What is a “good” basketball possession?

Good Possession

Would You Rather Score or Have a Good Possession?

Obviously, the answer is both but realistically if you have 70 possessions in a game, for instance, you’ll never score on all of them.  Even scoring on half of them is acceptable very often.  But while it’s impossible to score on all your possessions, in theory it’s possible to have a much higher percentage of good possessions than scores.

This thought recently came to the forefront while watching a number of both NCAA and NBA games early this season.  For some reason, I have found myself saying out loud, “bad possession” when I witnessed a possession that started and ended poorly-with very little chance of a score at the end.

Granted, bad possessions sometimes yield points.  We’ve all been on both sides of a possession in which a player makes a great play, someone “throws one in”, a defender or ref bales out an offensive player in a tough spot and any other number of oddities that can happen when ten players and 2 or 3 refs are packed into a small area and moving at the same time.

Like a lot of other things, we all pretty much know a good possession when we see one but there are universal elements:

  • There is usually a strong initial attack of one kind or another into the heart of the defense, getting some defenders back on their heels giving the offense an edge.
  • EDGE is the key word.  If the offense can’t get an edge, the goal then is for a tie-preventing the defense from getting the edge.
  • Ends in a good shot by a player who is under control.  Bad shots are obvious but even more insidious are “settled” shots
  • Players and the ball are both moving.
  • Ball reversals are generally involved.  Changing sides of the floor prevents the defense from getting entrenched.
  • The ball doesn’t “nest” in players’ hands for long.
  • The offense is aggressive.  Aggressive defenses of any kind can’t be defeated with passive offense.  Even passive defenses have to be attacked.  Sometimes these defenses lull the offense into inaction.
  • All 5 players understand the value of the ball.  It only takes one player to break the chain.
  • An understanding that an early shot is sometimes the best shot.  Number of passes and reversals are good but not for the sake of themselves.  Turning down an early good shot isn’t good unless score and time left dictate “milking” the clock.
  • A turnover doesn’t necessarily mean the possession wasn’t good.  You decide which turnovers are acceptable and which aren’t.
  • A score doesn’t mean the possession was good; it just ended with a good result.

What does a “good” possession mean to you?  Let us know in the comments below.



  1. Working in the NBA this is a very slippery slope and Analytics have killed this whole concept. We see or hear so often to “play fast” and we constantly see guys jacking up ill-advised shots all the time, especially early in the clock. This is often promoted to get more possessions and play with so-called pace.

    To me, once you have created an offensive agenda that is tailored to your roster, you can then communicate effectively what kinds of attempts you are looking for and emphasis those types of attempts as you go through practice, film, or games. Good possessions were when we were able to attack early as a result of our defense, or get solid attempts within the flow of our emphasized concepts. Good possessions are not based on makes or misses. Its about being consistent within the framework of what you are trying to accomplish so that over time your group is able to make a lot more of those shots knowing where those attempts are going to come from as your season progresses.

    1. Jamelle. Your post rings extremely true especially the opening “play fast” portion. The crazy thing about “jacking up” a quick shot or for that matter a lot of them, is that analytically I guess it gives a team quicker chances to have good possessions. Mathematically, I suppose that is possible but intellectually it seems very unsound. I think I’ll continue to go with the “eye test” when it comes to whether a possession is good or not. Thanks for pointing out this conundrum.

Leave a Reply