Stats review: Shrinking average victory margins

Nov 30, 2020 by Synergy sports Print
Stats review: Shrinking average victory margins

Unpredictability reigned in Round 11 as five teams won on the road and the last-placed team in the standings beat the first-place team, all a symptom of shrinking average margins of victory this season.

High-Gravity Matchup

On the heels of a grueling schedule in the previous week's double-round, CSKA Moscow hosted Real Madrid in another major test in Round 11 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Both teams arrived at Megasport Arena on five-game winning streaks, but CSKA emerged victorious as Mike James continued his hot shooting and played the role of spoiler by converting a game-winning four-point play in the waning seconds.

Moving up to eight victories, CSKA finds itself on pace with first-place FC Barcelona, who fell to last-place LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in France. Despite outrebounding ASVEL, winning the turnover battle, and earning 9 more free throws over the course of the game, Barcelona lost by 12 points due in large part to a lack of production on the perimeter. Just 17 days after going 16-30 from beyond the arc in a win over Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, Barcelona turned in the second least-prolific three-point performance of the EuroLeague season. Going 2-for-8 from beyond the arc, Barcelona became the second team to attempt fewer than 10 threes in a single game this season and the second to make fewer than 3 such shots.

The EuroLeague average sits at 8.9-for-24.1, making Barcelona's performance an aberration, for sure. But it was also a byproduct of ASVEL's defense, which has allowed a league-low 18.0 three-point attempts per game in the half court. ASVEL's defenders make a clear effort to chase opposing shooters off the three-point line, and they find quite a bit of success in that endeavor even if they are making some trade-offs elsewhere.

EuroLeague Efficiency Landscape

What makes ASVEL domination of the season-long leaders particularly surprising is that – to this point – Barcelona has been by far the EuroLeague's most efficient team. However, their difficulties against ASVEL offered a reminder that parity is at a premium this season.

The graph above places each team's marker based on how far above or below the EuroLeague average they are in offensive and defensive points per possession. It paints a pretty clear overview of which teams have stood out the most one-third of the way through the 2020-21 campaign.

As noted above, Barcelona has been the standout of the season to this point and much of that can be traced to defense. While offensive efficiency has been the key differentiator for the rest of the league, Barcelona has been able to lean on an ability to get stops more than any other team so far this season. Their efficiency differential of 0.13 points per possession is on par with the top teams in recent history.

Looking further down the standings, Anadolu Efes Istanbul has the next-highest efficiency differential at 0.08 followed closely by Valencia Basket and Real Madrid, with the gap for each being explained almost entirely by their offensive performance. That is true in general for the middle of the EuroLeague pack and is a symptom of the parity the league has achieved this season. Outside of Barcelona, just two teams rank above average in both offensive and defensive efficiency and neither does so by a significant margin.

As a result, teams like FC Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow have thrived in the early going because they have been remained consistent in key moments. Only two of Bayern's seven wins have been by more than 8 points while none of CSKA's eight wins have had a margin greater than 9 points. Both teams have found ways to win close games.

With multiple one-point road winners and Barcelona's loss, Round 11 provided anecdotal evidence about the effect this season's unique circumstances seem to have had on the action on the floor. At this point, margin of victory is down significantly from recent seasons and nearly 25% below what it was at this point last season. It seems that it is as difficult as ever for teams to separate themselves from one another game-to-game, meaning that hot streaks and late-game execution factor into the standings more than usual and make for a lot of exciting and unpredictable twists as the season wears on.

Looking ahead to Round 12

Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv hosts Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in a matchup of teams looking to climb back into the middle of the EuroLeague pack. With both teams entering this game having lost five of six games, the victor could begin to put a long November behind them.