Wob’s NBA FIST% Case Study: Basketball Brawls and Punching Inefficiency


Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Marquese Chriss, Serge Ibaka

May 02, 2019, 03:00 PM EDT
  • Rob Perez (aka @WorldWideWob) consulted boxing experts to analyze NBA brawls and why players like Serge Ibaka throw such inefficient punches.
  • He rolled all this up into FIST%: A new advanced analytic that encompasses the accuracy of throwing hands, the quantity of hands thrown and more.
  • Here's his case study, which also includes some of the league's most notorious fights and fighters.

I’m thinking of the second fight against Clubber Lang in Rocky III — more specifically, the scene when Balboa knows he’s got Mr. T on tilt.


Enormous right hook whiff


Multiple left hooks hit nothing but gloves

Despite the champion’s overwhelming power, he was no longer feared.

How did this happen seemingly overnight? All that strength, and he had nothing to threaten anyone with. We could deliberate Rocky’s emotional motivation all day, but in the end, Lang’s overconfidence and lack of technique was his biggest enemy.

I wanted to take us down memory lane real quick because it’s the first thing I thought of on March 11 when Toronto Raptors Center Serge Ibaka got into yet another physical altercation in which actual (!) punches were thrown.

Here’s the good thing about Ibaka: He’s never afraid to throw hands.

Here’s the bad thing about Ibaka: He’s never going to land anything.

For almost a decade, this man has been swinging and missing like the basketball version of Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Road Runner. His fighting ability has been thoroughly disrespected by his peers for years now.

How is it possible that a man this athletic and this physically-pristine can have such a poor FIST% that it is laughed at by his enemies?

You probably just did the blinking guy meme reading that sentence, so let me explain exactly what FIST% is: It’s a new NBA advanced analytic that encompasses the accuracy of throwing hands, the quantity of hands thrown, the impact of hands that connect with their target, power punching and location damage.

Let me introduce you to CompuBox and Dan Canobbio — CompuBox Operator and Host of Inside Boxing Live — who will help us analyze Ibaka’s fighting history and other NBA fights.

But first, here’s a brief overview of what CompuBox does:

“CompuBox’s purpose is to settle controversies surrounding fights by counting each punch thrown by each of the fighters, and also each punch landed, to provide fight viewers with a final punchstat count and a perception of who should ideally be given the judges’ decision, in the cases where a fight lasts the full distance. The system calls for two operators. Each operator watches one of the two fighters and has access to four keys, corresponding to jab connect, jab miss, power punch connect, and power punch miss. The operators key in the different punches as they happen, collecting punch counts and hit percentages along the way.”

Now using their proprietary technology and eye-test analysis, here’s CompuBox’s analysis of Ibaka’s fighting performance and punch statistics.

Serge Ibaka vs. Marquese Chriss


  • 0/1 Power Punches
  • 2/2 Chokeholds

Repeat offender Ibaka bypassed the traditional punches and went right for the throat — a move rarely seen in the ring due to the gloves and the clear disqualification that would follow.

You see this a lot in boxing; when a fighter has trouble successfully landing punches, they become frustrated and usually resort to rough-house tactics such as shoves, low blows, elbows and even “lacing” — the act of taking the inside of the glove, near the wrist where the shoestrings are, and riding it upwards on your opponent’s face.

Serge Ibaka vs. James Johnson


  • 0/1 Power Shots
  • 1/1 Check Elbow


  • 1/1 Jabs
  • 0/1 Power Shots
  • Punch Impact: 3/10

This “fight” most resembles the worst aspects of heavyweight boxing; holding, shoving and very little action. Ibaka throwing his hands in the air — which we all know is the sign for “I just did something bad” — is a surrender of sorts, quite similar to when a boxer shrugs off getting drilled with a punch by laughing or smirking.

Serge Ibaka vs. Robin Lopez


  • 1/1 Power Shots
  • Punch Impact: 2/10

Ibaka finally lands something — albeit a glancing ear shot with five to six guys between him and his target. But given his career performances in these fights, this is massive progress.

I don’t think Ibaka went into any of these fights wanting to actually land anything. He is a large human with extremely long arms, if he wanted to land every punch he threw, he could. Most of his punches were thrown only once there were several people between him and the other player.

Look at the altercation with Chriss — Ibaka had him one-on-one, squared up and decided to throw some type of elbow/punch hybrid. If Ibaka were serious, he could have pieced Chriss up badly.

From here, a player’s FIST% from the experiment sample size can be calculated as follows:

POWER SHOTS: (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 2)
+ UPPERCUTS: (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 2)
+ CHECK ELBOWS: (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 0.5)
+ CHOKEHOLD: (APPLIED multiplied by 0.3)
+ HEADBUTT: (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 0.5)
+ EYE GAUGE (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 0.1)
+ SLAP: (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 0.25)
+ DOME SHOT: (LANDED ÷ TOTAL multiplied by 0.2)’

For some context of what determines a high or low FIST%, the system is set on a scale of 1-100 with the league fighter average hovering around 1.0 per altercation. Once a player participates in more than one fight, the FIST% accumulates and is not averaged.

Now let’s calculate Ibaka’s: