A Problem With Offensive Rating

Abstract: It is shown that the standard/common definition of team offensive rating/offensive efficiency implies that a team’s offensive rating increases as its opponent’s offensive rebounds increase, which, in principle, should not be the case.

Over the past number of years, the advanced metric known as Offensive Rating has become the standard way of measuring a basketball team’s offensive efficiency. Broadly speaking, it is defined as points scored per 100 possessions. Specifically, for teams, it is defined as (See: https://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ratings.html and https://www.nbastuffer.com/analytics101/possession/ AND https://fansided.com/2015/12/21/nylon-calculus-101-possessions/):

ortg_eqn copy

There is a significant issue with this definition as I now demonstrate. Let us compute the partial derivative of this expression with respect to OppORB, we easily obtain:

partial2

As the denominator is always positive, we would like to examine the numerator. The numerator is always negative due to physical constraints (i.e., can’t have negative points or rebounds!) and if OppFG < OppFGA, which makes intuitive sense. It is only positive if OppFG > OppFGA, which logically cannot happen. Therefore, this numerator is always negative (except for the rare case when OppFG = OppFGA of course), which means that the entire partial derivative is positive.

This means that a team’s offensive rating / offensive efficiency increases as it’s opponent’s offensive rebounds increase. Intuitively, this shouldn’t be the case. If your opponent has a high number of offensive rebounds, this should give you less possessions, and put pressure on you to score, thus resulting in less points overall. The problem is that the more general definition of offensive efficiency is 100*(Points Scored)/(Possessions), which is obviously maximized when possessions is minimized. The problem of course, is that the more detailed definition of possessions implies that this minimization of possessions occurs at the cost of maximizing opponent offensive rebounds, which intuitively should not be the case.

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