Random Walk Picture of Basketball Scoring

Alan Gabel 1  and Sidney Redner 2
  • 1 Center for Polymer Studies and Department of Physics, Boston University, Boston
  • 2 Center for Polymer Studies and Department of Physics, Boston University, Boston

We present evidence, based on play-by-play data from all 6087 games from the 2006/07– 2009/10 seasons of the National Basketball Association (NBA), that basketball scoring is well described by a continuous-time anti-persistent random walk. The time intervals between successive scoring events follow an exponential distribution, with essentially no memory between different scoring intervals. By including the heterogeneity of team strengths, we build a detailed computational random-walk model that accounts for a variety of statistical properties of scoring in basketball games, such as the distribution of the score difference between game opponents, the fraction of game time that one team is in the lead, the number of lead changes in each game, and the season win/loss records of each team.

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