Building better teams: Habits & Thought Processes Topic

I'm a firm believer that at least 75% of a team's success is done when building the team and that coaching changes make much smaller impacts. I feel that sometimes, owners mess up great teams by doing too many coaching changes. This thread is not about coaching; it's about building a better team. So in this thread, I'm going to attempt to teach you how to think about & analyze teams, players & environments so that you can understand why things work & come up with your own strategies; not just tell you what numbers to shoot for. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life type deal.

The first step to sim improvement does not lie in some secret formula as to gain X number of rebounds, Y number of assists and Z number of something else. While cookie-cutter strategies (and that's the true definition of cookie-cutter.... people misuse the term completely) can work effectively, you'll be a much stronger owner in a variety of league structures and league environments if you understand why things work instead of just blindly copying what somebody else tells you to do. Therefore, don't look at this post and expect for me to tell you to get at least this and at least that... but take what I do give you and apply it to your own experiences and hypotheses and become the best owner you can be.

Winning in Three Stages: Shooting Struggle, Possession Battle & Foul Factor

I break the sim down into these three areas, as every single part of the engine comes down to one of these three components. Is one more important than the other? Maybe. You decide. I've found that winning all three areas typically (but not always) means more success than just dominating in 1 or 2 of the areas. Let's start with the Shooting Struggle.

If you and your opponent have an equal number of shot attempts, the team with the most shots made wins. Another way of saying that is that if you shoot better than your opponent in an equal number of possessions, you win. Simple enough, right? Actually, it is very simple.

How do you win the shooting struggle? By picking players that give you good numbers in the proper categories. Those categories include:

efg% & 3pm

fg% should be obvious, so I won't go over that. efg% & 3pm are related, so I'll go ahead and group them for now. Say you and your opponent have the same number of field goals made. Who wins? The team that made the most threes, of course. Threes are essential in the current sim structure for more reasons than simply this, and I'll get more into that in a later section, but for now, just be sure that you're not paying attention to fg% only and that you are looking for (at least) a few guys that give you a high efg% because of their three-point aptitude.

Ast% bumps the effectiveness of everyone's shooting ability, so more of it is a good thing. How much is enough? Again, this isn't an X+Y+Z = 60 wins thread. However, you definitely see huge returns by stockpiling this statistic. Some teams only focus on this & improving their shooting to such a point that it doesn't matter how badly the lose in the other areas of the game, they win by shooting better than you. It's EXTREMELY successful in open leagues where the cap is lower. It has typically not been successful in higher cap leagues. Here's a thread discussing the stockpiled ast% strategy. Just because the strategy itself doesn't work in those high cap leagues doesn't mean you can't take something from it & apply it to your own game. All things equal in every other department, a team with 100 ast% in the SL will probably out shoot a team with only 60 ast%. It, like every other aspect in the sim, is an issue of balance.

Defense is huge. It used to be really weak, but now it is substantially better. Winning the shooting struggle means winning it on both ends. So what if you shoot 52% from the field if your opponent shoots 55%? While I won't say you should ever exclude a player because of poor defense, you need to think about the big picture when picking your players. More on this in the specific players chapter.

Usage also plays a role in field goal percentage due to team and individual possession penalties. More info about usage can be found in this thread, but the short of it is that if you don't have enough usage, your players will shoot the ball way more than they did IRL, causing their shooting percentages to fall.

The Possession Battle

Usage (more specifically, the possession penalty) also plays a big role in the Possession Battle. Not only do your players tend to shoot worse once they hit the penalty, they begin turning the ball over more. Turnovers are a big part of the possession battle.

The Possession Battle can be looked at in this way: If both my opponent and myself shoot the same percentage from the floor, who wins the game? The team who shot more! So how do you get more possessions than your opponent in the sim?


I've already gone over usage%, so we'll move on. The #1 focus of the possession battle is in rebounds. More oreb% gives you a greater chance at getting more second shot opportunities. More dreb% gives you a better chance at limiting your opponent's second shot opportunities. How much is enough?

There is never "enough." There is only more. If you think you've got enough, see if you can get more. Spend an extra $1000 to get more boards. Explore ways to increase that number. Some owners will try and tell you there are diminishing returns with rebounds (and other stats). They are right to an extent, but they are fundamentally wrong. If you listen to nothing else from my post except for this next sentence, well... listen up:

In the sim, you're not paying for stats; you're paying for an increased chance of an occurrence. I don't care if my Rodman averages his real life number of 18 rebounds per game. In fact, I hope that he averages far less. If he does average 18 rebounds per game, that means I'm probably getting beat on the boards. I'm not paying for 18 rpg. I'm paying for his 17% oreb% & his 31% dreb%. I'm paying for the almost 1/3 chance that he'll grab a defense rebound while he's on the floor and the almost 1/5 chance that he'll grab one of my missed shots. The higher your cumulative rebounding with the five players on the floor, the better chance you have at getting extra shots while limiting extra shots from your opponent. You do this while at least keeping the SS even and you win more than you lose.

Turnovers (tov%) also play a large role in the sim. Here's the kicker... THE stat that determines a player's likelihood of turning the ball over is not listed on WIS. You have to go to another source (basketball-reference) or break out a calculator to figure that out. That sucks and is something I asked for in 2009, but they've failed to deliver it with so many other things. Anyway, tov% is the percentage of a player's possessions that ended with him turning the ball over. Obviously, the lower the number, the better. EVERYBODY turns the ball over more in the sim than they did IRL, but you still want to try and aim for guys with lower tov%.

Steals give you a few extra possessions. This stat does work but is NOT a dominant factor in a game. It's nice to have but certainly not a requirement. As with everything, a balance between stats is ideal.

The Foul Factor

Nothing messes up a team worse than a key player getting into foul trouble and/or fouling out early. If you manage to foul out your opponent's best offensive player or best rebounder, then you can suddenly begin dominating the Shooting Struggle & the Possession Battle instead of merely maintaining an edge. How do you do that? The first thing is to draft guys that go to the line alot. Again, WIS uses a number that's unavailable to you on this website called fouled%. I don't know where they get their numbers, but one thing you can do that is somewhat helpful is to divide the number of free throws attempted (times 0.44) by the total number of possessions. This gives you a rough idea of how effective your player is at getting to the line.

Conversely, you don't want to be put in this position yourself, so you want to draft guys that don't foul as much. Fouls per 48 minutes is the best way of comparing players in the sim. Less is more in this case.

One of the things that made me very successful early on was that I took extreme advantage of a programming flaw that to this day still exists in the sim: defensive positioning. If your opponent doesn't have their positioning set to correctly defend your team, they will foul more. Most players will leave the positioning at 0 by default, therefore if you have an extreme inside-outside team (ie high paint% scorers mixed with high perimeter% scorers - ie 3pt bombers), you cause more fouls. Couple this with players that already have a high rate of going to the line and suddenly you can start winning much more than if you had not. What is the perfect balance here? I can't tell you; it's always changing. Which leads me to...

The Sim is an Ever Changing Environment

The main reason I won't tell you to get X of this and Y of this and you'll win is that I want you to think about why things work and to apply the knowledge in a way that will work no matter what's going on in the sim, because the sim is ever changing. What worked fine 6 months ago might not work fine now. When I originally wrote this, I had a dominant team based around Wilt & Barkley. Guess what? That team doesn't work anymore in OLs. However, I had just started trying a line-up that I've run (mostly the same, I always change a little here or there but the core remains true) more than 420 regular season games in 6 tries (that's an average of 70 wins per season) and has won the championship 6 out of 6 tries. The team isn't as good as it once was... but that's not true. It's that the sim environment has caught up.

What do I mean? I mean that people are drafting more rebounds than before. People are drafting teams with better defenses. Some teams are putting all of their eggs in one basket and dominating so much in one area that they dominate the entire game (see: ultrapass: the mad assist teams). Coincidentally, I did re-run this team recently, won almost 70 games & the ring, so it still kicked plenty of ***. Still, the teams it faced were WAY different than those before.

Therefore I stress to you that in order to maintain a consistent ability to compete, an owner must recognize and familiarize himself with all sim trends and changes. Even without any major engine work done by programmers, the environment changes so much as people figure out what works and what works better. Therefore, if you don't adapt and grow with it, you'll end up wondering why you can't win anymore.

That's why X+Y+Z is a bad way of building teams. That's why I wrote this. That's also why I'm an advocate of keeping at least one team running in open leagues at all times and keeping track of the top 25 teams. You'll see new trends as they happen and can experiment with them (or experiment with changes of your own... and then enjoy watching the trend).

You'll become a much better owner just by taking some time to incorporate some of these beliefs into your team building strategies instead of blindly doing the old "I need a bit of this and a bit of that..." approach.

Putting it All Together: The Players Themselves

Okay... none of this matters if you don't know how to evaluate a player and decide who to draft with who. It basically boils down to a decision with every player you draft. Ask yourself a series of questions when you're thinking about adding a player to your squad:

"Does this player help me win the shooting struggle, or is he a liability?"

"Does this player help me win the possession battle, or is he a liability?"

"What kind of factor will this player play in regards to fouls?"

If you answer that a player helps you win both the shooting struggle & the possession battle while helping you to get to the line a ton while not fouling much himself, then you've got a gem and the player should definitely be considered for your team.

If a player helps you win in one area but is a liability in the others, you don't necessarily need to discard him... but you need to make up for that liability with other players.

If a player is a liability in multiple facets of the game, don't use him.

The best player in the sim (arguably), 66-67 Wilt Chamberlain, is dominant in all three areas. Most of the guys that go in the first half of the first round of the draft leagues do the same. One thing I need to note before going further: Generally, you want to use a player at the smallest position available to them. This is for rebounding advantage purposes. For example, Lebron James, in real life, is a small forward (has played a lot of power forward last couple of years, too). In the sim, he's a point guard. Play him at point guard. It can be okay to play him at shooting guard, but you lose a huge rebounding advantage if you play him in the front court. That being said, there are specific situations where you avoid this (In the ultrapass strategy, for example, Lebron is almost always your PF because you want to play guys at the biggest position available to get the most ast% you can).

While we're talking about him, Lebron is someone that gives you a huge advantage in every facet of the game. He gets to the line a ton and fouls very little. He gives you a great shooting percentage for his usage, gives you some threes, makes everyone around him shoot better with his high ast%, and plays great defense. He rebounds really well for a guard (remember what I just said about playing guys at the smallest position?) and has a very reasonable turnover percentage since he handles the ball as much as he does. Also gets you some steals. There are several versions of him that are excellent at several different cap levels (11-12, 12-13, 13-14 are all high efg%, tier 2 usage guys; 08-09 & 09-10 are excellent tier 1 usage guys that are often used in the ultrapass strategy. The 05-06 version is a bargain with 3361 minutes of tier 1 usage under $10m; the latest 14-15 version is a partial minute player, meaning he's a better bargain as you're not paying extra for high minutes).

He helps you win in every facet of the game. Sim-Lebron has no weakness. Whenever you're evaluating players, try to figure out what their weakness is. If you end up with a bunch of players with the same weakness(es), then you're going to have an inconsistent team most of the time.

You can't make a team full of guys with no weakness in most caps. Therefore, you have to balance it out. That's where putting a team together becomes really fun. How much do you sacrifice in one area to do better in another? Are you going to go all-out and try to dominate one area while keeping the other areas even? Or are you going to try to dominate all three areas?

Word to the wise: You can't do all 3 in most competitive theme leagues. The best you can hope for, generally, is to maintain a competitive advantage in a couple of areas and go all out for the win in the third. Teams that put all of their eggs in one basket, completely ignoring the other areas, tend to not do well.

Therefore, my final advice in this aspect to you is to always keep all three aspects of the game in mind when building a team and looking at the players. You'll do better.

Analysis & Improving Concepts

When working on an idea or strategy, the worst thing you can do is start over every time. Whenever I have a concept I want to try, I start fresh, and then when the season is over, I do some analysis of what worked, what didn't and the why & why nots. Afterwards, I change very little - usually no more than one or two players, and then give the concept another chance. Through doing this, you end up learning not only about your own concept and how it interacts with different squads, but how changing minor pieces of the puzzle really effects a team. This will help you in all aspects of your game.

I roll my eyes whenever another owner ridicules me or another owner for "playing the same team all the time." A) I don't. B) I'm doing the above. Because I do the above, I understand things way better than someone who blindly builds a new 12 every time. Where do I do this? Open leagues. Remember when I said it was good to keep a team there at all times to keep tabs on the sim environment? This is another reason.

Recently I've been challenging the notion that enough usage is enough. I've had very favorable results, which I've posted about in the aforementioned usage thread, so take some time and reread that if you haven't in a long time. When doing this testing and inserting one guy here and one guy there until I do have some conclusive results, not only does this tend to feed me more information that gives me an edge in the competitive themes, it also tends to end up winning me a ring or two in OLs. My Jordan/Wilt team that I mentioned earlier didn't start off with the exact core that it has... it was an evolution from a completely different team. And even the Jordan/Wilt core has changed over time... but only a piece or two at a time.

You don't have to do this. You don't have to do any of this. But if you incorporate some of the thoughts, strategies and habits I've put in this thread, you'll become a better owner and see your W/L record improve. I promise.

If you're new and wondering, "Who is this guy and why should I listen to him?" Well... I was the championship leader on this site for more than four years and have only been recently passed up by another excellent owner who just flat out plays more than I do. As of this 2017 edit I have 72 rings & still have a 68% winning percentage, despite spending most of my time in progs now (progressive leagues), where you spend a great deal of your time either tanking to get better draft picks or fighting with one of the few teams that aren't for the ring. I've won many theme leagues, draft leagues, prog leagues as well as open leagues and have helped many owners on their way to becoming as good or better owners than myself. I don't say this to brag, only to show that these practices I've illustrated do lead to desired results.

Coaching does come into play. However, I maintain that building the team is where 75% of your success comes into play. Build better teams & watch your W-L move in a favorable direction. Good luck!

Warning: there are some haters that may post in this thread and attempt to derail it. All I ask is that you take their record & mine into account before judging who you should listen to.

10/16/2017 10:23 PM (edited)
As someone who gave up from lack of knowledge on the NBA sim- THANK YOU.

My first question for you is around the position 'averages' on Reb%, Ast% etc.- are they posted somewhere, or is this information that you have gathered through experience?
1/9/2012 10:08 AM
if you mean something like: "what's a good OReb% for a PF" then no, you kind of  have to feel your way but as ash says those numbers are variable depending on the nature of the league you're in anyway

now you can of course apply a little deduction by looking at the stats of some of the great board-smiths of the game's history and/or simply going to the draft center and sort by descending rebound%s to get an idea of what is out there
1/9/2012 12:39 PM (edited)
"You can play Lebron at the 1, so play him there!"

i dont think you have to play him there....especially in draft leagues, sometimes the best option to pair with him in the backcourt is a pg....since lebron should almost always be your top scoring threat, wouldnt you want him to have teammates with high ast% to help his shooting?...i always tend to overvalue ast% but i wouldnt want lebron to be my main scorer and only assist guy as well

great post btw...but its hard enough as it is to win leagues and now were gonna have even better owners if they read a$$hole haha
1/9/2012 12:20 PM
Insightful stuff ash.  I've enjoyed reading it.  I have the following question for you regarding your last post.

Quote post by ashamael on 1/9/2012 7:50:00 PM:

Lebron is a rare case because he'll give you board advantage at the 2 as well as the 1.  He gives you more advantage at the 1.  Here's a secret - it's not all cumulative when it comes to boards:  The sim checks the matchup, too.  How do you know this?

How do you know that it looks at the 1 and sees a LeBron and a Muggsy and says "LeBron wins that matchup" then moves on to the SG position and does the same thing. 

My understanding has been that it looks at a player's oreb% or dreb% in relation to the rest of your team, then looks at the opposing 5 players on the floor to calculate who is credited with the rebound and not that it looked at position vs position. 

I hope I'm making at least a little sense.  I've been at work now for almost 13 hours with about 3 left to go....

1/9/2012 10:48 PM

Review this article.
1/9/2012 11:42 PM
Ahhhhhhh the knowledge base. I should have checked, thanks Chris and ash. Now another question- based on that article (which I don't expect you to have the answer for). What is the baseline for "better than average advantage over his opponent". If I can acquire a boost at each position based on a "better than average advantage" over my opponent, I'd like to know what that baseline percentage difference is. Not that it would make a difference in my team building strategy, but it would be interesting to know. And it would be interesting to know the percentage of boost and penalty as well. Of course, I'd also like to see to% as a searchable stat, but I digress.
1/10/2012 3:02 AM
"Here's a secret - it's not all cumulative when it comes to boards:  The sim checks the matchup, too"

nice...did not know this before
1/10/2012 4:58 PM
You didn't mention anything about blocks. Is it very relavent in the sim like defense?
1/11/2012 4:20 PM
It's about as relevant as stl%.  It has a minor effect on the shooter's chance of making the shot.  You'll find that most high blk% players also have high defense due to the flawed design of the sim's defensive rating system.
1/11/2012 4:38 PM
Posted by ashamael on 1/11/2012 4:38:00 PM (view original):
It's about as relevant as stl%.  It has a minor effect on the shooter's chance of making the shot.  You'll find that most high blk% players also have high defense due to the flawed design of the sim's defensive rating system.
I figured as much. Nicely put together information.
1/11/2012 5:49 PM
i was thinking about blocks too, a block does not necessarily get you a possession, whereas a steal does.
1/11/2012 9:10 PM
if one player has a better than average advantage over his opponent.

I find this strange.  What does "better than average" even mean?  What is an "average advantage?  Why not just leave it as one player has X percentage of an advantage over the other?  Why "boost" it after some imaginary difference has been achieved?  

Oh and they left out one thing-

"After considering all 10 percentages, we throw the whole thing off by including a variance factor, which may essentially negate all previous calculations."
1/11/2012 10:31 PM
excellent work and some of ur concepts u have explained help me out a lot and yes I love a lot lebron at the 1 and worm at the 3 lebron at the 1 combined with the usage and rebound concepts help me out to built my first 60 win team. thanks Ash!
1/16/2012 7:54 PM

congrats on your 60-win team, tang!  It always feels good to get a 60-win team in this sim

***I have updated this thread with a 2nd post.  This post talks about analyzing your team, division and league and applying it to your next league.

1/19/2012 12:30 AM
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