How Is Math Used in Basketball?


Mathematics plays a huge role in determining the various statistics that define a player's performance on the basketball court. When calculating a player's points per game average, take the total number of points scored by the player in all games and divide this number by the total games the player has participated in. Statistical categories such as rebounds, assists, blocked shots, steals and minutes played per game are also calculated this way.


One of the most important numbers that coaches look at is a player’s turnover to assist ratio. This is especially important for guards that are charged with the responsibility of running an offense. The ratio is determined by taking the number of assists a player averages and comparing this total to the players' number of turnovers per game. For instance, a player that averages 9 assists per contest and 3 turnovers has an assist to turnover ratio of 3 to 1, which is consider excellent.


Field goal shooting percentages are calculated by taking the number of shots a player makes and dividing that total by the number of shots attempted. Any shooting percentage near 50 percent is considered very good. Accordingly, a player that hits 11 shots on 20 attempts has a shooting percentage of 55 percent or .550. Free throw shooting percentages and 3-point field goal percentages are also computed in this manner.


Mathematics comes into play in close games. A coach will elect to foul players with poor free throw shooting percentages in the final minutes if his team is trailing in hopes of the player missing the foul shots and allowing his team to get the ball back and score. In the NBA, a 24-second shot clock forces a team to shoot the ball at the end of a quarter, which can determine whether or not the team will get the ball back with any time left on the clock. Consider a team that gains possession of the ball with 42 seconds left in a quarter. Doing the math, they know that if they shoot the ball any time after 18 seconds has gone off the clock, the other team can hold the ball for a last shot because there will only be 24 seconds left in the quarter. Some teams opt to shoot quickly, knowing that even if the other squad uses its entire 24 seconds to shoot, there will still be time left for them to get in a last shot.