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Random Stat: Time of Possession stats

A common number used for football -- heck it even appears in the box score -- is "Time of Possession" or the amount of time a team has the ball in a game.

Now in football, it has real meaning since you don't have a "drive clock" like we have the shot clock in the NBA, and it often reflects the run/pass ratio since rushes almost always keep the clock turning while incomplete passes bring it to a grinding halt. As NFL teams typically run more when ahead it's rare indeed to see a game where one team dominates time of possession and loses.

In the NBA it's very different since you alternate possessions back and forth with a time cap, so here it represents more a style of play -- pushing the ball on offense versus slowing it down. That being said, here are the stats!

2005-06 Regular Season
Time Of P.
1  Utah 53.23% 41
2  Memphis 52.38% 49
3  Detroit 51.83% 64
4  New Orleans/Okla 51.55% 38
5  Cleveland 51.38% 50
6  Portland 51.34% 21
7  San Antonio 51.09% 63
8  Dallas 51.05% 60
9  Orlando 50.99% 36
10  Indiana 50.44% 41
11  Toronto 50.32% 27
12  New York 50.18% 23
13  Minnesota 50.12% 33
14  New Jersey 50.05% 49
15  Atlanta 49.98% 26
16  Milwaukee 49.98% 40
17  Sacramento 49.76% 44
18  Philadelphia 49.68% 38
19  Miami 49.67% 52
20  L.A. Lakers 49.62% 45
21  Houston 49.62% 34
22  L.A. Clippers 49.27% 47
23  Washington 49.17% 42
24  Charlotte 49.02% 26
25  Golden State 48.79% 34
26  Seattle 48.70% 35
27  Boston 48.62% 33
28  Denver 47.69% 44
29  Chicago 47.56% 41
30  Phoenix 46.94% 54

So first off, there's not a lot of correlation for time of possession to wins -- it winds up at .13 for this season, but the confidence intervals range from -.24 to +.47 so it could be anything basically.

Of course, the casual eye does notice that all three sixty win teams in the NBA managed to work their way into the top eight, with strong teams like Memphis and Cleveland also showing near the top. Far and away the highest time with ball team is Utah which is as a result of Jerry Sloan's methodical pace on offense and pressuring style on defense.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Phoenix Suns had by far the lowest time of possession, a direct result of the constant attempts by Steve Nash to initiate a fastbreak offensive possession. The bottom three teams in fact qualified for the playoffs, so there's reason to believe you can be successful, at least to an extent, with either style.

On a league wide basis, here is how winning time of possession translates to winning the game:

55.1% - Any advantage in Time of Possession
57.9% - 60+ seconds
57.2% - 120+ seconds
58.2% - 180+ seconds

Now this is still heavily skewed to the home/away situation: home teams winning the time of possession by three minutes win the game at a 71% rate compared to away teams winning 47% when ahead by 180 seconds or more.

A look at a few individual teams may be informative:

82% (9-2) with time of possession advantage
63% (45-26) with no time of possession advantage

San Antonio
76% (42-13) with time of possession advantage
78% (21-6) with no time of possession advantage

New Jersey
67% (26-13) with time of possession advantage
54% (23-20) with no time of possession advantage some teams like the Spurs seem pretty immune to the issue, while for a team like the Nets there does seem to be a relationship between time with the ball and the likelihood of winning.

This concept suggests the need for a multi-year study to look at not just post-season qualifiers but which teams actually go on to playoff success as there may be a case to be made for the slow down strategy!

Time of Possession by Season (Ranks)
East CF
West CF
East Rd2
West Rd2
2005-06  Utah  Phoenix
2004-05  Utah  Phoenix 7 8 14 30 4,25 2,26
2003-04  Utah  Boston 14 18 5 23 9,25 11,27
2002-03  Seattle  Sacramento 13 28 8 14 15,20 9,29
Average     11 18 9 22 16 17

With a puny three-year sample it's hard to establish much of anything, but the winner at least has always been in the top half for time of possession, albeit ranging from #7 to #14, while the runner-up has been more varied.

There's a slight variance between East and West -- the Eastern Conference finalists (both teams) have averaged a 13 rank in time of possession, compared to an 18 rank for the West.

Perhaps the most interesting observation from our handful of data points is that the extreme teams in either direction that have success, tend to be more prone to falling in the second round. Of the last twelve teams to reach the conference finals, none have ranked higher than #5 and no team in the NBA Finals has been higher than #7 -- this season's Pistons seem likely to end that string though!

Do you have an idea for a cool "random stat" you would like to see? If so, drop us a line

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