Shooting for Success - Incremental Improvement

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Getting better shots improves the offense

Last year I advocated for the Pelicans going forward to eschew the mid range jump shot for attacking the painted area. While certain specialists (Jason Smith) could open up space by hitting shots from the "dumb zone" running an offense with the goal of such shots seemed foolhardy to me. The Houston Rockets, for instance, had built their entire team around avoid these shots, due to their inherent inefficiency.  Shots further from the basket are less likely to go in, but the three point arc changes the equation dramatically 23 feet and 9 inches (yet only 22 feet in the corner) from the basket.  Shooting 34% from behind the three point line is as valuable as shooting 51% from mid range.

Let's put that number into perspective. The best shooter from mid range this season (minimum of 100 attempts) was Courtney Lee. He hit 50.66% (115/227) of his shots from that area according to NBA Stats. That is 1.01 points per shot. To equal such effectiveness a player would need to shoot 33.77% from behind the arc. 139 different NBA players attempted at least 100 threes last year and exceeded 33.8% from deep. We can lament that the mid range game is dying or accept the fact that it is already dead.

Bad News First

Let me get the ugly news out of the way really quick. The Pelicans did not attempt a lot of threes this past season.  In fact as a percentage of total shots the amount of attempts from behind the arc actually decreased from 22.12% in 2012-13 to 18.98% in 2013-14. This dropped them from 18th in three point attempt rate to 29th. In addition, New Orleans was 28th in attempting corner threes this season, attempting just 4.62% of their shots from that juicy part of the court. To compare, 6.62% of all NBA shots were from the corner this year and the Miami Heat blew away the league attempting 11.12% of their shots from the corner (the Clippers were second with 8.75%).

There is a very reasonable explanation for this drop, the injuries to Ryan Anderson. 21.49% of Pelican shots were attempted behind the arc while Anderson was healthy, and 4.90% were from the corner. When he was injured just 17.96% of shots were threes and the Pelicans attempted just 4.50% of their shots from the corner (which matches the season worst number of the Milwaukee Bucks). Ryan Anderson is not just a "stretch-4", Zach Lowe explained it most succinctly.

Anderson isn’t just a stretch power forward. He’s an accurate quick-release, high-volume gunner who happens to be large enough to play power forward. There’s a difference.

Despite the decrease in three point shooting volume the Pelicans improved dramatically on offense. How did they do it?

Attack the Basket

Sometimes the most obvious path works.  The Pelicans lacked shooting much of the season, whether by injury or by choice.  The remaining healthy players excelled at getting to the basket.  37.88% of all shots attempted this season for New Orleans occurred in the restricted area, the highest rate in the last three seasons.  All those forays into the paint came with a 0.286 free throw rate, also the highest in the past three seasons.  Combine these things with taking much better care of the basketball, and the offense, unsurprisingly, improves.

Four Factors 2011 Through 2014

eFG% FTAr TOV% OReb%
2013-14 49.5% 0.286 14.5 26.9%
2012-13 48.9% 0.248 15.9 29.2%
2011-12 47.6% 0.274 17.0 27.5%

The steady increase in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) can be tied directly to an increase in attempts in the restricted area. Shots just outside the restricted area but still in the paint decreased significantly this year. While New Orleans had a slight uptick in mid range jumpers (outside the paint, inside the arc) the corresponding decrease in paint shots actually leads to a slight decrease in "dumb zone" shots (restricted area to three point line) from 43.13% to 42.84% (both of which are an enormous improvement from the 53.17% mark put up in the lockout season).

Below I have a table of the last three seasons for New Orleans along with the top five offenses (according to Offensive Rating) this past season. Each percentage is the frequency a team attempted the shot, while the number in parenthesis is the points per shot given their conversion rate.

Team Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Offensive Rating
NOLA 2013-14 37.88% (1.14) 15.91% (0.76) 26.93% (0.82) 14.36% (1.13) 4.62% (1.14) 104.7 (13th)
NOLA 2012-13 34.50% (1.15) 16.97% (0.77) 26.16% (0.79) 18.09% (1.09) 4.03% (1.15) 102.7 (16th)
NOLA 2011-12 31.61% (1.17) 18.09% (0.83) 35.08% (0.80) 10.95% (0.97) 4.20% (1.11) 98.3 (26th)
LAC 2013-14 30.92% (1.35) 11.98% (0.76) 28.10% (0.84) 20.09% (1.00) 8.75% (1.21) 109.4 (1st)
MIA 2013-14 35.73% (1.36) 11.19% (0.94) 23.90% (0.83) 17.98% (0.97) 11.12% (1.28) 109.0 (2nd)
DAL 2013-14 29.17% (1.27) 15.84% (0.82) 27.62% (0.86) 21.54% (1.13) 5.63% (1.26) 109.0 (3rd)
HOU 2013-14 39.72% (1.25) 16.29% (0.84) 11.03% (0.69) 24.93% (1.04) 7.86% (1.16) 108.6 (4th)
POR 2013-14 28.33% (1.21) 12.24% (0.74) 30.38% (0.82) 21.32% (1.11) 7.60% (1.15) 198.3 (5th)

Each year New Orleans has improved their three point percentage (33.3%, 36.3%, 37.3%) and has also increased the frequency of shots in the immediate basket area (while that percentage has decreased each season). It is an easy argument to make that the players this season were better than each of the last, but the trend of this team on offensive in undeniably upward.

Room for Improvement

Comparing the team performance to the elite offenses in this league point out obvious areas for improvement.  New Orleans was 4th in the league in restricted area attempts (Philadelphia - 40.39%, Houston 39.72%, Detroit 39.67%) they were also 26th in the league at converting those attempts. The downward pull on conversions at the basket came from the guards. Brian Roberts, Austin Rivers, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, and Eric Gordon all created less than the team average in the restricted area. Evans compiled by far the most attempts, and as I mentioned in his recap, his ability to finish at the rim was much improved when Ryan Anderson was available or when Evans was starting.

Second, instead of focusing their efforts on reducing the frequency of mid range jump shots I think the Pelicans would do best to work on eliminating the number of shots taken in the paint but outside the restricted area. 15.91% does not see like a ton, but it is a greater share than four of the five best offenses (Houston). The Rockets increased share is created by that ugly running hook of Dwight's. This does not mean, however, that the team should regularly run their offense to create 18 foot jump shots with 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

Most importantly, the Pelicans must find a way to create more three point attempts. Above I discussed that a part of this is Ryan Anderson being out.  Another portion is the players who play, and their movement. Anthony Morrow and Darius Miller did the best on the team at seeking out corner three point attempts. But putting a lot of stock in Miller's high percentage (16.26%) belies the fact that he only attempted 27 total corner threes. Anthony Morrow led the team with 35 corner threes made (on 76 attempts). The Miami Heat, by contrast, had five different players (Ray Allen-56, Mario Chalmers-40, Shane Battier-39, Norris Cole-37, Rashard Lewis-35) make at least 35.

You could make a case that it is coaching. But player movement outside of specific offensive sets is also on individual players. Anthony Morrow took so many corner threes compared to his teammates not just because he was a better shooter, but because he got himself into those positions outside of the framework of the offense. Offensive sets for a high screen and roll are not set in stone about how or where players off the ball must move.  Players and their teammates must improvise and seek out these high percentage attempts.

It is not a coincidence, for example, that 11 of Morrow's 35 corner threes were assisted by Tyreke Evans. Or that 30% (109/363) of all of Tyreke's assists were for three point shots. The only other significant distributor who approaches that number is Austin Rivers, with 28.75% (46/160) of his assists resulting in three point shots. Jrue Holiday (25.37% - 68/268) and Brian Roberts (23.5% 55/234) had lower percentages while Eric Gordon's (13.46% - 28/208) is downright abysmal. Drive and kick is not just a cliche, it actually works and we should not be surprised when the two players who attack the basket the most (Evans and Rivers) also create the lion share of three point attempts.

Individual Data

Below I broke down each of the top 13 players in minutes this season, listed in order of minutes played.  Things that stand out to me are Roberts in the restricted area (oh my word), Evans jump shooting (not a surprise, but it is pretty bad), and just how amazing Anderson and Morrow are shooting a basketball.  If there is one player not under contract (Davis, Holiday, Evans, Anderson, Gordon, Rivers, Ajinca, Babbitt, and Ely are all under contract next year) that I want the Pelicans to re-sign, it is Anthony Morrow. As above, percentages are how often a player shoots from that location, the number in parenthesis is the amount of points per shot created.

Player Shooting

Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3
Anthony Davis 44.48% (1.35) 18.91% (0.78) 35.72% (0.80) 0.1% (0.00) 0.80% (0.75)
Eric Gordon 35.74% (1.11) 12.12% (0.51) 20.56% (0.81) 26.44% (1.26) 4.90% (0.75)
Al-Farouq Aminu 51.62% (1.24) 14.37% (0.56) 24.29% (0.72) 3.44% (0.35) 6.28% (1.06)
Tyreke Evans 65.66% (1.06) 13.15% (0.59) 10.59% (0.51) 7.58% (0.71) 2.34% (0.71)
Brian Roberts 12.22% (0.76) 19.62% (0.95) 37.52% (0.91) 23.41% (1.10) 6.36% (1.14)
Anthony Morrow 10.00% (1.12) 18.85% (1.00) 33.65% (0.82) 22.88% (1.34) 14.62% (1.38)
Austin Rivers 46.41% (0.97) 24.05% (0.68) 8.65% (0.49) 15.19% (1.13) 4.64% (1.23)
Jrue Holiday 29.52% (1.10) 20.26% (0.70) 33.26% (0.89) 13.88% (1.19) 3.08% (1.07)
Greg Stiemsma 68.85% (1.31) 12.30% (1.07) 18.03% (0.64) 0.82% (0.00) N/A
Alexis Ajinca 51.41% (1.27) 17.67% (1.00) 30.52% (0.87) 0.40% (0.00) N/A
Jason Smith 18.09% (1.06) 7.80% (0.91) 74.11% (0.90) N/A N/A
Ryan Anderson 22.03% (1.03) 7.34% (0.62) 24.29% (0.93) 40.40% (1.20) 5.93% (1.43)
Darius Miller 9.04% (1.07) 12.05% (1.10) 32.53% (1.07) 28.92% (0.88) 16.26% (1.22)

Discussion

So, what do you think?

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