Average Possession Length

Tempo or pace shows how a team prefers to play. A team's style.

Do they play up-tempo? Do they like to slow it down? Do they play man-to-man defense? Or zone?

A lot of these questions can be answered calculating a team's average possession length.

Average possession length is a closer look at a team's pace. It's a new metric, and KenPom introduces it in this article.

APL = a team's seconds on offense and defense

What does this mean and why is it important?

This metric tells you on average, how long a team has the ball. It adds to the character of how a team plays.

This calculation isn't adjusted. It measures the entire possession meaning offensive rebounds count.

This is important because it can test assumptions about a team.

KenPom provides the following example:

If a coach insists he likes to run, his offensive APL is your personal lie-detector test.

If a coach likes to go up-tempo, but his average possession length is 20 seconds, that's not entirely true.

It's often assumed the team that controls the pace wins the game or gains an advantage. This also isn't always true. A team controls the pace often times because it's winning and not the other way around.

In more research, KenPom found that the offense is responsible for 86% of the variance in predicting a team's average possession length.

This means the offense often dictates the pace of the game. It's not meant to be taken as a fact. This should be examined on a game-by-game basis.

Think of APL as a decoration or ornament to a team's style.


In the 2016-17 season, West Virginia ranked 1st in defensive APL at 15.7 seconds. An opponents' average offensive possession against West Virginia lasted around 16 seconds.

West Virginia presses to force turnovers and gives up fast-break points because of their press. They also commit tons of fouls, ranking 313th in defensive FTRate.

This style caters to a low defensive APL.

In contrast, the 2016-2017 UCLA ranked 6th in offensive APL at 14.5 seconds. On average, the Bruins' offensive possessions lasted about 14 seconds.

UCLA shot an incredibly high percentage, ranking 1st in the country with a 59.8% eFG%. The team rarely turned over the ball and seldom got to the free throw line.

This all describes a style of high offensive APL.

3-point field goal attempt percentage

This is a simple stat to measure the amount of 3-point shots a team attempts.

3PA% = 3-point attempts / Field goal attempts

For example, the 2016-2017 Vanderbilt team had a a 3PA% of 48.6. This was good for 6th in the country.

This means about 49% of the shots Vanderbilt took, were from 3-point range.

Other Style Components

Several other statistics contribute to a team's style. These are covered in the Team Stats section.

Question, concern, or spot a typo? Please send me an email and let me know.

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