Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Mark Ecker


National Basketball Association; Basketball--Defense; Basketball--Statistics;


The three major organized sports featured in the United States – baseball, basketball, and football – cover the spectrum of analytic probability. Baseball, with its basic two parts, pitcher and batter, lies at the easy or low end of the analytic spectrum and so it was the first sport to be studied. From early baseball cards first appearing in the 1890s to The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstracts of the 1980s to the SABRmetrics of today, baseball coaches and fans everywhere are adding a page on analytic probability to their playbooks. Football lies at the high or difficult end of the spectrum. With its 22 different parts or players involved in every play, football remains largely unexplored and largely out of reach from a statistical perspective. Basketball, however, with its 10 parts or players lies in that sweet spot or Goldilocks zone, not too hot and not too cold. Whether one is a casual fan or astute student of the game, advanced analytics have dramatically changed the way the fans perceive these sports. In other words, the shoebox crammed with baseball cards of my dad’s generation has morphed into the computer-based analyzes of my generation.

Despite the many reams of statistics that have been added to the encyclopedia of sports knowledge, there are still many unknowns and many chapters that are incomplete or missing entirely. One of these incomplete chapters is team defense in basketball. While there are a few team axioms that exist, such as rim-protecting centers are valuable and slow point guards are not, the relationship between team characteristics and team defense remains vague, at best. Like the dark side of the moon, the unknown aspects of team defense are seldom seen and remain largely unexplored. My goal in writing this paper is to take a closer look at team defense in the National Basketball Association (NBA). By quantitatively looking at several factors, I hope to gain a better understanding of how the measurable quantities of team makeup affect the abstract qualities of team building. While I may not be the first to attempt the trek nor be the one to voyage the farthest towards this final frontier, I hope to boldly go into the great unknown. By researching and analyzing certain NBA team characteristics, in terms of both roster construction and coaching, I hope to be able to ascertain and perhaps even predict the team’s defensive ability.

Date of Award



Department of Mathematics

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (32 pages)



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