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

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

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

  • 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:

2 CHOKEHOLD x 0.3 = 0.6
+ 1 ELBOW x 0.5 = 0.5
+ 1 POWER SHOT x 2 = 2
+ 2 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.2

Serge Ibaka FIST% = 3.3%

This data encourages us to dive into the NBA’s “All-Hands” team and figure out who has the lowest and highest FIST% of the group.

To qualify for an “All-Hands” nomination and CompuBox analysis, the player must have thrown at least one punch in a game with a physical altercation.

Joining Ibaka among the league’s lowest FIST% are two names that might surprise you: Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal. Their notoriety for instigation might be as high as their Hall-of-Fame on-court basketball productivity, but the graph runs inverse to their history of punch-throwing accuracy.


Shaquille O’Neal vs. Alvin Robertson

  • Shaq: 1/1 Power Punches
  • Punch Impact: 8/10

Shaq’s right hand is one of the better shots I’ve seen in a basketball fight; short, crisp and more of a tomahawk than a hook.

Two troubling things here: He smothered his shot instead of using his extreme reach advantage, and he threw the punch with his shooting hand.

Shaq vs. Charles Barkley

Shaq: 0/1 Power Punches

Had Shaq’s punch landed, Sir Charles might never have had a second career as a broadcaster. O’Neal showed sound mechanics, properly using his reach while getting his entire 300-pound frame behind that left cross — and more importantly, he learned from his Orlando days and threw the punch with his non-shooting hand.

Shaq vs. Brad Miller

  • Shaq: 1/1 Slap
  • Punch Impact: 2/10

Sometimes you see this in the late rounds of a one-sided fight — the fighter in control will begin to ease up on his opponent, either due to sheer pity or to get more rounds in for stamina/experience purposes. Shaq displayed the former here, when he (1) held himself back and (2) opted for the open-hand slap — a blatant sign of disrespect in fighting circles.

Now for Shaq’s FIST%:

1 SLAP x 0.25 = 0.25
+ 1 POWER SHOT x 2 = 2
+ 8 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.8
+ 2 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.2

Shaquille O’Neal FIST% = 3.25%

And now the FIST% for some of the NBA’s most notorious individual fights:

Larry Johnson vs. Alonzo Mourning

  • Mourning: 1/3 Power Shots
  • Johnson: 1/4 Power Shots
  • Oakley: 1/1 Chokehold
  • Van Gundy: 1/1 Leg Locks
  • Punch Impact: Mourning 2/10; Johnson 2/10

Not only were the 90s the last great era for heavyweight boxing, but they were also the last great era for basketball brawls.

Seven total punches thrown between the two main combatants (Mourning and Johnson) — an extremely high total. Yes, none of the shots landed were anything substantial and their form was horrendous, but you have to respect the volume. And what separates this fight from the modern-day brawls is they began to throw hands well before the reinforcements arrived.

Chalk up Mourning’s inability to poor technique. Telegraphs his punches, throws from way too far away. The only punch that he landed vs. LJ was that first short punch … his others were thrown from way too far away.

0.33 POWER SHOT x 2 = 0.66
+ 2 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.2
Alonzo Mourning FIST% = 0.82%

0.25 POWER SHOT x 2 = 0.5
+ 2 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.2
Larry Johnson FIST% = 0.7%

Chris Paul vs. Rajon Rondo


  • 1/1 Uppercut landed
  • Punch Impact: 4/10


  • 1/2 Power Shots
  • Punch Impact: 6/10


  • 0/1 Power Shots

Low blows, dirty tactics and mother jokes by an opponent in the lead up to a big fight can motivate a fighter and give him that extra edge. But getting spit on — as Paul claimed — couldn’t inspire him to get the better of this exchange with Rondo, who managed to land a very nice left hand; short, powerful and accurate. Bonus points for landing the shots before the rest of the other players arrived.

As for Brandon Ingram, if you’re going to run in from half court with visions of a sucker punch, you better land it.

1 UPPERCUT x 2 = 2
+ 4 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.4
Chris Paul FIST% = 2.4%

0.5 POWER SHOT x 2 = 1
+ 6 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.6
Rajon Rondo FIST% = 1.6%

Michael Jordan vs. Reggie Miller


  • 1/1 headbutt
  • 1 eye gauge
  • 1/1 power shot
  • Punch Impact: 1/10


  • 1 eye gauge

MJ was known as a stat stuffer in his playing days so it was no shock he was able to land a wide array of attacks on Reggie — all with his hands basically restricted. Very impressive work from Jordan. Mike led things off with a soft headbutt, followed it with a kiss, moved onto a serious eye gauge that would make Ric Flair blush and ended the onslaught with a glancing right hand for good measure. Very fitting that Miller, who constantly played second fiddle to Jordan in his career, had to mimic Jordan and rake his eyes.

1 POWER PUNCH X 2 = 2.0
+ 1 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.1
+ 1 HEADBUTT x 0.5 = 0.5
+ 1 EYE GAUGE x 0.1 = 0.1
Michael Jordan FIST% = 2.7%

1 EYE GAUGE x 0.1 = 0.1
Reggie Miller FIST% = 0.1%

Kobe Bryant vs. Chris Childs


  • 2/2 Power Shots
  • 1/1 Headbutts
  • Punch Impact: 7/10 + 2/10


  • 0/1 Elbows
  • 0/1 Power Punches

Note: The lead right hand in boxing is one of the hardest punches to master, only Floyd Mayweather threw it on a consistent basis…then Chris Childs comes along and not only perfects it but follows it up with a short, left hook. Very rarely does even one punch land in an NBA brawl but Childs was able to connect on a rare combination — and it’s always the second punch that is never seen — as Kobe learned the hard way.

2 POWER PUNCH X 2 = 4.0
+ 7 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.7
+ 2 PUNCH IMPACT ÷ 10 = 0.2
+ 1 HEADBUTT x 0.5 = 0.5
Chris Childs FIST% = 5.4%

0 POWER PUNCH x 2 = 0
Kobe Bryant FIST% = 0%

As the playoffs progress and tensions naturally escalate, we’re due for another NBA brawl sooner than later. The question, now more than ever, is: Will it be a real fight with punches that land, or just one of the usual “HOLD ME BACK” tiffs as players hurl obscenities at each other and flail punches with the accuracy of an Austin Rivers’ step-back 3?

With CompuBox’s analysis of the sample size provided, we can conclude that a severe lack of technique is the key factor in the inaccuracies of punching power and impact. While we can’t prove the players “don’t really want to fight” and are more interested in winning a masculinity flaunting contest, it does make you appreciate the moments when there is a declaration of war agreed to by both parties.

There will be a time that FIST% becomes as important as an advanced analytic as PER and/or net rating … and by the time it does, it will be too late for whoever is lying.