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Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports

Editor-in-Chief: Glickman, Mark

4 Issues per year


The Price of Anarchy in Basketball

Brian Skinner1

1University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

Citation Information: Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports. Volume 6, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 1559-0410, DOI: 10.2202/1559-0410.1217, January 2010

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Optimizing the performance of a basketball offense may be viewed as a network problem, wherein each play represents a “pathway" through which the ball and players may move from origin (the in-bounds pass) to goal (the basket). Effective field goal percentages from the resulting shot attempts can be used to characterize the efficiency of each pathway. Inspired by recent discussions of the “price of anarchy" in traffic networks, this paper makes a formal analogy between a basketball offense and a simplified traffic network. The analysis suggests that there may be a significant difference between taking the highest-percentage shot each time down the court and playing the most efficient possible game. There may also be an analogue of Braess's Paradox in basketball, such that removing a key player from a team can result in the improvement of the team's offensive efficiency.

Keywords: price of anarchy; skill curves; true shooting percentage; Braess’s Paradox; networks; optimization; game theory; Nash equilibrium

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