How We’d Fix It: Points Per Possession

Ohio scored a league-low 9.29 points per game last summer, but they weren’t the worst offensive team in the league. In fact they were much better than Boston (12.71 PPG) and New York (10.29 PPG). How is that possible? They were more efficient with their possessions. Rating offenses and defenses by raw points for and points against is a flawed, ancient method. Here’s how it should be done. measures teams by “Offensive Rating” and “Defensive Rating.” These stats measure the number of points a team scores (and allows) per 100 possessions. In order to track this, MLL needs to record just one new metric – possessions.

The NBA calls this stat “Pace” or possessions per 48 minutes. Oklahoma City and Houston push the tempo, possessing the ball over 99 times per game. Memphis, on the other hand, has only 92.10 possessions per game. Knowing this allows us to control for possessions. Houston scores more points per game than the Miami Heat; they also play at a faster pace. Miami has the better Offensive Rating, which is all that matters.

Controlling for the number of possessions is even more essential in lacrosse. In basketball a possession, by definition, begins when the other teams possession ends (whether due to a turnover, made shot, or missed shot). The number of possessions per team stays very close in a single game. This is not the case in lacrosse. With a dominant face-off man, some teams tip the possession scale to the point where they seem to be playing “make it, take it.”

For now, I have a cheap, imperfect way to measure offensive and defensive efficiency: points for and points against with 50% faceoff success. Basically, it answers these questions: How would your offense perform if it had the same number of possessions as the rest of the league? How would your defense fare? I calculated it by multiplying points for by (50%/FO%) and dividing by 14 games. Obviously, plenty of possessions begin without faceoffs. This statistic does not explain the variance caused by pace of play.

Here’s the league standings for PFPG at 50% [compared to their actual PFPG]:

Team PFPG at 50% Actual PFPG
Denver 15.29 16.14
Chesapeake 13.84 12.93
Charlotte 13.61 12.71
Hamilton 12.47 12.14
Rochester 12.37 10.86
Ohio 11.94 9.29
Boston 11.06 12.71
New York 8.14 10.29


Large gaps in production show you how lost a team like New York or Boston would be without Greg Gurenlian or Chris Eck. New York would score lose more than 2 goals per game without The Beast. Boston and Charlotte scored the same number of goals this season with drastically different faceoff percentages (57.5% and 46.7% respectively). As its PFPG at 50% [and its playoff appearance] shows, Charlotte was much more efficient.

Take a look at the defensive numbers:

Team PAPG at 50% Actual PAPG
Chesapeake 9.98 10.64
Denver 10.29 9.71
Ohio 10.58 12.93
Rochester 10.89 12.21
Hamilton 11.70 12.00
Charlotte 11.99 12.79
New York 16.79 12.36
Boston 16.97 14.43


This number shows how truly terrible New York and Boston were on defense this summer. No team lets up more than 12 points per game at 50% faceoff wins. New York and Boston let up nearly 17 goals per game!

It also gives credit to a couple strong defensive units – Ohio and Rochester. If Ohio had won 50% of its faceoffs this season, it would actually have had a positive point differential. Maybe Matt Dolente is what the Machine needs to make it to the playoffs.

More from this series:

How We’d Fix It: Shooting Percentage

How We’d Fix It: 2-Point Line

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