Shooting for Success

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

[From usnfish. I'm a huge fan of the "dumb zone" descriptor he uses in this post, a zone that for whatever reason seems to pervade the "scorer's mindset" all the way down to youth levels of basketball. -R]

The NBA has been inundated with advanced metrics in the past decade. Current Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey began a Sports Analytics course at MIT in 2004. This eventually developed into the MIT/Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2007, which has convened annually since that year. The Houston Rockets have been maligned in basketball purgatory for the majority of his tenure as GM. This year with a helping hand from Oklahoma City Morey was able to attain a superstar in James Harden and the Rockets earned their first playoff bid since 2009. Beyond Harden, much has been made of the style of play and heavy emphasis on efficient shots with Houston Rockets. Shooting zones have been roughly characterized as in the paint, the "dumb zone" and three point shots. Of course the corner three is the most prized of all.

New Orleans is not a franchise well connected with analytics. As seen here, the Pelicans are one of 15 teams who have not purchased the famed SportVU camera system from STATS LLC. Darey Morey, of course, worked as a consultant with STATS prior to working with the Boston Celtics. But even without a strong connection to analytics, the team's offensive improvement can easily be tied to basic analytical concepts taking hold in the league. The next table outlines the progress over last year and provides Houston's numbers for comparison. Information is pulled from Each block contains the frequency of the shot taken, then the success rate in parenthesis.

Team Paint "Dumb Zone" Three
11-12 NOLA 48.4%(52.8%) 36.8%(40.4%) 14.7%(31.4%)
12-13 NOLA 49.9%(52.1%) 27.8%(39.2%) 22.1%(36.2%)
12-13 HOU 49.5%(55.6%) 15.6%(36.9%) 34.7%(36.6%)

The increased rate of three point shots can be tied directly to the acquisition of Ryan Anderson. The Hornets, despite shooting lower percentages from the "Dumb Zone" AND the paint increased their offensive efficiency from 26th in 2011-2012 to tied for 15th in 2012-2013, as seen here and here. Despite shooting well below average from mid range the Houston Rockets ranked 6th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. You can check out more on NBA shooting averages here. Notice that the NBA average is around 39.3% from mid range. The key to improving offensively is not to make more mid range shots, it is to take less.

With all this in mind it is important now to analyze which future Pelicans are doing their part to score points efficiently. Below is a table of the top 10 players on the 2012-2013 Hornets, ordered by minutes played. As with the team charts, frequency is listed first, followed by FG% from that area.

Player Paint "Dumb Zone" Three
Vasquez 54.5%(47.3%) 21.2%(42.7%) 24.1%(33.9%)
Anderson 26.6%(52.1%) 22.7%(43.3%) 50.6%(38.2%)
Lopez 74.8%(57.1%) 25.2%(42.0%) N/A
Aminu 72.2%(55.5%) 23.5%(26.8%) 4.2%(20.0%)
Davis 65.2%(63.4%) 33.8%(30.4%) 0.8%(0.0%)
Rivers 59.3%(40.4%) 18.7%(31.9%) 21.8%(33.3%)
Roberts 32.8%(46.1%) 37.9%(40.9%) 29.2%(38.3%)
Gordon 46.5%(49.3%) 24.1%(33.6%) 29.3%(32.4%)
Mason 16.6%(41.3%) 30.3%(47.6%) 53.0%(41.5%)
Smith 38.0%(53.1%) 60.8%(47.1%) 1.1%(0.0%)

A few players jump out to me as especially valuable. The first is Anthony Davis. He is the most efficient scorer in the paint, converting at an extremely high rate. Looking at the numbers he is not as efficient shooting in the "dumb zone" as I anticipated from watching the entire season. This is not to say that he should eliminate the 18 foot jump shot from his repertoire, but that it could be used more judiciously. We can only hope that Davis will become as automatic as Jason Smith. I am pleasantly surprised at the shot selection from Austin Rivers. While his inability to finish at the rim has been a focal point his general shot selection has been good. He will improve at the rim, the hope is that it will be enough and that he can knock down his free throws more often. Beyond our rookies Ryan Anderson attempting 50.6% of his shots from deep is not a surprise. But it is a truly welcome addition to the roster. Any potential deal to move a player of his value should be taken with utmost care.

Troubling, in my mind, is the frequency of mid range shots taken by Eric Gordon and Brian Roberts. Unlike other players shooting a high volume of shots from mid range (Smith, Davis and Mason) Gordon and Roberts are tasked with creating their own shot. And far too often those shots in isolation are defensive victories. Not just in terms of the frequency of those shots missing, but that a challenged mid range jump shot where the rest of the defense has not been forced to rotate is always a good scenario for the opposition. Hopefully a successful off season can bring Gordon back to his 2010-2011 form, when he attempted fewer shots in the "dumb zone"(21.8%) and more in the paint (47.5%) and from deep (30.5%).

The mid range shot is often described as a "lost art" in the NBA. We in New Orleans can look forward to one of the elite artists in that discipline with Jason Smith. However, if the Pelicans hope to challenge for a position in the playoffs I would recommend that the remaining personnel focus on the art that pays, in the paint.