Blocking shots in the NBA: Quantity vs. Quality

In the NBA, you want to have a center around the basket who can block the high percentage shots around the rim and force an opponent to shoot a low percentage, away from the rim,

But are all blocked shots the same?


I’m a huge basketball fan, and as I was watching games this past season, I realized that, although they might seem like completely different concepts, winning new accounts for your organization is a lot like blocking shots in the NBA: It’s all about selection, selection, selection. And, in the case of sales, win loss analysis a key way to improve the selections you and your sales team are making.

Blocked Shots and Win Loss

When players go for more blocks, they have an increased tendency to foul more and put the shooter on the foul line to still score, or cause a goal tending call.

But what if you had a center that was more selective in their shot blocks? How would you value that?

In the book, Scorecasting: The Hidden Influence Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won, by Tobias Moskowitz and L Jon Wertheim, the authors placed a value on the quality of blocked shots by an NBA center.

For example, in 2008, Dwight Howard won the Defensive player of the year and led the league in rebounds and blocked shots at 232. Tim Duncan, on the other hand, never won a Defensive player of the year and never led the league in blocked shots, but he does earn the highest value on blocked shots turning into points for his team.

In the report done by John Huizinga (Huizinga, 2010), the value on blocked shots from Dwight Howard were much lower than blocks from Tim Duncan, even though Howard had 83 more blocked shots than Duncan.

Although the shots blocked by Howard created great fanfare and delight, they would regularly be blocked out of bounds and would give the ball back to the opposing team, putting them into a better scoring position. As for Tim Duncan, he would block a shot for a teammate who would turn the ball the other way and score, or be put into a scoring position.

The Most Valuable Shot Block Scoring

Player Year Blocks Value per Block

Tim Duncan 2008 149 1.12

Dwight Howard 2008* 232 0.53

*Won Defensive player of the year

How does this relate to Win Loss?

Dwight Howard won the Defensive Player of the Year because he had the quantity of blocks and rebounds. He had a solid score card for his own personal statistics. However, if he would look at his game film and make the necessary corrections to change those blocked shots into scoring opportunities for his teammates, his value per blocked shot would increase and we wouldn’t be discussing his personal greatness, but instead discussing what really matters: Championships! (Tim Duncan now has 5.)

Similarly, when a sales person brings on a lot of new accounts, it may seem like a great thing at first. But like blocked shots, are those new accounts really helping the organization? Or, are they just padding the numbers of the individual sales rep? A bad account, like a bad shot block, can actually do more harm to your team than good. So, like a center standing under the basket, the most valuable members of your sales team are those who know how to strategically select their targets.

In this situation, win loss analysis serves as the “game film” for your sales reps. By reviewing their past sales opportunities, they can begin to recognize the factors that determine if they are going to lose a deal, win the deal (and have a less than profitable relationship with the customer), or win the deal (and have a VERY profitable relationship with the customer). They can then begin to focus on those factors so that they have many more accounts that fit squarely into that third category.

With clear, concise win loss data available to them, your sales team will be able to bring in only those accounts that will increase the profitability and success rate of your organization, while avoiding those that will bring financial woes and unsatisfied customers (not to mention dirty looks from your operations team!)

A key to making this work is creating a win loss analysis process that focuses on sharing information throughout your organization and focusing on actionable intelligence that will lead to better decisions. In its win loss data, a company may have a great score card and have a great quantity of data, but what really matters is the quality of the data and its ability to address the needs of the organization as a whole. You may have a phenomenal sales person that can bring in an account, but remember, it’s an organization—a team— that brings on the customer and keeps them.

Just as an NBA game is about using blocked shots as a means to the greater goal of winning the game, as an organization, your greater goal should be about closing more deals and increasing your overall revenue, not just about how many accounts are brought on.

Works Cited

Huizinga, J. (2010). The Value of a Blocked Shot in the NBA:From Dwight Howard to Tim Duncan. MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Wertheim, T. M. (2011). Scorecasting – The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games are Won. NYC, NY: Crown Publishing.

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