1)
- 1/28 (2H) Richmond at George Washington: 14 (1)
- 1/30 UC-Santa Barbara at UC-Irvine: 10 (0)
- 2/4 Portland at Pepperdine: 10 (0)
- 2/6 South Carolina at Texas A&M: 17 (2)
- 2/7 Miami at Georgia Tech: 12 (1)
- 2/10 (OT) Iowa State at Texas Tech: 13 (0)
The final moment of a given basketball game usually falls into one of five categories:
- Meaningful made basket (also known as a buzzer beater!)
- Unsuccessful meaningful possession (when offense trails by 1-3 points)
- Meaningless (made or missed) shot attempt (when offense already leads, or trails by four points or more; this category also includes additional instances when a player clearly intended to take a meaningless shot, but when time expired before shot could be released)
- Leading player stalls (in most cases, casually dribbling or holding the ball; in especially close games, this might include a player/team actively evading its opponent’s attempt to commit a deliberate foul)
- Trailing player stalls (the most striking form of conceding)
The 65 sampled NBA games and 126 sampled NCAA games ended in the following ways…
Meaningful Made Basket: 0 (0.0%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession: 4 (6.2%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt: 13 (20.0%)
Leading Player Stalls: 37 (56.9%)
Trailing Player Stalls: 11 (16.9%)
Meaningful Made Basket: 0 (0.0%)
Unsuccessful Meaningful Possession: 21 (16.7%)
Meaningless Shot Attempt: 20 (15.9%)
Leading Player Stalls: 77 (61.1%)
Trailing Player Stalls: 8 (6.3%)
…including at least five awkward endings (two in NBA, three in NCAA) when officials and/or clock operators ignored clear traveling/double dribble/shot clock violations in the closing seconds in order to end the game in a more timely manner.
Let’s now consider all 4th quarter/2nd half/overtime periods (not just those at the true end of a game), and categorize possible period endings a little differently than in a previous section (listed in decreasing order of excitement):
- Made basket to win
- Made basket to tie
- Unsuccessful meaningful possession (by tied team or team trailing by 1-3 points)
- Meaningless possession (when offense already has lead, or trails by four points or more)
Six overtime periods were played in sampled NBA games, and can be categorized as follows:
- Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 5
- Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 1
- Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0
14 overtime periods were played in sampled NCAA games, and can be categorized as follows:
- Ending of overtime period failed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 8
- Ending of overtime period managed to match the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 6
- Ending of overtime period exceeded the excitement of preceding period’s ending: 0
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Any overtime period, necessarily, follows a nearly-impossible-to-follow act – a 4th quarter/2nd half/earlier overtime period that was, by definition, as competitive as can be.
Leading NBA teams allowed at least ten uncontested field goals during sampled games. Leading NCAA teams allowed at least 32 uncontested field goals during sampled games.
During the final three minutes of sampled NBA 4th quarter/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus (and, consequently, did not serve deliberate fouling’s primary purpose of sending the leading team to the free throw line) in nine periods, essentially punishing the trailing team for having committed too few fouls earlier in the period!
During the final four minutes of sampled NCAA 2nd half/overtime periods, a trailing team committed a deliberate foul when its opponent was not yet in the bonus in four periods.
During sampled games, eight NBA players committed a sixth foul deliberately and/or in overtime, and 33 NCAA players committed a fifth foul deliberately and/or in overtime. (This does not include players who fouled out while committing a legitimate foul, but who had committed at least one deliberate foul earlier in the game.)
UNSIGHTLY STRATEGIES, ETC.
During sampled games, trailing NCAA offenses rolled at least 61 inbounds passes, including in at least three especially bleak situations…
- 1/20: Florida State, trailing by 27 points with 1:45 remaining (with clock running!), at Louisville
- 1/31: Virginia Tech, trailing by 20 points with 43.6 seconds remaining, at Pittsburgh
- 2/13: Baylor, trailing by 20 points with 43.6 seconds remaining, vs. Texas Tech
During sampled games, leading NCAA offenses vacated the foul lane in 109 instances during the last free throw attempt of a trip. Trailing NCAA offenses inexplicably vacated the foul lane in one instance, and one team employed the strategy during a tie game.
During sampled games, three NCAA teams intentionally missed a free throw during the late stages of a game:
- 1/1 (OT): Stanford, leading by two points with 1.0 second remaining, vs. Utah
- 1/13: Oklahoma State, trailing by two points with 3.9 seconds remaining, vs. Oklahoma
- 1/24 (OT): Washington, trailing by three points with 5.5 seconds remaining, vs. Utah
After the strategy was employed, the lead never changed in any of the above games. In short, the intentionally missed free throw strategy effectively helps leading teams protect leads, but does not help trailing teams overcome deficits – just one more factor making the outcome of basketball games all too predictable.