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New stats confirm you want to take shots at rim or from three

Sep 3, 2012, 6:55 PM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Getty Images

It’s a standard lament of old-school coaches and scouts — “the midrange game has died in basketball.”

Statistically, that’s a good thing.

It’s more complicated than that — there are good midrange and bad midrange shots, and those can change player-to-player — but by and large what you want your team to do is take shots right at the rim and from three point range, because that is where you shoot the highest percentage and where you get the most value for the shots.

Over at SBNation today the brilliant Tom Ziller put the results of a stat from a personal favorite site — expected effective field goal percentage — on a graph that roughly plots the quality of shots teams take. What the system likes is Denver’s style of play, followed by the Stan Van Gundy Magic — threes and shots at the rim. The graph does not corralate to good teams — the Heat, Lakers, Celtics Bulls and other teams took more mid-range shots than you might like but they have the players that can make them. It goes back to the comlications mentioned above, you’d like to reduce the number of midrange shots overall but if Kobe Bryant can get to the elbow area that’s a good shot he hits at a high percentage.

Oh, and the Bobcats take bad shots and miss them. Not sure we needed the graph for that.

You should read the entire thing, but Ziller sums up his findings this way:

If you look at the correlation between shot rate at each of Hoopdata’s specific ranges, we’ll see that the two efficient zones are not created equal. The percentage of a team’s field goals taken at the rim has a small positive (0.06) correlation with actual eFG. That’s essentially negligible. But the percentage of a team’s field goals taken from beyond the arc has a 0.48 correlation coefficient with eFG. Assuming a linear relationship, that indicates that about 23 percent of a team’s actual shooting percentage is explained solely by how frequently the team takes three-pointers.

Three-pointers rule the land. It’s also worth nothing the biggest problem with long-two pointers: that they are not three-pointers. The share of FGAs taken as long two-pointers has a -0.44 relationship with actual eFG. Shot shares at the two other inefficient ranges — short and mid — also have negative relationships with actual eFG, but with much, much smaller correlation coefficients. Why are long two-pointers such a problem? Check out the correlation between rate of long twos and rate of threes: -0.57. In other words, very few teams take lots of long twos and lots of three-pointers. So every long two is basically a three-pointer not taken. And three-pointers are important.

For those of you that don’t like math, let me sum up — threes and shots at the rim, that is the future. That is where teams have success, and threes matter a lot. Take a lot of long two pointers and your offense will struggle.

  1. deadeyedesign23 - Sep 3, 2012 at 7:38 PM

    Did we need a new stat to tell us this? Seems
    Like common sense. If you’re goin for 2 you want to be at the rim, further out your % drop and it becomes more advantageous to take the tre.

  2. zblott - Sep 3, 2012 at 8:07 PM

    Kobe takes WAY too many shots from 15-23 feet (7.7/gm, #1 in league by quite a bit) and from 10-15 feet (3.8/gm, #2 in NBA). That’s 11.5 shots each night from bad spots (long 2’s = bad risk/reward), made even worse when you realize he has two of the top shot makers in the game ruling the post (and Shaq before then). Sure he’s pretty good at these shots (41% vs 39% for the league), but he’s not in the top-50 in FG% from either distance, so he’s certainly nothing special.

    Again, that’s nearly 12 shots a night at a 41% clip when you have an absolutely killer C/PF combo that makes 55-60% of their shots quite consistently. This is horrendous decision making. Thank god he’s playing next to ridiculously good offensive rebounders or some fans might actually realize his team’s success is the product of those bigs who hit their shots, rebound the misses from all those long-2’s, and control the defense.

    • eventhorizon04 - Sep 3, 2012 at 10:00 PM

      Kobe has a very good post game (Kobe and Wade are #1 and #2 in terms of points scored from the low post amongst shooting guards), and Kobe has a very good shot up to 15 feet from the basket (he shot around 45% 10-15 feet from the basket).

      It’s really the 15-23 foot shots that get him in trouble (under 40% accuracy from the field). His accuracy isn’t worse from that range than the NBA average – it’s just that he takes that “bad” shot so frequently.

      What happens is that he doesn’t have the same explosiveness that he had in his younger days, so unless the defender in front of him bites on one of his fakes and jukes, Kobe gets stranded 18 feet from the basket with the shot clock winding down and ends up taking a contested jumper.

      Steve Nash should help out Kobe with that, but it will require an adjustment by Kobe to play off the ball and work to find efficient shot opportunities.

    • loungefly74 - Sep 4, 2012 at 8:16 AM

      interesting stats…

      hmmm…watching a lot of those games, i can see why kobe does take a long shot: they had PG’s who were scared to touch the ball…the C and PF seemed aloof at times…it just seemed like no one else comes to play EVERY game. with that said, i want the guy who wants to play and win take the shot.’s true the Lakers “lived and died” with Kobe…5 titles though? i’d say, bad shot or not…they “lived”.

  3. khadeemw - Sep 4, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    Wow…Really…U call this new…Van Gundy and George Karl have been saying this for years…matter of fact i believe Larry Brown used to say that the worst shot in basketball is the long 2….this isnt rocket science

  4. wiLQ - Sep 5, 2012 at 6:32 AM

    New stats? Come on, this issue is not a new thing…

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