Chet Holmgren’s dunk sends the stat geeks down a rabbit hole

Chet Holmgren’s dunk sends the stat geeks down a rabbit hole

Holmgren’s basketball-savant play of passing to himself via the backboard sent scorekeepers to the rulebook and beyond.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 29, 2023, 12:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 29, 2023, 12:00pm CST

(A version of this story originally appeared in Berry Tramel’s newsletter, deliverable to your inbox twice a week. Sign up here.)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Chet Holmgren picked up his dribble, ducked under Clipper giant Ivaca Zubac and inspiration flooded his basketball mind. With no prior thought, Holmgren flipped the ball the 12 feet to the backboard, caught it on the rebound and dunked it home.

One more jaw-dropping play by the Thunder wunderkind last week.

But the basketball nerd in me went almost immediately from wow to how. As in how, how do you score that play? I score every Thunder game, live or via television, home or road, dead-dog tired or well-rested. Forgive me, I’m an addict.

On the fly, here’s how I scored it. Missed shot, offensive rebound, basket.

That’s not the way I wanted to score it. I wanted to treat as a legal pass from Holmgren to Holmgren, though with no assist. But the NBA’s oft-kooky statistical rules generally require some kind of accounting for plays, so I made my best guess.

So I looked the next morning at the official play-by-play, and nope, I was wrong. The NBA scored it nothing. Just a Holmgren basket. No first shot, which was proper because Holmgren’s toss-off-the-backboard was absolutely not a shot. Thus no rebound. Just a legal manuever, like the Eurostep.

The basketball purists, as opposed to rules purists, probably would have preferred Holmgren be given an assist to himself, but the NBA will play with square basketballs before they’d approve of anything so radical.

The good news is, I’m not the only stat-process geek walking this glorious planet. NBA writer Tom Haberstroh saw the Holmgren play and wondered the same thing. He wrote about his quest to learn more about the rare play.

Haberstroh found a video of 15 famous self-alley-oop dunks. And he found that some of them — Andre Igoudala, Kobe Bryant, etc. — were recorded differently, with the missed-shot-offensive-rebound-made-basket option.

All fascinating.

The Holmgren play is a member of the how-do-you-score-it in sports.

I’ve been intrigued for 45 years, since I learned how college football scores yard markers — if the ball is spotted beyond a hash, you consider the ball on the next yard marker. In other words, the 42½ always is the 43. For years, the National Football League scored it the other way but eventually changed to the college style.

But I agreed with the late, great Ray Soldan, an Oklahoma sportswriting and history icon, who always said such a rule “distorts the individual stats.” And Ray was right.

Still, there is reason behind the rule. If the ball is just barely beyond the 50-yard line, and you call it the 50, a play to the heart of the 40-yard line would in theory be a 10-yard gain but no first down. And what sense does that make?

Other scoring decisions make no sense.

Here’s the worst. In baseball, a runner is out when hit by a batted ball, almost always a grounder. But the play is scored as a single for the hitter.

What? That’s nonsensical. Almost all of the situations are ground balls, and most ground balls are turned into outs on any level of baseball that cares enough to score a game.

It should be scored as some kind of interference — offensive interference, if you will, to borrow football parlance — and considered no at-bat for the hitter.

This is a rule that will change as soon as some Major League Baseball pitcher loses a no-hitter because of the silly scoring decision.

The NBA scoring regulation that drives me crazy is when a shot-clock violation occurs via the horn sounding with a shot in the air, and the ball does not hit the rim. The whistle blows, and the scoring goes this way: missed shot, offensive rebound for the shooting team and turnover.

These are not easy decisions, but what is totally unacceptable is inserting into the official record something that did not happen. And in the shot-clock scenario, there was no offensive rebound. That’s complete and total malfeasance, and the NBA’s rule is 100 fraudulent.

Not every shot has to have a rebound. Shots at the end of quarters don’t have a rebound. So I’d score it, missed shot, shot-clock violation, turnover.

Here’s another screwy scoring rule that does need to exist. Years ago in Stillwater, 10-12 seasons, the Cowboys ran a shovel-pass double reverse. I can’t remember the individuals involved, but the quarterback took the snap, flipped a shovel pass to a jet-sweeping receiver who continued to the perimeter only to hand off to a reversing receiver. The final ballhandler sped to a touchdown of some cross-country length, we’ll say 70 yards, and was credited with a 70-yard touchdown run.

But it wasn’t a run. It was a pass play. And there can’t be a TD run on a pass play. So it had to be a touchdown catch, but without a reception, for 70 yards. I know, that sounds kooky. But the catch was made by the original jet-sweeper, and the yards were totaled by the reversing teammate.

And that’s a scoring rule without other options.

Anyway, there’s always something new with statistical rules. Sharp football coaches and basketball savants like Chet Holmgren always will stretch the statistical rules.

Share with your crowd
Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming