After a crazy night of NBA injuries, wild finishes, and resounding wins, a smorgasbord of random thoughts that don’t merit their own posts:
• The Lakers’ defense has been a disaster over the last 20 games whenever Dwight Howard sits, mostly because the Lakers have zero reliable big men beyond Howard, with both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill injured. An Earl Clark-Antawn Jamison-Metta World Peace front line offers some interesting athleticism, but very little in the way of size or rim protection. It cannot survive against good offenses over extended minutes.
But now we might get to see the opposite challenge: Can the Lakers’ offense survive without its own crutch in Kobe Bryant, dealing with a severe ankle sprain suffered when Dahntay Jones stepped underneath him in defending a potential game-tying shot? (Note: Can you imagine if the Lakers rallied to win that game, with the Hawks missing a couple of late free throws and Kobe nailing a instant killer 3 on an out-of-bounds play to keep L.A. alive with about 20 seconds left? The Lakers were due for a close loss after semi-miraculous wins over the Hornets and Raptors in the last week, but they damn near pulled off another one.)
As spatial analytics slowly creeps its way into the NBA, we're beginning to evaluate performances and tendencies in new ways. Perhaps the most basic illustration of the virtue of spatial approaches applies to shooting. Although field goal percentage is concise and simple, and, as a result, has made its way into the parlance of basketball fans everywhere, it can also be a misleading judge of shooting ability; generally speaking, FG percentage ignores space and the basic basketball tenet: Some shots are easier than others. Layups are easier than half-court heaves, and players who thrive exclusively close to the basket are always the league leaders in FG percentage. Consider the top five all-time career leaders in FG percentage: Tyson Chandler, Shaq, Artis Gilmore, Mark West, and Dwight Howard. Now these guys are obviously incredible scorers, but are they great shooters?
One simple way to evaluate shooting in the NBA is to examine FG percentage in different court spaces. As of January 22, the NBA had made 44.7 percent of its 100,607 shots, but its shooting efficiency varies considerably depending on space:
The Magic have just beaten the Knicks, and Dwight Howard’s in a good mood. Most of the Orlando players in MSG’s petite visitors’ locker room are strategically maneuvering orange towels while silently changing; meanwhile, Dwight’s riffing. The first target is Jameer Nelson, who just polished off a postgame Styrofoam platter of wings and fries and now can’t find his shower shoes. Howard offers a hand, ducking his head up to the top shelf of the 6-foot Nelson’s locker: “Oh, you can’t see 'em? Y'all got an apple box?” The assembled media scrum titters, and Howard moves on to one of the refs: “They need to send him to the D-League. He didn’t know what three seconds was. It’s when you’re in the paint for three seconds!” Then he spots ESPN’s news-breaking specialist Chris Broussard and rattles off an impersonation: “I talked to LeBron James … inside sources tell me … I just talked to Jesus and he said …"