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Danny

The Relationship Between ISOs and Offensive Output

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670_isolations_120921.jpg

ThunderDAN asked me yesterday about isolations, how often teams used them and how effective they were. “Isolation” tends to carry a negative connotation in today’s NBA. It is true that they are often more inefficient than other variations of offense. For example, the HEAT had six types of offense that accounted for over 9 percent of their possessions last season. At .831 points per possession, isolations ranked dead last of those six.

That isn’t to say that all isolations are bad. Sometimes isolations are the safe, smart play. Isolations limit the risk of turnovers and allow the ball handler to dictate use of the shot clock, i.e. running it all the way down late in games. We’ve all seen LeBron James use a screen to gain a mismatch with a big man. When he gets the switch he wants, LeBron often briefly retreats before barreling down the lane. Is this scenario as efficient as an open Mario Chalmers three from the corner? No. But, it isn’t a bad option, and it’s often easier to come by.

Now, what we want to know is does a team’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) decline as the percentage of isolation possessions increases? Let’s take a look:

forumpics_isolations_120919.jpg

(click the image to enlarge)

In this graph, size and color are tied to isolation points per possession (ppp). The larger and darker a dot is, the more efficient the team’s isolation offense is.

As you can see by the trend line, yes, there is a negative relationship between offensive rating and percentage of possessions that are isolations. But, the Thunder and Clippers illustrate it is possible to use lots of isolations and have an extremely successful offense. The Magic and Knicks were polar opposites in terms of percentage of isolations used, but finished the season with virtually matching offensive ratings.

So the true answer to our original question is, “it depends.” That might be slightly disappointing, but it is also the answer to many of questions that pop up about basketball. It depends on a team’s personnel, their offensive system and the random bounces of an orange sphere on an orange hoop.

Data is from Synergy Sports and Basketball Reference

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I wonder how they define an isolation. I'd venture to guess that a lot of the Spurs' "isolation" plays involved Tony Parker attacking a defense that wasn't set.

Tony Parker did use more isolations than any player on the Spurs. He accounted for 31.7 percent of their total isolations last season and was efficient, posting a ppp of .819, better than 67 percent of NBA players.

I went back and watched some of his isolations and most occurred when he got a big man switched onto him. He works around screens until he finds a mismatch, then attacks. You're right, some came in semi-transition when Parker got an early, high screen. It's almost impossible for bigs to stay in front of him.

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Cool stat. Thanks for sharing. I love how the Spurs were so efficient while having the second lowest % of ISO Possessions. Imagine how good we could be with a system similar to San Antonio's? Obviously would have to readjust to the personnel but wow that would be something, Lebron as our Tony? Dwyane as our Manu? Bosh as our version of Timmy? Would be cool to create that kind of efficiency with our group of guys. Who's on Pop's coaching staff that we could snatch up? :P

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Sweet! thanks, Danny, this is music to my ears.

It sucks that we have this rep of only using Iso's when we're pretty average in how often we do it.

P.S.

Seriously, John Hollinger, Tom Haberstroh and the other Stats guys need their one show. This is what needs to be talked about, not clutch genes..

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the team is good on isolation but we cant count on that.. like the roster we have now.. in addition with ray and rashard, i think the team should make more plays than usual...

Isolations were the fifth most common form of offense for the HEAT last season. In the NBA, 12 teams used Isolations in a higher percentage of their total possessions. The HEAT run plenty of "plays." Isolations are usually a fallback option or occur on a targeted mismatch.

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Nice work.

Out of curiosity, is the fast-break considered a type of offense? In other words, is it included as one of the six "types of offense" that are accounting for that 9%?

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Nice work.

Out of curiosity, is the fast-break considered a type of offense? In other words, is it included as one of the six "types of offense" that are accounting for that 9%?

It is. It's labeled at "transition."

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