The Year in Shooting: A Visual Review
The Year in Shooting: A Visual Review
Shooting was down in the NBA this past season. One theory is that jump shooters were less efficient this year because they were playing more games in fewer days; they had tired legs. The data kind of support this theory; the decrease was most pronounced in longish jump shots. Regardless, the league shot worse this year. However, despite this universal drop in efficiency, when we visualize the league-wide shooting structure for this “condensed” season, we see some familiar patterns.
The league’s shooting behavior definitely results in some clusters. The biggest shooting cluster comes near the basket, that’s not a surprise, but further from the basket we see some interesting grouping behavior.
Let’s start in the midrange, where the basic finding is that not all midrange locations are equally popular. For example, shots 3-feet beyond both elbows are much more popular than shots 3-feet inside the elbows. In fact, shots just inside the free-throw line near the elbows are among the least popular shots in the midrange.
There isn’t a predictable relationship between shot distance and shot frequency in the midrange. In fact, there is a fairly wide band between about 8 and 17 feet away from the rim where shooting is relatively unpopular. Although this effect is less prominent along the baseline areas, it still exists there too. This zone of the inner midrange is kind of a no-man’s land for NBA shooters; however, there is a spike in shooting popularity just outside this band in areas where players often get catch-and-shoot opportunities. Shooters get cleaner looks in these areas in part because they are just far enough away from the rim that they are out of the jurisdiction of the NBA’s disruptive interior defenders.
Beyond the 3-point-arc another set of patterns emerge. Most obviously we see proof that the corner-3 is indeed the most efficient shot away from the rim. Although the league shoots only 37% or so from the corners, it remains a very popular shot for a simple reason: it’s worth 50% more points than shots a few feet closer in that only go in about 2-3% more often. The increase in reward is well worth the slight increase in risk.
As a general rule, 3-point efficiency is lowest at the top of the arc and increases towards the corners. However, when we look at the actual numbers below, we see that 3-point shooters in the NBA are slightly more effective from their right (graphic left) than their left; the right-side corner-3 goes in 37.8% of the time; the left-side corner-3 goes in 36.6% of the time. Shooters just to their right of the top of the arc hit 34.4% of their shots, while just to the left of the top of the arc this number is 32.2%. This effect continues on the wings, which is actually the most common 3-point shooting location. So, why are shooters slightly better from their right? I’m not sure, but there is the dominant-eye theory popularized by a shooting savant named Ray Allen. Ric Bucher is the most recent writer to examine the dominant eye theory:
“Most righthanded guards prefer to come off a screen on the left side because their momentum is taking their shooting hand toward the basket and their body is between the ball and the trailing defender. But Allen’s sweet spot with the Celtics has been the right-wing three. First, because KG and Rondo dominate the left side of the floor. Second, because he’s got a better chance of making a shot that is lined up by his right eye. “When I make the turn, my right eye is already on the basket,” he says. And, soon after, the ball is headed there too.”
A closer look at the numbers reveals some interesting other findings. For example, the only place on the court where shots go in at least half of the time is near the rim. Despite what Dwyane Wade may say, outside of 7-feet, NBA shooting is a 33-40% endeavor.
Also, this year the league struggled the most from the inner midrange right-side baseline (graphic left), where collectively NBA shooters made baskets only 36.6% of the time. Some players obviously excel here – most notably, the left-handed Chris Bosh who hit 57% of his shots from this area this year – but as a whole, this was the least efficient area on the court this year.
In the end, I think this graphic proves that spatial and visual analytics can reveal a lot about the NBA. In this case, we see there is a definite structure in the league’s shooting tendencies.