In the sport of basketball players are constantly faced with the choice of whether to shoot for the hoop when a shot opportunity arises or to hold on to the ball and hope a better opportunity will arise. Now a theoretical physicist from the University of Minnesota in the US has analysed the problem mathematically and determined the best strategy.
Graduate student Brian Skinner decided to analyze basketball shot selection after hearing about traffic flow research that reached the unexpected conclusion that average commuting time could be reduced by road closures that force drivers to travel by routes they would otherwise avoid in order to try to minimize their own commuting time. The traffic flow diagrams reminded Skinner, an enthusiastic fan of basketball, of diagrams of the flow of basketball players in a game. The surprising conclusion also reminded him of a basketball theory named after Patrick Ewing, a high-scoring basketball player. When the games of Ewing’s team were analyzed it was discovered that the team won more games if the big-scoring Ewing was absent.