The early-season success of Jordan Crawford is so peculiar that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with this: Fifty-eight players have attempted at least 95 midrange shots, but nobody has made a higher percentage of them than Crawford. Here are the top five:
1. Jordan Crawford, 51 percent
2. Dirk Nowitzki, 50 percent
3. Stephen Curry, 49 percent
4. Tony Parker, 49 percent
5. Chris Paul, 48 percent
That’s a real list, you guys. Four of those shooters are the usual suspects, players we expect to see when we study jump-shooting efficiency in the NBA. One of them is not. Crawford is like that creepy couple who snuck into the White House a few years ago, and now everyone is looking around saying, “Wait, WTF is he doing in here?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The October trade that sent James Harden from Oklahoma to Texas has been dissected a thousand times by a thousand people. However, the trade is particularly relevant again today; 87 games later, Harden is leading his Rockets squad to a potential upset over his former team. Sure, the Westbrook injury changed the series — and the entire Western Conference playoffs, for that matter — but an upset in this series would still be a huge moment for Harden and the Rockets.
While it’s obvious that Harden has made the Rockets a better basketball team, it’s also important to recall that eight months ago we had little idea how Harden would react to his new environment. After a few years in OKC, we knew he could be Ginobili, but it was unclear whether he could be Parker or Duncan. Though it was apparent that Harden would be the primary scorer for his new team and his volume would surge, it was anybody’s guess as to how he’d perform.
Well, the volume surged, and he’s performed extremely well. He took 17 shots a game this season after only attempting 10 per game last year. He’s also proven that he is a superstar-level player who deserves a max contract, and he’s got one of the more interesting and unique games in the league.
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Grantland’s own Jonah Keri talk about some Reds pitcher who had “lost velocity” on his fastball. As he spoke, I wondered what the NBA equivalent of this would be. Baseball has radar guns that reliably identify a downturn in pitching ability; we don’t have that instrument in the NBA. It’s not as easy to detect performance declines in basketball.
If there’s one theme that’s dominated the last few weeks in the NBA, perhaps it’s the immemorial relationship between age and decay. The NBA season is long, basketball is grueling, and old guys break down. The league is full of aging superstars who are always a tweak or aggravation away from street clothes.
The below graphic shows every shot attempted in the NBA during the regular season.
NBA players attempted 201,608 field goals this season; they made 91,282 of them. In other words, the league shot 45.3 percent from the floor. These are pretty standard numbers for a full 82-game season, but there were two noticeable trends in NBA shooting patterns. First, compared to last year’s shortened and condensed season, the league was more efficient on offense. The 45.3 field goal percentage was a slight increase from last year, when the league made 44.8 percent of its shots.
One of the basic tenets of basketball is that some shots are easier than others; a layup is easier than a half-court heave. However, it turns out that the relationship between shot distance and field goal percentage is more complicated than you might expect. Although it seems logical to assume that there is a direct relationship between shot distance and field goal percentage, this is not true. In fact, one of basketball analytics’ inconvenient truths is that many 3-point shots have higher average field goal percentages than many 2-point shots, and many of the league’s lowest-percentage shots occur much closer to the basket than you might think.
One of the things about sports analytics these days is that, while combing through and analyzing massive amounts of performance data, you come across “findings” that are unexpected or surprising. Without ever watching a game or studying film, you discover things you never knew about a player or a team. Occasionally these findings are so unbelievable you are forced to somehow validate them. You say things like “That can’t be right” and look for opportunities to confirm.