08 October, 2019
04 October, 2020
How BCL teams moved closer to Houston
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How BCL teams moved closer to Houston

MIES (Switzerland) - No, the Final Eight event that is set to conclude the 2019-20 edition of the Basketball Champions League in September-October will not take place in Houston, or anywhere within less than 4.6 thousand miles from Texas, for that matter.

The BCL is a European club competition so San Cristóbal de La Laguna, home to Iberostar Tenerife and the venue of the first ever BCL Final Four, will always be its westerly outlier - unless of course the Iceland champions ever join in on the fun.

But while in terms of geography the BCL cannot move further westward, the phrase 'Go West, young man' echoes increasingly loud throughout the competition. The data shows that, in spirit, BCL teams have shifted towards the Rockets, Houston's storied NBA franchise, more than they could ever do physically.

The Houston Rockets were at the forefront of an advanced stats revolution in the NBA and they famously prioritize three-pointers and shots at the rim over midrange shots, to the point where they have all but eliminated the latter option from their offensive repertoire over the last few years.

Up until the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rockets' three-point attempt rate was 48.8 percent, as they were averaging 44.3 shots from beyond the arc on 90.7 filed goal attempts per game.

James Harden in particular attempted 55.5 percent of his shots from three-point range and 23.7 percent from within 3 feet (approximately 90 centimeters) from the basket [source: basketball-reference.com]. In simpler terms, you had only a 20.8 percent chance this season to see the Rockets franchise player attempt a shot from the floor that was anything else but a three-pointer or a layup/dunk, as he kept out of a roughly six-meter area between the rim and the three-point line which was considered prime real estate not so long ago in basketball history.

The style of play in Europe is naturally very different to that of the NBA and the use of advanced metrics is not as widespread in the European game, but the BCL teams' gradual shift towards the Houston approach is hard to miss.

In the inaugural BCL season, only 37.5 percent (15 of 40) of participating teams averaged more than 8 made triples per game. By stark contrast, the percentage of such teams rose to 84.4 percent (27 of 32 teams) in the 2019-20 season, the largest part of which had already concluded by the time of the coronavirus pandemic suspension.

Simply put, while as recently as 2016-17 collecting a minimum of 24 of your points per game from behind the three-point arc was a luxury usually reserved to the best teams, four years later it has almost become a necessity for every team.

This season, we have had three teams (Hapoel Jerusalem, San Pablo Burgos and Rasta Vechta) averaging more than 11 made threes per game, when in 2016-17 only one team averaged more than 9.9 made threes (AEK, with 10.2 triples per game).

BCL teams averaged 7.8 made triples per game in the inaugural season, then 8.3 in the 2017-18 season and 8.4 in 2018-19. This season, it soared to 8.9 made triples per game meaning that, on average, a team now scores 26.7 of its points in each game from behind the arc.

The 2019-20 season also set a new record for most points in the paint as, on average, teams scored 34.7 of their points in the paint in each game. That compares with an average of 33.5 points in the paint last season, and only 28.9 such points in the 2017-18 season.

As is the case with Houston, BCL teams score a big chunk of those points close to the basket (not necessarily at the rim, but in the paint) in transition. The pace of the game continues to pick up every year, and in 2019-20 each team scored on average 12.1 fast-break points per game, compared with 10.3 fast-break points per game in the 2016-17 season.

All this doesn't amount to an irrelevant statistical trend, but on the contrary it deeply affects the game and the way the average fan perceives it:

BCL teams broke new ground this season as, for the first time, the average combined score in games in the league was over 160 points (160.2 points per game, to be exact), up from just 149 points in the 2016-17 season.

Crucially, this increase in scoring didn't come about because we had a handful of super-offensive teams blowing away rivals who could not connect with the basket. In actual fact, the percentage of one-possession games rose this season to a record 15.6 percent, up from 15.4 percent last season, 15.2 percent in 2017-18 and 14.7 percent in the 2016-17 season.

It looks like we can get the best of both worlds: Citius, Altius, Fortius as per the Olympic motto, but also a more efficient, more refined game which makes competition even tighter.

Houston, we have no problem whatsoever!