Possession indicator

The game of basketball is rich with nuances and subtleties that can impact the outcome of a match. One such aspect is the possession indicator, which plays a critical role in determining which team gets the ball during specific situations. To appreciate its significance, let’s delve into the purpose and function of this essential component.

In basketball, the possession indicator, or possession arrow, is primarily used to simplify certain aspects of the game, such as jump-ball situations. Officially known as the alternating-possession procedure in college basketball, it ensures that each team gets an equal opportunity to gain control of the ball. The arrow switches direction after each possession, allowing for a fair and transparent distribution of opportunities throughout the game.

Apart from jump-ball situations, possession indicators are also crucial during unclear out-of-bounds plays and player tie-ups, ensuring that the game runs smoothly and without confusion. Overall, the possession indicator is an invaluable tool to help maintain the fairness and competitive balance in basketball.

What is a Possession Indicator

A possession indicator in basketball is a tool used to show which team will gain possession of the ball in the next held-ball or double-foul situation. It plays a crucial role in managing the flow of the game and ensuring a fair distribution of possession rights among the competing teams.

The concept of possession in basketball refers to the period when a team acquires control of the ball and maintains it until they either score, lose possession, or violate the rules. Possession indicators are typically associated with the alternating-possession procedure, which is implemented in college basketball games.

In contrast to the jump-ball scenario employed by the NBA, the alternating-possession procedure uses a possession arrow to determine the initial control of the ball to start the game or after certain stoppages of play. The arrow points to the team that will benefit from the next change of possession, and after each occurrence, it alternates in direction.

The possession arrow, visible on the scorers’ table, helps referees, players, and fans know which team will get the ball next in specific game situations. Examples of these held-ball occurrences include instances when two opposing players grip the ball simultaneously or when a defensive player forces a jump-ball scenario without committing a foul.

It’s essential to acknowledge that the possession indicator plays a vital role in maintaining fairness and providing teams with equal opportunities to score during gameplay. As the game progresses, efficient use of possessions leads to better offensive and defensive strategies, ultimately impacting overall team performance.

Types of Possession Indicators

In basketball, possession indicators are crucial metrics that help to evaluate a team’s performance on the court. There are several types of these indicators; and in this section, we will discuss three essential ones: Offensive Rebound Percentage, Defensive Rebound Percentage, and Turnover Percentage.

Offensive Rebound Percentage

Offensive Rebound Percentage (ORB%) is the proportion of available offensive rebounds that a team or player secures. It’s an essential metric because it measures a team’s ability to generate additional scoring opportunities through offensive rebounds. Calculated as:

Offensive Rebound Percentage = (Total Offensive Rebounds / (Total Offensive Rebounds + Opponent's Total Defensive Rebounds)) * 100

A high ORB% indicates that a team is effective in gaining possession of the ball after missed field goal attempts.

Defensive Rebound Percentage

Defensive Rebound Percentage (DRB%) is the proportion of available defensive rebounds that a team or player secures. It’s a crucial metric in assessing a team’s ability to prevent the opposing team from gaining additional scoring chances through offensive rebounds. It’s calculated using the formula:

Defensive Rebound Percentage = (Total Defensive Rebounds / (Total Defensive Rebounds + Opponent's Total Offensive Rebounds)) * 100

A high DRB% means that a team is efficiently limiting their opponents’ second-chance scoring opportunities.

Turnover Percentage

Turnover Percentage (TOV%) is the estimate of how often a player or team loses possession of the ball due to turnovers, based on the number of possessions they have. This statistic helps determine a team’s ability to maintain possession and reduce the chances of the opposing team scoring. The formula for calculating TOV% is:

Turnover Percentage = (Total Turnovers / Possessions) * 100

A low TOV% indicates that a player or team is more capable of protecting the ball and minimizing turnovers, essential for success in basketball.

Calculating Possession Indicators

Possession indicators in basketball are essential for understanding a team’s efficiency and performance. These metrics gauge how effectively a team uses their possessions in terms of scoring points, and they are critical for evaluating a team’s offense and defense.


The most widely used formula for calculating possessions is based on factors like field goal attempts, free throw attempts, and turnovers. The formula is as follows:

Possessions = Field Goal Attempts + (0.44 x Free Throw Attempts) + Turnovers

Field Goal Attempts is the number of shots attempted by a team (excluding free throws).

Free Throw Attempts is the number of times a player attempts a free throw.

Turnovers is the number of times a team loses possession of the ball without taking a shot or a free throw.

The resulting value represents the total number of possessions a team had during a particular game or time period.


Here are some hypothetical examples of how to calculate possession indicators in basketball using the formula:

Field Goal AttemptsFree Throw AttemptsTurnoversPossessions
70201570 + (0.44 x 20) + 15 = 95.8
60301260 + (0.44 x 30) + 12 = 87.2
80101880 + (0.44 x 10) + 18 = 104.4

In the first example, a team with 70 field goal attempts, 20 free throw attempts, and 15 turnovers would have 95.8 possessions. The second example shows a team with 87.2 possessions, while the third example indicates a team with 104.4 possessions.

Importance of Possession Indicators

Possession indicators in basketball are essential metrics that provide insight into a team’s offensive and defensive performance. They are crucial for understanding how well a team is utilizing its possessions, ultimately affecting their overall performance in a game. In the ensuing paragraphs, we will explore the importance of possession indicators in team strategies and measuring individual player performance.

Application in Team Strategy

Possession indicators can offer valuable information for coaches when devising their game plan. By analyzing these metrics, a team can identify areas where they need improvement, such as maintaining possession of the ball and limiting turnovers, which can lead to increased scoring opportunities.

For instance, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency are calculated based on possession indicators. These metrics reveal how many points a team scores or allows per 100 possessions, respectively. By considering pace, the number of possessions per game, a team can adapt its strategy to either maximize its offensive output or focus on strengthening its defense. Ultimately, careful analysis of possession indicators can help a team maximize its potential on the court.

Measuring Player Performance

In addition to informing team strategy, possession indicators can provide valuable insights into individual player performance. By evaluating statistics on a per-possession basis, a coach can better understand a player’s contributions to the team’s success and identify areas for improvement.

Some possession-based metrics include:

  • Usage rate: The percentage of team possessions used by a player when they are on the court, illustrating the extent to which a player is involved in the team’s offense.
  • Turnover rate: The number of turnovers committed by a player per 100 possessions, revealing the player’s ability to maintain possession effectively.
  • Rebound percentage: The percentage of total rebounds a player secures relative to the number of available rebounds while they are on the court.

By examining these metrics and others, a coach can gain a more comprehensive understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses, helping them make data-driven decisions for the team’s optimal lineup and player development.

To summarize, possession indicators serve as fundamental tools in basketball analytics, enabling teams and coaches to develop informed strategies and evaluate individual player performance. These metrics can be invaluable in optimizing both team and player performance, enhancing their chances of success on the court.

Limitations and Criticisms

The possession indicator in basketball has several limitations and has faced various criticisms from the sports analytics community. One notable limitation is that possession indicators do not account for the possessions’ qualitative differences. Basketball possession indicators are primarily used to calculate metrics such as pace, offensive efficiency, and defensive efficiency. However, they don’t provide any insights into the effectiveness, teamwork, or strategy used during a possession.

Another limitation of possession indicators is their susceptibility to arbitrary changes during the game. For instance, a team may have a higher number of possessions if they commit more turnovers or force their opponents to do so. This could give the impression that the team is playing at a faster pace, but the higher number of possessions could also be the result of carelessness or sloppy play.

Critics have pointed out that possession indicators can be misleading when comparing teams or players across different eras or leagues. Possession metrics may not accurately reflect true strategic differences between teams. For example, some NBA teams might have a higher pace of play than European teams, simply because the shot clock durations are different, which leads to faster possessions. This makes direct comparisons between teams and players from different eras and leagues challenging.

A related criticism is that possession-focused metrics can sometimes undervalue individual contributions to a team’s success. Basketball is a fluid game with numerous dynamic interactions between players. Using metrics based solely on possessions can oversimplify the sport’s complexity, potentially downplaying key performances or moments that can impact a game’s outcome.

Finally, there is the issue of accessibility and familiarity with possession indicators. Casual basketball fans may find it difficult to understand and interpret these advanced metrics, limiting their utility for mainstream discussion and analysis. While specialists and dedicated analysts may appreciate the nuances of possession-based statistics, they might be less meaningful to a broader audience.

In summary, while possession indicators can offer valuable insights into basketball analytics and performance assessment, they also have inherent limitations and criticisms that should be considered when using them for analysis or comparison purposes.