Total Team Effort: Does Spreading the Scoring Lead to NBA Wins?

A staple of our NBA coverage has been an unofficial team stat called the Total Team Effort, defined as any game in which seven or more players score in double figures. The general assumption is that either the team distributed the ball well with the starters and made good use of the time they had their second unit in, or the game was a blowout and therefore the bench guys just got enough minutes for two of them to top the 10-point threshold.

The NBA is also a star-driven league; you often hear stories like “Westbrook scores 50 as the Thunder beat the Wizards” or something. When one player’s taking most of the shots and scoring efficiently, he puts the team on his back and guides them past the opponent.

But basketball is a team sport, and stretching a defense can be pretty efficient. What we want to know is if these approaches have predictive value.

So, since Game Finder from Basketball Reference doesn’t yet have a way to search by “# of players with at least 10 points”, we’re going to go through these box scores manually, so forgive me if I miss a game here. I’m looking for games in which a team had a Total Team Effort, and whether the TTE resulted in a win.

So without further ado, here are all such games this season:

10/18/17: DAL lost to ATL 117-111
10/18/17: BKN/IND both had TTEs, IND won 140-131
(note: Pacers had 8 in double figures, Nets had 7.)
10/18/17: MIA lost to ORL 116-109
10/20/17: DET lost to WAS 115-111
10/23/17: DAL lost to GSW 133-103
10/23/17: SAC lost to PHX 117-115
10/24/17: CHI lost to CLE 119-112
10/26/17: SAC lost to NOP 114-106
10/28/17: POR beat PHX 114-107
10/29/17: DEN beat BKN 124-111
10/30/17: PHI beat HOU 115-107
10/31/17: LAL beat DET 113-93
11/1/17: CHA beat MIL 126-121
11/3/17: CHI beat ORL 105-83
11/4/17: MEM beat LAC 113-104
Total record (not including BKN/IND game): 7-8.

OK, some of this just makes no sense at all. Teams lost the first eight games in which they had a Total Team Effort and their opponent did not.

Then they won their next seven.

What’s more, quite a lot of the teams getting these efforts are lousy. Dallas. Sacramento. Chicago. Only Detroit and Memphis have been unequivocally good this season (7-3 for the Pistons, 6-3 for the Grizzlies.)

Maybe we can look at this another way. Let’s give Brooklyn and Indiana a loss and a win in that game on the second night of the season so we have some perspective. That means that a TTE would predict a .471 winning percentage.

If we total up the winning percentages (through games of Nov. 4) of the teams involved in these games, we get an aggregate total of 56 wins and 91 losses. That’s a ,381 winning percentage.

So the early conclusion is that spreading the ball around is what you do if you’re terrible and don’t have a star who can get the bulk of the points and drive your offense, and it gives you a better chance to win.

Still, this bears a lot more research. We’ll see if this indeed becomes the refuge of seven players scoring because there weren’t 2 or 3 to drive things like a good team.