BREAKDOWN—How much do “smart” shots matter?

How much do “smart” shots matter?

On the offensive end of the floor, the in-vogue style is to take your shots either in the restricted area (1.19 points per shot), take a corner three (1.17 pps) or take an above-the-break three (1.05 pps)—while avoiding mid-range shots (.79 pps) or paint non-restricted area shots (.78 pps).

The Houston Rockets are the best team in the game at taking “smart” shots. They take 71% of their shots from the “smart” areas. The Memphis Grizzlies are the worst in the league at 51%.

Another way to look at this is if every player in the NBA was a robot who shot the same percentage on every shot, how much would it matter if you took “smarter” shots than your opponents?

To answer this question, I created “expected points per shot” for teams. The Houston Rockets’ expected point value per shot (based on where they shoot from) is 1.038 points per shot. The next best in the NBA is the Philadelphia 76ers at 1.022. Only seven teams’ expected points per shot is over 1 point per shot: Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Minnesota, Phoenix and Denver.

The Rockets average at least .038 points per shot more than 22 other teams in the NBA.   The median team in the NBA takes 83 shots a game, which gives them an advantage of 3.15 points per game. In the statistical world, a point is worth 2.7 wins over a season. If everyone shot the same, the Rockets would gain at least 8.4 wins a year simply by taking the correct shots.

Clearly, the impact of shooting in the correct spots on the floor is enormous.

The worst in the NBA is Cleveland at .969 points per shot. The difference between Houston and Cleveland over an average NBA game is 5.7 points—simply on taking shots in the “smart” areas.

The median team in the NBA scores .986 points per shot. The tenth best (the Clippers at .994) and the 27th best (Sacramento/Utah at .976) are all within .01 of the average. Overall, 13 teams (or almost half the NBA) are all within the range of .986 and .976 expected points per shot.

This is a sign of how few teams have truly made it a priority to take “smart” shots. The league is giving a lot of lip service to “smart” shots, but few teams are truly executing them.

The seven aforementioned teams that are over 1 expected point per shot are gaining a 1.6 points per game advantage over 12 other teams in the league.

Putting this information into action, let’s look at the Jazz’s next two games.

Tonight, the Dallas Mavericks (.977 expected points per shot—23rd in the league) play the Jazz (.976 expected points per shot—27th in the league) and there is no difference.

However, tomorrow night the Jazz play Miami, who is 1.02 points per expected shot—or 3.65 points better over a course of the game. To make up for this, the Jazz would have to make two more two-point shots in a game or shot about 2.5% better than Miami  in traditional field goal percentage simply to equalize where the two teams shot from on the floor.

Despite all the talk, the league is still very slow to adapt to “smart” shots. The change has began, but there’s still a long way to go until everyone institutes this into their offense. Those teams that are doing it right now have a significant advantage over the rest of the league.