Sports Reference Blog

Play-By-Play, Shot Charts Added Back to 1996-97

Posted by Mike Lynch on August 2, 2019

We have long had Play-by-Play as a feature in the box scores on Basketball Reference back to the 2000-01 season. We're happy to announce that we have now added this data back to the 1996-97 season, which is as far back as comprehensive, digitized NBA play-by-play info exists anywhere (at least to our knowledge). The play-by-play data also allows us to integrate shot charts and Plus/Minus tables into the box scores.

These new features can be seen in this box score for the 1996-97 Bulls season season-opening win over the Celtics. There's links within the box for play-by-play, shot charts, and Plus/Minus. You'll notice the Play-by-Play section of the box lists the number of ties, lead changes and how much time each team spent in the lead. You'll also see the longest scoring runs and droughts and individual leaders in points, rebounds and assists in each quarter.

In addition, we have made the editorial decision to display all player minutes played in box scores and gamelogs in a MM:SS format as calculated from play-by-play. This means our displayed minutes played will sometimes differ from totals published in official scorer's reports from 1996-97 to 2004-05 (OSR's have used MM:SS since 2005-06). The logic behind this decision is that we have found that minutes in Official Scorer's Reports from 1996-97 to 2004-05 are a blunt instrument and often plainly wrong when compared to video and play-by-play evidence. For instance, in Game 6 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals Brian Cook played two stints for a total 17 seconds. The Official Scorer's Report for that game credits Cook with 2 minutes played (ostensibly because the NBA never credits a player with 0 minutes played and somehow credited his two mini-stints as 1 minute each). We have decided that we're offering a better service to users of the site by presenting the correct total of 17 seconds here, as opposed to the "official" total of 2 minutes. At some point we will likely add functionality which will display the minutes from the OSR when you mouse over the more precise MM:SS in our boxes from 1996-97 to 2004-05. Again, boxes from 2005-06 to present will remain unchanged on this front.

The other exciting part about the addition of the new play-by-play is that it will allow us to build out some site features for four added seasons (1996-97 to 1999-00). For instance, Kobe Bryant's shooting table and play-by-play table will be extended back to 1996-97 (meaning they will cover his entire career). The 1996-97 season featured perhaps the deepest rookie class in NBA history, meaning we'll now have full PBP and associated stats for all time great such as Bryant, Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Stephon Marbury, Antoine Walker, Marcus Camby, Peja Stojakovic and Jermaine O'Neal.

We will also be integrating this new data into the following Play Index tools: Event Finder, Lineup Finder, Shot Finder, and Plus/Minus Finder. So you'll be able to compare lineups from the end of Jordan's Bulls days to the Warriors' Death Lineup and see all of Kobe's potential game-winners.

Please keep your eyes peeled for these (and other) added features.

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

5 Responses to “Play-By-Play, Shot Charts Added Back to 1996-97”

  1. Justin Says:

    Awesome. Great work as usual!

  2. [Basketball Reference] adds play-by-play, shot charts and plus/minus back to the 1996-97 season – Live OT Says:

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  3. Stan Says:

    Amazing! I'll keep my eyes peeled for the increase of Play-By-Play data back to 1997 as I'm always super excited by that.

    I'm curious - how are the Position Estimates determined using play by play data?

  4. Sean Says:


  5. Sean Says:

    Do you plan to convert these new data into each player's and team's season-by-season shooting tables?