Imagine you are dropped into a random NBA game and a teammate throws you the ball at the elbow with three or four seconds left on the shot clock; there’s no time to make another pass, you must somehow generate a field goal attempt, and everyone in the arena — particularly the defense — knows this. This is something I like to call the Elbow Test: Can a player get a decent jump shot off in the face of a defender who knows you must shoot? Some NBA players, like Kevin Durant or Dirk Nowitzki, easily pass this test, but most do not. In fact, many of the NBA’s ugliest shots happen when someone is taking the Elbow Test.
The ridicule has trailed him for years, in out-of-town gyms and on the NBA’s snarkiest message boards. Perhaps no player has been mocked more than Monta Ellis. He shoots too much; he has never met a jumper he didn’t like; he’s a ball hog; he’s a volume shooter with an efficiency problem. I myself have been guilty of casting such aspersions. Well, although the samples are small, and the fresh season has just begun, Ellis might be rewriting his own story and teaching basketball analysts a very important lesson in the process.
Antawn Jamison has never been to the conference finals. He’s been open about his desire to get there. In the last two offseasons, Jamison has signed a pair of relatively cheap contracts in hopes of advancing deep into the NBA playoffs. Last season he went to the Lakers, and that didn’t work out. This season he moves across the hall to the Clippers. If it’s true that Jamison just wants to end his career playing for a competitor, this move could easily be read as the latest sign of an ongoing power shift within Staples Center.
DeAndre Jordan led the NBA in field goal percentage in 2012-13, but what does that actually mean? Field goal percentage remains our best proxy for shooting ability, but when we ignore the key interactions between court space and shooting percentage, we do a terrible job of assessing the league’s best shooters. DeAndre Jordan is actually one of the worst shooters in the league, not one of the best. Who can forget the timeless demonstration of this fact a few years back:
Here’s a look at the players who held the highest field goal percentage around the court.
Every player possesses individual strengths and weaknesses, and every player casts up a unique set of field goal attempts. Some players get lots of shots in areas where they excel, and others experience the opposite — they take lots of shots in places where they are below-average NBA shooters. Here’s a look at the players that had the least efficient shooting performances by zone in 2012-13.
Carmelo Anthony led the NBA in scoring this season, but not everywhere. Every player has their own sweet spots — Shane Battier loves the corners, and Al Jefferson is in love with the left block. After an entire season of play, it’s interesting to look at scoring through a spatial lens. Here’s a look at who was most productive from different parts of the floor during the 2012-13 regular season.
Basketball remains a fairly simple game. If you can regularly score close to the basket, you have a good chance of winning. It’s fitting that LeBron James, the league’s best player, is also its leading scorer close to the basket. Between his post game, his attacking, and his brilliance in transition, James creates and converts tons of opportunities at the rim. As a result, he is the most successful player within the NBA’s most vital space.
As news trickled out last night about the Knicks' pending acquisition of Andrea Bargnani, I found myself wondering what they know about Bargnani that the rest of the league does not. He was rumored to be an amnesty candidate, so why would you trade any assets, especially draft picks, for his swollen contract?
There was a time when Bargnani appeared to be the next legitimate European “stretch 4.” He was so enticing as an athletic 7-foot prospect that the Raptors selected him first overall in the 2006 NBA draft. However, time has been cruel to him, his body has proven to be fragile, and his development on the court has been modest at best. In a nutshell, Bargnani has not panned out.
About the only thing that has improved is his defense, which has risen from atrocious to acceptable. Over the past few years, the other key aspects of his game have either regressed or remained stagnant. As a scoring 7-footer, you would expect Bargnani to rack up tons of double-doubles. In 2009-10 he had 10, but in the three seasons since then he’s only had four combined. The problem is simple: He can’t rebound.
Through three games, LeBron James is definitely not the MVP of these Finals. He’s struggling from the floor, and he’s struggling to get to the free throw line. He is the focus of the Spurs' defensive scheme, which has effectively turned down the Heat in two of the first three games.
In this series, James is shooting 21-for-54 from the floor, or 39 percent. During the regular season, James shot 57 percent. It’s common for these kinds of big drops in FG percentage to be caused by decreased opportunities close to the basket and an increased reliance on jump shooting, but that’s not what’s going on with James.
Over the 82-game regular season, James took 51 percent of his shots inside the paint; he made 70 percent of them. He led the NBA in scoring close to the basket. So far in the Finals, 43 percent of LeBron’s shots are in the paint and he’s converted on 61 percent of them. Although both of these figures are slightly below his averages, this is not James’s problem, either.
During the first three games of the Finals, James has made only 7 of 30 shot attempts outside the paint. This is the problem. Of his 21 made field goals so far, 14 are in the paint. Of his missed 33 field goals so far, 23 are outside the paint.
A look at the two most important shots from last night's Game 1.
It Was the Best of Shots
In their biggest possession of the year, the Spurs were surely going to come up empty. A sequence that began with a pair of screens designed to free Tony Parker from LeBron James had badly broken down. Parker was 16 feet away from the rim, down on his left knee doing some desperate circus dribble. He was harmless, and LeBron James, the world’s best perimeter defender, loomed above him. The game clock read 9.2, the shot clock read 2.0, and this critical possession was on life support.
Parker got up, but his back was to the basket and James was in optimal defensive position, vertically spooning Parker deep in the midrange. Parker picked up his dribble, then pivoted on his left foot as means to at least face the basket and maybe create some separation from James. There was no way this was going to end well.
A comprehensive guide to the key players in the season's NBA Finals.
Miami is a great scoring team that is especially dominant in the two key areas: near the basket and beyond the 3-point line. Their three main scorers, James, Wade, and Bosh, each excel close to the basket, and each has a decent 2-point jump shot.
At first glance, the Spurs and Heat do not seem to have much in common, but one thing they share is a love affair with the corner 3. Across the league, about 6.7 percent of field goal attempts are corner 3s, but Miami shoots 11.3 percent of its shots from the corners, the NBA's highest rate, and San Antonio is third at 9.5 percent.
The corner 3 has become the most lauded jump shot in the NBA for two reasons: it’s the closest 3-point shot on the floor — about 1 foot shorter than “above the break” 3s — and stashing great shooters in the corners creates annoying headaches for defenses. When a sharpshooter is loitering in the corner — especially on the weak side — he is necessarily about as far away from the action as he can be while still posing a huge scoring threat. As a result, a good corner man “stretches” the defense in ways that other players can’t. Both NBA finalists are really good at exploiting this tactic, and both feature a duo of corner-3 specialists.
In the predawn of July 7, 2012, a very wealthy cruise-ship magnate got out of his English bed and sent out a tweet.
“Its 2:30am in London and I was just woken up with great news. Welcome to the family #20!!”
Micky Arison, the owner of the Miami Heat, had just used Twitter to announce that Ray Allen, the most accomplished 3-point shooter in NBA history, had agreed to take his jumper to South Beach. The defending NBA champion had just landed the most prized free agent on the market. It was equal parts shocking and unfair.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel’s decision to sit Roy Hibbert for the last defensive possession of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals was perhaps the most infamous substitution in NBA playoff history. Immediately after LeBron James’s left-handed layup in overtime ended that amazing game, the hoops Twittersphere began second-guessing Vogel’s late-game tactics; many were quick to criticize his final lineup and that gaping, Hibbert-shaped hole in the restricted area.
The Heat needed two points in two seconds, a tall task for any basketball team. Fortunately for Miami, it had LeBron James on the roster, and the most efficient shot in the entire NBA this season was a LeBron James close-range shot. During the regular season, James made a staggering 72 percent of his 637 close-range attempts. If Miami could find some way to get James a shot near the basket, it would have a decent chance of winning the game.
The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.
Less than 90 seconds into Monday’s Game 4 between the Bulls and Heat, something seemingly uneventful happened. Dwyane Wade had just received an entry pass down on the right block, where he was doubled by Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer. Joakim Noah was also interested in stopping Wade, and he had strayed from Udonis Haslem to camp out alone at the crown of the restricted area. Suddenly, one of those non sequitur whistles sounded and play abruptly stopped.
Joakim Noah was called for defensive three seconds, which results in a technical foul. This call established early on that the refs were not going to tolerate Noah’s cheating toward the basket, thus denying the Bulls a vital tactical advantage.