Analysis (Statistical/Analytical) for High School level coaches, how can you make it work?


Throughout my time working in basketball as a consultant and an executive currently, I admired and watched high school basketball coaches. My main issue had always been time as well as the fact that working with pro-teams across Europe as well as my work within the league had barred me. When I first ended my work within the league back in 2011, I approached some high schools and the coaches I knew both in Amsterdam as well as in Istanbul. I eventually did some part time consulting/assistant coaching to a varsity level team. This experience taught me so much, I took a lot of lessons from than to now.

  • Teaching players/coaches to communicate effectively (under preassure)
  • Managing athlete emotions
  • Optimal way to structure practices
  • Offensive and Defensive scheme setup optimally

There are many more points I can think of however the above definitely are top of the list.

Due to my consulting background and being known as an analytics guy I have gotten, I had been asked by the club management several times during that time

  • How we’d be using stats to help the team?
  • What stats will be used to analyze the players in game situations?
  • What stats will be beneficial to keep player accountable throughout the season?
  • What type of tools is/are best at high school level to develop player skills?

I am an avid believer in making decisions based on measurements and evidence of it. I also know that collecting data, stats and analyzing it is hard work and time consuming but at any level it’s a good thing and can be valuable asset when put to use. The trick so to say is not shying away from it. I have come across coaches and assistants that gather or use stats incorrectly and end up manipuliating numbers to their own benefit but eventually such teams let alone individuals tend to be unsuccessful in any case. Placing things into context not to waste time. Being able to make stats keeping routine and yet efficient so that you can revert to them at the drop of hat is vital for a coach especially at high school level with the attention span of the players they deal with.

In pro leagues there is historical data to work with and game footage as well as advanced stats are recorded on site. With High School level games this usually is volunteer work or up to the parents of the players to help out in the cause for getting the team to a better situation from my experience. With that said, its rare unless as an assistant or head coach you tend to travel to watch opponent games to scout them which in Europe is very rare indeed.

One thing I always try to point out is the following… “Stats only point out the problem that you’d face after your game is played our or half way done; Analytics is the long term solution that provides insight to develop your team and players.”

Over the last couple of years more and more game logging tools have emerged and yet they either fall short in terms of just being lobsided stats-wise or they focus too much on the analytics (yes, I said it!) and there had been no real balance.

Pivot Sports Analytics (PSA) is an interesting tool, to say the least! They are potentially a game logging tool anyone can download for their smart phone (IOS or Android) and simply make use of… They have been genieus in developing different levels of exposing players/coaches and even fans or boosters to their system to allow how a solid solution can work out. In terms of collecting game data I highly recommend using them to a point of being routine. You’ll be astounded at the level of analytics and even be able to share insight appropriately in the process.

When it comes to how one can utilize stats or insight (analytics) to help the team; players at a high school level need to learn quick that one possession is important. OK, an opponent will definitely try to score on them that is perfectly fine however the fact is that giving yourself 100% during one possession and not the next one is flat out wrong. Therefore teaching this to players falls on keeping them accountable at all times. Stats come in exactly at this point. A game can go one way or the other. Momentum can swing either way. Yet constantly learning falls on both the player and the coach to develop a clear communication on what to expect.

When a good shooter is not defended and scores 5 points consecutively and no pressure nor double teaming is working and on top of all this you give away defensive rebounds to a team that is beating you by producing… Coaches, watch out!!! You need to realize that the stats (in real-time) are telling you something.

Predominantly in Europe like in the US stats counting is aimed towards measuring your own team during games. So what can you do? It’s not too hard to create a simple system for tracking advanced team-level stats for your team. Here is a method that worked:

Take a sheet of lined paper. Draw a line down the middle. The left side is your team, the right side is the opponent. Each line is a possession.

On each possession use a shorthand for what happened. A two-point miss might be just the number “2.” A made two-pointer means your circle the “2”. An offensive rebound is a plus-sign. So a missed three, followed by a made offensive rebound putback might look like: “3 + (2).” An and-one play might look like “(2) + (1).”

Then at the end of the game it’s fairly trivial to count up the total possessions, turnovers, made and missed shots and offensive rebounds. Stick the totals in a spreadsheet and you can easily calculate on a game by game basis your team’s offensive and defensive efficiency and Four Factors. You can easily layer in your own extra markings if you want more detail. Put little notations next to events that occur in transition or because of a press or against a zone. Instead of treating all two-point shots the same, divide them into jumpers (“J”) and paint (“P”) shots. That can get you a start on having a solid look at your team on a game-by-game or year-to-year basis.

As you start to get more data compiled through a system such as PSA over the course of the season and over the course of multiple years, you can get a better sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are, which can guide your strategies and practices. But before you have that set of data, you need to be careful drawing any conclusions.

And you certainly can’t just take what’s happening at the NBA level and apply it to your level. Just because post-ups are less efficient in the NBA than pick-and-rolls doesn’t mean that’s the case in high school if you have a size mismatch. Just because the NBA is playing fast and looking for layups and threes doesn’t mean that’s right for your team if you don’t have the athleticism and the skill level for that kind of play.

In the Pro’s, there has been less of an emphasis placed on turnovers and offensive rebounds over the past few decades as it’s become more clear that those areas matter less than was initially thought. But when I moved to the high school level, I immediately saw that the inverse was true: The game was almost entirely about turnovers and rebounds. Shot making was at a premium, so the ability to get more chances at the basket, and in particular to get the easier chances that come from steals and putbacks, was enormously valuable. It’s a different game, and that means different strategies work.

Instead of following what pro teams do, then, I’d recommend starting from your own understanding of your team. What do you think are your squad’s strengths and weaknesses? What do you want to emphasize? What are your goals for the year?

From there, you can try to figure out which measures might be best and how to go about collecting the data for them. For example, for our team on offense I’m going to emphasize ball movement and making the right pass, and on defense I’m going to emphasize protecting the paint and trying to force jumpers. How do we come up with metrics to support those goals? On offense I’d love to track “advantage passes”, i.e. how many passes do we make after already gaining the advantage to lead to a shot? The problem is that will require a coach or other skilled observer to break down the film and count it up. And we don’t really have the resources on our staff for that.

So instead we might simply have to rely on assists you track on PSA. And on defense we’ll probably simply use the stats from those services and look at shots allowed in the paint per possession, aiming to consistently reduce it over the course of the year. Those aren’t ideal, but they’re something, and can at least give us some hard evidence when we try to see if we’re succeeding in our goals and making progress over the year.

The key, in my mind, is to make sure you focus. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your players with numbers; here is something I commonly refer to… If you have a shot clock worth of time and try to dump stats and make your player be conscious of this in a game… it’ll never work. Use them to support your other efforts, but understand that to really have a strong data collection and analysis operation requires resources in terms of time or money that are outside the scope of most situations in Europe.

Instead, find what makes sense for you and your players, devote a little bit of time to setting up a system that makes it as easy as possible to count and analyze, and then use it to help rather than rely on it. Set goals, measure progress, and wait until you have enough context to really analyze the information as best as possible.


Liked it? Take a second to support Advance Pro Basketball on Patreon!