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Shooting for Success: Shot Selection through 36 Games

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You wanted less mid range jump shots? More threes? More corner threes? Wishes granted.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

When I rubbed the magical lamp of basketball fandom after last season I asked for a couple very specific things. I wanted the Pelicans to take fewer "dumb zone" shots. Turn those shots into attempts at the basket or behind the three point line, please. For the love that is baseline hammer, increase the number of corner three point attempts. The green triangle is real and if the Pelicans could just put it into practice I was certain the offense would improve its efficiency.

The last time we got together to discuss shot selection for the Pelicans was after a excruciating loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in November; four scant games into the season. With two whole days available to pour over unchanging data I decided what better time than after an impressive victory over those same Grizzlies to revisit the team's performance up to this point. In November we had a total of 357 field goal attempts to work with. That sample size has grown to 3,052.

Shot Selection - Location

All data below is pulled directly from the NBA Stats website unless stated otherwise. I prefer the Offensive Rating through Nylon Calculus but those number only go back to last season. Due to that I will be using the NBA Stats ORtg estimates instead to compare apples to apples.

Methodology is simple. Total attempts from a given area (found here) divided by the total number of attempts (3,052) to determine frequency. Field goal percentage multiplied by the value of the shot attempt (two or three points) to get the points per shot (PPS), found within the parenthesis. All data is available to the public, nothing presented here is exclusive or difficult to find. It will, however, differ from data found at other locations; Basketball Reference and Nylon Calculus, for instance.

Year Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Offensive Rating
2014-15 40.40% (1.15) 12.71% (0.75) 24.02% (0.84) 17.50% (0.99) 5.11% (1.21) 105.9
2013-14 37.88% (1.14) 15.91% (0.76) 26.93% (0.82) 14.36% (1.13) 4.62% (1.14) 104.7
2012-13 34.50% (1.15) 16.97% (0.77) 26.16% (0.79) 18.09% (1.09) 4.03% (1.15) 102.7
2011-12 31.61% (1.17) 18.09% (0.83) 35.08% (0.80) 10.95% (0.97) 4.20% (1.11) 98.3

According to NBA Stats the Pelicans have the 7th best offense this season posting that 105.9 Offensive Rating. Ranking above much more celebrated teams such as the Atlanta Hawks (105.7, 8th), San Antonio Spurs (104.8, 12th), Houston Rockets (102.7, 18th), and Oklahoma City Thunder (101.1, 22nd).

The real problem is the Pelican defense and that has shown some signs of getting in gear the last couple weeks. In the coming weeks the schedule appears friendly to that end as well.

Making Morey Proud

The next chart is a more macro look at Pelican shot selection. The "dumb zone" or "Anti-Morey Zone" is that area from the restricted circle to the three point arc. NBA teams on average shoot right around 40% between three feet and the three point line. In the restricted area that number jumps to 63%. Behind the three point line they shoot around 35%, or over 52% as calculated as effective field goal percentage. Over the past four seasons what kind of message (and, equally important, player skills sets arranged by Dell Demps) has Monty Williams sent to his roster?

Year "Dumb Zone" Frequency
2014-15 36.73%
2013-14 42.84%
2012-13 43.13%
2011-12 53.17%

Yes, the Pelicans have a better roster this year than in any of the past four seasons. The specific skills of the players available have built into an increasingly efficient offense by eschewing less efficient choices. This is not to say that the team should forgo the mid range jump shot entirely. Instead, the players who are taking the majority of such shots (Anthony Davis and Dante Cunningham, for instance), do so at well above average rates. This creates difficulties against common pick and roll schemes, as I outlined writing about AD's progression.

Shot Selection - Open or Defended?

The next set of data is thanks to the SportVU cameras. I focused my attention on shots being open or defended at least ten feet from the basket. Shots at the basket are going to be defended in all but the rarest cases. Again, I want to see two things; a decrease in long twos (in this case, 10+ feet) and an increase in threes. Especially threes of the open variety.

Everything can be found at the NBA Stats website. My method is the same as before, shots of a specific type (guarded twos with a defender within four feet=defended) divided by the total number of field goal attempts.

2014-15 %FG EFG%
Twos - Defended 9.57% 39.04%
Twos - Open 17.17% 42.94%
Threes - Defended 2.59% 36.08%
Threes - Open 20.15% 53.66%
2013-14 %FG EFG%
Twos - Defended 10.72% 39.28%
Twos - Open 26.55% 41.41%
Threes - Defended 3.06% 46.60%
Threes - Open 16.21% 57.78%

You might notice for 2014-15 this accounts for only 49.48% of shots taken and in 2013-14 that number is higher, 56.54%. This decrease is evidence of the increase in shots taken closer to the basket. As we can see in previous sections the increase in attempts in the restricted area has not diminished their effectiveness, actually such efficiency has improved.

Another point of emphasis is the increase in three point shots taken. Not only has the overall total increased (from 19.27% last season to 22.74% this season) but the share of such shots which are open (with a defender at least four feet away) has increased. Unfortunately an increase in open shots has not led to a increase in efficiency as the Pelicans are shooting 34.2% behind the arc this year. Last season that number was much higher, coming in at a scorching 37.3%.

Cold Snap Breaking

Is it a matter of the wrong players shooting deep balls? Not at all. Ryan Anderson, a career 38.2% shooter behind the arc, has taken 235 of 698 three point attempts. Jrue Holiday (37.5%, 127), Luke Babbitt (39.0%, 72), Eric Gordon (36.8%, 56), Jimmer Fredette (39.2%, 24), and John Salmons (36.6%, 23) have also contributed mightily to the volume. Those five players are all well-above average shooters for their career and account for nearly 77% of all threes shot by New Orleans.

As I have repeatedly noted, a number of those players (Anderson, Holiday, Gordon, Fredette, and Salmons) are all shooting below their career averages. I have also pointed out that the team is slowly seeing an increase in shooting effectiveness. The Pelicans have increased their field goal percentage every month of the season. Their three point percentage, after taking a dip in December, is at 40.3% so far in January with an East heavy trip ahead of them.

This is not a guarantee that the Pels will suddenly be blowing out teams. Just a thing to keep your eye on as the schedule gets much easier. Despite alternating wins and losses this franchise is beginning to gain some positive direction. The defense is improving over the last ten games. The offense has made year-over-year progress going on year four now. The shot selection is improving.

The Pelicans can go out and drop a couple winnable games making all the trend lines seem foolish. That does not discredit what the data says up to this point. Right now this team is on the upswing. A strong five game trek through the Eastern Conference (expectations of an undefeated streak are misplaced) could do wonders to solidify this forward momentum.

I hope the Pelicans packed warm clothes - and their jump shots.