What's the point of winning the opening tip off in basketball?

Sports Asked on April 12, 2021

In basketball, if you get the ball during the opening tip off, the other team gets the ball at the start of the 2nd and 3rd quarter and you only get the ball at the start of the 4th quarter.

So there is no advantage to winning the opening tip off and no disadvantage to losing the tip off because both teams start with the ball an equal amount of times. If that’s the case, why even have a tip off? Why not just start the game the same way you’d start every other quarter?

4 Answers

I can't speak to the NBA, but in college and high school, the possession arrow is set by who wins the tip-off. So, if team A wins the tip and there's no violation that causes a jump ball call from the ref, team B should get the ball at the beginning of the next quarter, then the arrow would flip to team A.

I can't remember off hand, but there are other instances that cause a possession arrow to flip, not just a jump ball or the end of a quarter/half. I do know if a ball get's stuck between the rim and backboard is one and I believe a double technical goes to the possession arrow.

Answered by Brian Wendel on April 12, 2021

In FIBA rules, and assuming no other event caused a jump ball situation, then the possession at the beginning of the next periods would be.

team A wins Jump: Team B starts 2nd period. Team A Starts 3rd period. Team B Starts 4th period. (Not A, B, B, A) as claimed in question.

There are 2 reasons why winning the tip is useful

  • leading versus chasing (can be considered an advantage, first to score)
  • as teams alternate possession and therefore the chance to shoot, the clock in that period counts down. It can be that Team A began the period and also had the last chance to shoot in a period. Uneven number of possessions. Jump ball situations normally do happen so the right to start the last period may end up team A again.

So having first possession is a small advantage.

Answered by phil soady on April 12, 2021

If you look at probability models there is a weight on importance of each quarter of the game. The 4th quarter has almost a 40% impact on the game (when it should be 25%). I don't remember the exact percentage and it wasn't memorable but having an extra possession in the 4th quarter led to an increase in win probability in close games - threshold is 10 points I think - and a substantial increase in probability in even games.

So the tip off means almost nothing to stat geeks that work for teams for the first quarter possession but the 4th quarter possession is valued so high that it makes it an important thing for a lot of teams. Now there are still a lot of NBA teams that half-ass the tipoff because they aren't looking for the .85% (just making that up) edge but other teams do care.

I know this is more of a comment but just too long but maybe someone can reference the MIT article that I read about this a few years ago. But to sum it up the later in the game you get the more valuable possessions are in their correlation to win probability and you can't get later than the 4th quarter.

In other leagues - not NBA - that us alternating possessions the tip off is even more important because it is a half possession advantage per game. Any coach would want a .55 point lead.

Answered by Coach-D on April 12, 2021

I did find a study on this. There is a slight advantage to winning the opening tip. The NBA team that wins the opening tip wins the game 52.5% of the time. Winning the opening tip results in a win more often for the home team than the away team.

Answered by jkholc on April 12, 2021

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