Isolating and Analyzing 5 Possessions a Game: A Teaching Tool

The stark reality of basketball is that most games are determined by the results of 5 or fewer possessions. If we were to go back over all of our games this season, (or any season), it would be surprising if this generalization wasn’t basically true.  Of course, if we’re in the top or bottom 10% of our schedule in terms of team strength, we may be winning or losing games by huge margins. Otherwise, most games are going to be won or lost by 10-12 points or less.

Of course, there are an infinite number of ways of breaking a game down for our players but I’ve always found that focusing on just 5 possessions illustrates in a very graphic way how very slim the margin is separating a W from an L.

One can go about this many different ways-choosing five defensive plays, field goal attempts,  turnovers, fouls or any combination from these categories or others. What we’re trying to do here is to focus in 5 plays that changed the game-whether we’ve won or lost.  The key word is “focus”. We can also change our focus from game to game, if we’d like.

Two other ways of choosing the five possessions that I particularly like are keying in on the most “avoidable” errors in a loss and in a win, the five most significant plays that don’t make the box-score.

“Avoidable” errors run the gamut and all coaches would identify theirs easily but might include such faux pas as five-second inbound violations, trying to save the ball under the basket we’re defending and passing to an opponent for a score, an unnecessary foul in a late game situation when there wasn’t a threat to score, fouling late in a shot-clock situation after we’ve defended well the bulk of the possession and many other examples that often can be viewed as “one-offs”.  Isolating them and discussing them can guarantee that these are truly “one-offs” and won’t be repeated.

In the case of winning plays that don’t get included in box-scores are deflections that lead to steals credited to teammates, diving on the floor to create a held-ball for an alternate possession, the now popular second assist, a help and recover that prevents a score twice-once on the help and once on the recover and many other examples.

One way to accentuate the “5 Possessions” is to make them separate from our normal evaluation routine. Perhaps giving an assistant coach the responsibility to formulate the list or even having the players themselves offer up suggestions would call extra attention to these possessions.

How we choose the five possessions and who chooses them can vary greatly from team to team and even game to game but the process of extra focus on a few possessions can be very rewarding.

Leave a Reply