Posted by Mike Lynch on April 18, 2020
Last August Basketball Reference extended its coverage of play-by-play all the way back to 1996-97 (the earliest season for which comprehensive, digitized NBA play-by-play data is available). As we teased at the time, we hoped to use the play-by-play to build out other features. In October we added the ability to break down our box scores since '96-97 by the quarter or half. Today we're happy to announce that many features that we've had available back to 2000-01 for many years have now been extended back to 1996-97.
Here's a quick rundown of the new data on the site:
LINEUP STATS: All teams back to 1996-97 now have a page with their lineup breakdowns. For instance, here's the 1996-97 Bulls lineup data. You'll notice it includes team statistics per 100 possessions for the most commonly used 5-man, 4-man, 3-man and 2-man lineup combos in both the regular season and the playoffs. Additionally, the team pages have detailed On/Off numbers for each player. Here's the On/Off for the 1996-97 Bulls. You can see there that the Bulls outscored opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions with Michael Jordan on the floor that season and by 5.4 pts/100 poss when he was off the floor, a difference of 7.9. Only Scottie Pippen (8.1) had a better number. In the playoffs, however, Jordan was a remarkable 23.6 (best on team). The Play Index also has ways to access and manipulate this kind of data: The Lineup Finder and the Plus/Minus Finder. Via the Lineup Finder, we can see that 50 5-man lineups played 250+ minutes together in 1996-97 and that the Jazz Stockton/Hornacek/Russell/Malone/Ostertag lineup was the best of those 50 lineups. Or you can see that Jordan/Kukoc/Pippen was easily the best 3-man combo in the 1997 Playoffs. With the Plus/Minus Finder you can see that Jordan and Scottie Pippen's 1996-97 seasons both rank in the top 10 for best cumulative Plus/Minus in any player season in the last 24 seasons. We also have player-specific pages for these. For instance, here's MJ's On/Off stats, Lineup stats, Plus/Minus Finder and Lineup Finder.
PLAY-BY-PLAY STATS: Player and team pages also have stats tables with play-by-play based stats extended back to 1996-97. These tables include position estimates, abbreviated versions of On/Off statistics referenced above, and some descriptive stats culled from play-by-play on things like turnovers and fouls drawn/committed. The Event Finder can also be used for customized searches through play-by-play events and is now usable back to 1996-97.
SHOOTING STATS: Shot charts and shooting statistics by distance have also been extended back to 1996-97 (previously these statistics went back to 2000-01 on the site). Before we point out where this data is, let us give a heavy disclaimer: SHOT LOCATION DATA FOR THE 1990s (PARTICULARLY 1996-97) IS SUSPECT. From 1996-97 through 1999-00 there are 194,239 field goal attempts for which the official play-by-play has no associated shot distance or location coordinates. For perspective, that is over a quarter of all field goals attempts for these seasons. Over 75% of these orphaned shots have been labeled as layups in the play-by-play accounts. The other most common descriptors for these shot attempts are dunk (over 15%) and tip shot (over 7%). Fewer than 2% are labeled as jump shots or hook shots. For the 1996-97 season, it is obvious that many missed jump shots were labelled as missed layups with no distance or coordinate data. So for 1996-97, in particular, and later 90s seasons to a lesser extent, field goal percentages at the rim and on layups are artificially deflated and field goal percentages on jump shots are artificially inflated. For instance, this missed Jordan turnaround fadeaway jumper is listed in official play-by-play as a missed layup. 1996-97 is the first season of the official digitized play-by-play, so it should come as no surprise that there are some issues with the data. It seems some teams may have been impacted by this more than others, with the 1996-97 Celtics (and David Wesley, in particular) having some very suspicious shooting splits by distance. We have decided to print these numbers, but we urge caution in utilizing them to prove any points.
The shooting stats can be seen on player pages. Each player has a shot chart for all seasons back to 1996-97. For instance, here's Shaquille O'Neal's shot chart from his MVP season in 1999-00. Additionally, player pages have shooting tables which show various breakdowns on shot types and distances. Here's Shaq's shooting table, for instance. The shooting table also exists on team season pages, such as the 1999-00 Lakers. Another great way to explore shooting data is via the Shot Finder tool, which has also been extended back to 1996-97. Again, we'd caution against comparing 1996-97 numbers to any other seasons, though.
A nice bonus of this new data is that give us full career lineup, on/off and shooting data for some of the greatest players in NBA history since the 1996 NBA Draft is on any short list of the greatest infusions of talent in league history.
We hope you enjoy these new additions. Please let us know if you have any questions.