Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has said before that his two favorite statistics are rebounding and turnovers. They give you an extra possession, he says. Interestingly, as if to show that stats truly do mean very little in the NBA, there is almost no correlation between wins and either of those statistics.
Rick Carlisle, widely regarded one of the best coaches in the league, surely has a vast knowledge on the subject and may have been oversimplifying things for the sake of the conversation, but when comparing the rebounding and turnover stats to teams’ records, it becomes clear that those two are simply not very important stats.
The Miami Heat, who won the championship last year, were dead last in the league in rebounding per game. They fared better in turnovers, coughing the ball up 13.9 times per game, the fourth least in the league. However, the Mavericks turned it over just 14.0 times per game and had a significantly worse record despite rebounding at an average rate.
To prove the point, one NBA team collected 42.7 rebounds per game, tied for 11th best in the league, and turned the ball over 14.5 times per game, also tied for 11th best in the league. One would expect this mystery team to have a record around 11th best in the league, but the team in question is actually the truly terrible Orlando Magic, who managed to win just 20 games out of 82.
The only statistic that seems to have any real correlation with wins is a somewhat obvious one: Field-goal percentage. The higher percentage a team shoots, the better chance they have to win. The Heat and the San Antonio Spurs, who ended up playing each other in the NBA Finals, led the league in shooting percentage. In fact, all five of the league’s top five in shooting percentage made the playoffs. However, beyond the top five, many of the top teams did not make the playoffs, including the Mavericks who were eighth.
This glance at the stats didn’t take into account rebound and turnover differentials, which could paint a slightly more accurate picture, though the Spurs and the Heat were still 19th and 20th, respectively, in rebounding differential. In the end, it doesn’t seem that there is any singular statistic that can predict a team’s success, but rather it is a culmination of all of the stats put together which dictate how a team will perform.