I have written previously regarding the advent of pass efficiency in the NBA. If you haven’t I highly recommend you read my introduction (linked above) about the role this plays in the modern NBA. My overall conclusion is that good NBA teams are slowly beginning to adjust to the idea of moving away from “pass-heavy” offenses to “pass-efficient” offenses. The below article will demonstrate statistically that having an offense with a high degree of pass-efficiency is correlated with a team’s chance to advance further through the entire season.

This article will go significantly further than the aforementioned introduction. I have looked at the top-ten teams each year in both the “passes made” stat and the “pass efficiency” number between the 2013-14 season and 2015-16 season, thus having three years of analysis, and then did some math.

Methodology: (Skip this if you’re bored with the numbers)

Thus, as noted previously, I examined the top-ten teams every season since 2013-14 in both “passes made” and “adjusted assist-to-pass percentage” (the percentage of passes by a team that are either assists, secondary assists, or free throw assists). The teams are listed below:

Teams With A Top-Ten Amount Of Passes Made Per Game Passes Made Per Game Pass Efficiency Result W/L
2013-14 Charlotte Bobcats 338.2 8.8 Lost In First Round 42-39
2013-14 San Antonio Spurs 334 10.5 Champion 62-20
2013-14 Utah Jazz 325.5 8.7 Missed Playoffs 25-57
2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks 324.3 9.2 Missed Playoffs 15-66
2013-14 Chicago Bulls 324.2 9.8 Lost In Second Round 48-34
2013-14 Atlanta Hawks 321.8 10.7 Lost In First Round 38-43
2013-14 Washington Wizards 320.6 9.9 Lost In Second Round 44-37
2013-14 Dallas Mavericks 311 10 Lost In First Round 49-33
2013-14 Memphis Grizzlies 311 10 Lost in First Round 50-32
2013-14 Los Angeles Laaers 309.6 10.4 Missed Playoffs 27-55
2014-15 Utah Jazz 364.9 7.6 Missed Playoffs 38-44
2014-15 New York Knicks 361.3 7.8 Missed Playoffs 17-64
2014-15 San Antonio Spurs 345.9 9.9 Lost In First Round 55-27
2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers 327.4 8.3 Missed Playoffs 18-64
2014-15 Atlanta Hawks 323.9 10.7 Lost In Conference Finals 60-22
2014-15 Charlotte Hornets 317.2 8.6 Missed Playoffs 33-49
2014-15 Golden State Warriors 315.9 12 Champion 67-15
2014-15 Indiana Pacers 314.5 9.4 Missed Playoffs 38-44
2014-15 Boston Celtics 311.1 10.5 Lost In First Round 40-42
2014-15 Dallas Mavericks 310 9.7 Lost In First Round 50-32
2015-16 Utah Jazz 354.8 7.2 Missed Playoffs 40-42
2015-16 New York Knicks 344.1 8.2 Missed Playoffs 32-50
2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers 332.4 8.3 Missed Playoffs 10-72
2015-16 Dallas Mavericks 332.2 9 Lost In First Round 42-40
2015-16 San Antonio Spurs 331.7 10.1 Lost In Second Round 67-15
2015-16 Atlanta Hawks 324.5 10.7 Lost In Second Round 48-34
2015-16 Golden State Warriors 323.1 12.8 Lost In Finals 73-9
2015-16 Boston Celtics 318.4 10.2 Lost In First Round 47-34
2015-16 Phoenix Suns 312 9.1 Missed Playoffs 23-59
2015-16 Chicago Bulls 310.5 10 Missed Playoffs 42-40
 

 

 

Teams With Top-Ten Pass Efficiency Passes Made Since 2013-14 Season Pass Efficiency Since 2013-14 Season Result W/L
2013-14 Golden State Warriors 246.6 12.7 Lost In Second Round 50-31
2013-14 Denver Nuggets 261.9 11.7 Missed Playoffs 36-46
2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers 307.1 11.2 Lost In Second Round 57-25
2013-14 Oklahoma City Thunder 271.5 11 Lost In Conference Finals 59-23
2013-14 Minnesota Timberwolves 307.4 10.8 Missed Playoffs 40-42
2013-14 Atlanta Hawks 321.8 10.7 Lost In First Round 38-43
2013-14 Detroit Pistons 263 10.7 Missed Playoffs 29-53
2013-14 San Antonio Spurs 334 10.5 Champion 62-20
2013-14 Miami Heat 297 10.5 Lost In Finals 54-28
2013-14 Los Angeles Lakers 309.6 10.4 Missed Playoffs 27-55
2014-15 Golden State Warriors 315.9 12 Champion 67-15
2014-15 Los Angeles Clippers 294.4 11.5 Lost In Second Round 56-26
2014-15 Milwaukee Bucks 287.9 11.3 Lost In First Round 40-41
2014-15 Denver Nuggets 262.4 11.1 Missed Playoffs 30-52
2014-15 Atlanta Hawks 323.9 10.7 Lost In Conference Finals 60-22
2014-15 Minnesota Timberwolves 280.5 10.6 Missed Playoffs 16-65
2014-15 Washington Wizards 302.6 10.6 Lost In Second ROund 46-36
2014-15 Boston Celtics 311.1 10.5 Lost In First Round 40-42
2014-15 Brooklyn Nets 274.1 10.5 Lost In First Round 38-44
2014-15 New Orleans Pelicans 271.3 10.5 Lost In First Round 45-37
2015-16 Golden State Warriors 323.1 12.8 Lost In Finals 73-9
2015-16 Sacramento Kings 281.9 11.5 Missed Playoffs 33-48
2015-16 Oklahoma City Thunder 264 11.4 Lost In Conference Finals 55-27
2015-16 Minnesota Timberwolves 283.8 11 Missed Playoffs 29-53
2015-16 Washington Wizards 298.2 10.9 Missed Playoffs 41-41
2015-16 Atlanta Hawks 324.5 10.7 Lost In Second Round 48-34
2015-16 Milwaukee Bucks 291.4 10.7 Missed Playoffs 33-49
2015-16 Denver Nuggets 290.8 10.6 Missed Playoffs 33-49
2015-16 Houston Rockets 288 10.6 Lost In First Round 41-41
2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers 300.2 10.5 Champion 57-25

Thus, with the data gathered, we must do two things to ensure fair analysis. First, for teams listed in both columns, it was necessary to decide which column they should be counted in. This was a relatively simple decision. By looking at each stat’s percentile, we can decide whether a team fit better as a “pass-heavy” team or a “pass-efficient” team. For example, the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs rank in the top-ten teams for both “passes made” and “pass efficiency.” However, they are in the top 1% of teams for passes made, and “only” the top-15% for pass efficiency. Consequently, the 2013-14 Spurs count as a “pass-heavy” team.

The second step was to code success. Essentially, it was important to give a numeric value to “missed playoffs,” “lost in first round,” “lost in second round,” “lost in conference finals,” “lost in finals,” and “champion.” Due to the nature of the terms, I opted to use values 0-5, with “0” being “missed playoffs,” “5” being “champion,” and values 1-4 being everything in between.

Analysis: (begin reading here if you skipped the methodology)

The first thing I found was that teams that were superb at pass efficiency had better regular season records than their contemporaries who were focused on the amount of passes. Let’s examine the chart below:

Consequently, what this data shows is that teams who practice efficient passing, as opposed to amount of passing, are generally more successful during the regular season. Nonetheless, as teams do not have as much time to gameplan for each other during the regular season, that could just be statistical noise. Thus, let’s examine the difference during the course of an entire league year:

If you skipped the methodology, these numbers mean absolutely nothing to you, but just know that it is nothing more than a code. Essentially, the top pass-efficient teams, on average, make it to a minimum of the first round of the NBA playoffs. Whereas, on average, the top pass-heavy teams generally do not make it to the playoffs. In fact, for pass-efficient teams, there is a 90.12% corollary increase in advancing to the next stage of the season as compared to pass-heavy teams.

Takeaways:

It is important to note that no regressions have been run, and none of the numbers above imply causation; rather, they simply show correlation between an offense that passes efficiently and a team that is more successful.

With that said, this correlation suggests that the success of the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs had much more to do with their holistic strategy than it did with their pass-heavy offense. Moreover, even if it was a result of their pass-heavy offense, that was specific for that Spurs team, and not as a be-all, end-all for the NBA. Rather, NBA coaches would, in a vacuum, be better off establishing a pass-efficient offense than one with a beyond-significant amount of ball movement.

This trend has allowed us to see trends in player success. For example, let’s look at the 2011 NBA Draft. Reggie Jackson, Isaiah Thomas, and Kyrie Irving are the top-three point guards drafted in 2011 who play with high degrees of pass efficiency. On the other hand, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight both have a high amount of made passes, but with low efficiency. When comparing these five guards, it is not iconoclastic to argue that the first three are superior players, and while there are a lot of reasons why, a main one is efficient passing.

Thus, as the NBA begins to pick up on this trend, expect coaches and managers to draft and value point guards differently; and moreover, do not be surprised if the idea of a “pass-heavy” offense goes the way of the dinosaurs.

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