Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Complete Halftime Analysis

Most halftime shows include comments from former players and coaches about how teams must “pick up the intensity” or “step up” in the second half. In basketball games, analysts talk about strategies like “getting the ball inside” or “taking better care of the basketball.”

While such input from former players and coaches is valuable, it is far from complete analysis. You need to get into the numbers for that to happen. Sports analytics provides powerful insight and doesn’t need to involve anything complex. The concept of regression to the mean reveals far more about what to expect in the second half, and only requires comparing a few key stats.

Let’s say one team shoots 8-for-10 from three-point range to grab a 10-point lead while the other clanks 1-for-9. If both teams entered the contest shooting 40 percent on the season, it is almost certain that both teams regress to the mean – the 40 percent mark – in the second half. Defense impacts these stats, but randomness (or luck) is a huge factor in small samples. As more shots get taken, teams should move toward their season percentage and cause the score to tighten up.

Free throw percentages are another great stat to examine at halftime. Unlike three-pointers, they aren’t defended. So randomness plays an even greater role.

I believe broadcasts will soon have a statistical expert offering such insight – alongside coaches and/or former players – on halftime shows. But until that happens, we can all do it ourselves.