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Shooting for Success: New Data Supports Old Conclusions

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NBA Stats and SportVU cameras believe I shouldn't sleep again.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Despite no official announcement NBA Stats released a treasure trove of information in the last seven days. Seth Partnow over at Nylon Calculus has a run down of what new information has been included. In addition to separating shots between catch-and-shoot (0 dribbles) and pull up (1+ dribbles) now every shot can be sorted by the number of dribbles, the time remaining on the shot clock, and the amount of space available by the defense (<2 feet, 2-4 feet, 4-6 feet, or >6 feet).

It is important to note that NBA players have really long arms. 2-4 feet of space sounds like a lot; until one considers the defender in question may have arms nearly three feet long. The portions of data I will be most interested in are how players shoot defended compared to the two classifications of open (4-6 feet or >6 feet) and when the Pelicans are shooting compared to the time remaining on the shot clock.

Let's take a dive into the Pelicans performance and narrow the scope.

Long Twos Are Bad

This is my favorite drum. I love pounding on it. There is this idea that open shots are inherently valuable and therefore should be taken among certain fans, players, and coaches. They believe people diving into the math just do not know what they're talking about. Open 18 footers are good!

No. No they are not.

FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 284 723 39.28%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 564 1362 41.41%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 64 206 46.60%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 421 1093 57.78%

This is data pulled on shots 10 feet or further from the basket. Somehow the Pelicans actually managed to shoot a better percentage very tightly defended (43.28%) than wide open (41.6%). Even tightly defended threes (defender within 4 feet) were more valuable (47.12% vs. 41.63%) than wide open twos.

Who has fallen in love with a jump shot and in need of an intervention? Let's take a look.

There's a Reason You're Open

Coaches love to tell players who cannot shoot that there is a reason they're open. Pelican fans might not like this data. There's a reason NBA teams keep giving Anthony Davis that 18 footer.

Anthony Davis FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 56 140 40.00%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 100 256 39.06%

It's uncomfortable to see the general ineffectiveness of the team's star player. AD accounted for 18.8% of all open twos taken and actually shot below the team's average. Jason Smith was actually second on the team with 180 open twos taken in just 31 games. Smith also converted 45.6% of those looks.

Of course Monty Williams disagrees. Not only do the Pelicans fail to discourage AD from taking this shots they actively seek them. The first play of the Orlando Magic game on Opening Night was designed to get a shot expected to create 0.78 points. Ugh.

Unsurprisingly, the guards on the team also took far too many long twos. Even when open, these shots did not lead to above average results.

Eric Gordon FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 16 43 37.21%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 55 145 37.93%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 9 25 54.00%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 91 232 58.84%
Jrue Holiday FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 28 66 42.42%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 47 110 42.73%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 2 11 27.27%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 28 66 63.64%
Austin Rivers FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 7 37 18.92%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 13 37 35.14%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 7 23 45.65%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 29 76 57.24%

Give Austin Rivers credit, he is aware that mid-range twos are not his forte. There is something to be said for Rivers focusing his attack on the basket, even when those results are less than stellar they are significantly better than taking the alternative.

Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon perform about the same beyond 10 feet regardless of the space available. That is to say, not very well. 42% just is not good offense. Both proved deadly when given space behind the arc. It would be nice if Jrue Holiday shot threes more frequently.

Ryan Anderson FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 14 36 38.89%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 25 51 49.02%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 3 10 30.00%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 64 154 62.34%
Alexis Ajinca FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 6 16 37.50%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 33 65 50.77%

News flash - Don't leave Ryan Anderson open behind the arc. A surprising bit of information is just how efficient Ajinca is when given space. While providing a much smaller sample size than Jason Smith the Frenchman actually exceeded Smith's effectiveness.

Jimmer Fredette FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 14 40 35.00%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 22 44 50.00%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 10 18 83.33%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 31 64 72.65%

SPITS HOT FIRE!

John Salmons FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 23 81 28.40%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 35 84 41.67%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 15 39 57.69%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 46 120 57.50%

Maybe he can contribute?

Conclusions

This team is generally built to attack the rim. I did not include Tyreke Evans or Omer Asik in this discussion because honestly any jump shot taken by those two is a gross misuse of resources. The saying goes that since Tyreke Evans cannot shoot teams will sag off of him to take away then lane. While they may indeed sag off I have yet to see any evidence this tactic is keeping him from getting all the way to the rim. Asik's offensive outburst (which is unlikely to be sustainable) showed he can be marginally effective catching and finishing around the basket. In Asik's own words he is hopeing to play defense and rebound.

There are three players (Ryan Anderson, Alexis Ainjca, and Jimmer Fredette) who should have a green light to take open long twos. The guards need to focus their efforts toward the rim or behind the arc. A number of times the Pelicans ran plays against the Magic deliberately to create mid-range jump shots. I observed at the Open Practice last Saturday that this is not an aberration.

While Anthony Davis has a pretty looking shot continuing to hammer away at it in game situations might not be the most effective tactic. To compare, LaMarcus Aldridge shot 45.3% on 579 open long twos and Dirk Nowitzki shot 52.8% (!) on 309 attempts. As I observed when looking at AD's sophomore year he is not nearly as good of a long jump shooter as many give him credit for; the numbers say he is below average. He is better than most in that in-between area (8-16 feet) though, and that space has real value on the court.

Despite all this data the Pelicans will continue to look to free up Davis for long twos. At least Asik is a beast on the offensive glass.