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.

BREAKDOWN—Kanter playing better against first-line bigs

Last year, Enes Kanter did most of his damage against second-team big men as a bench player and then struggled this year when confronted with playing in the starting lineup against first-team bigs.

Tyrone Corbin has done a nice job staggering Kanter’s minutes with Favors, allowing Kanter to play primarily against second-team big men. So when he struggled miserably against Minnesota in two games against starters Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, it felt like a huge setback for Kanter.

His performance Saturday night against Washington, however, may have been the culmination of a gradual improvement against main-line bigs over the last month.

In early January, Kanter got back on track with a good game against Milwaukee where Corbin matched him almost exclusively against the Bucks’s fourth-string big Miroslav Raduljica. Kanter followed with a nice night in L.A. against the injury-riddled Lakers frontcourt of Ryan Kelly, Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre. It was more of the same against Oklahoma City as Kanter made inroads on rookie Stephen Adams but was quiet against veteran Nick Collison.

With his confidence increasing, Kanter started playing against better bigs. Against Cleveland he got rolling against the limited Tyler Zeller, but continued a good first half against Anderson Varejao. In the next game against Denver, he was solid playing against Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov and the defensively poor J.J. Hickson.

Playing with great confidence, Kanter had a career-high 24 points in San Antonio. However, almost all those points were against Jeff Ayers.

Then in Detroit, Kanter lit up Andre Drummond and the Pistons.

After the two poor games against Minnesota, Kanter was going to have to play a front-line big against Washington’s combo of Nene and Marcin Gortat.

Looking at Kanter’s 11-for-13 shooting night, you can see that he did an equal amount of damage on Gortat as he did on the Wizards’ second-team bigs.

kanter v. wizards

This is the next step for Kanter in his third year in the NBA: playing head-to-head with first-line big men.

BREAKDOWN—Who allowed what?

Today on TIPOFF I mentioned this idea: What if box scores also mentioned what the player you were guarding did? It certainly would change the behavior of players. However, it is a bit of an unfair way to judge defenders. For example, last night Richard Jefferson’s man came around on a curl and Gordon Hayward slid down to the nail to stop his penetration and the kick-out pass to Corey Brewer (Hayward’s man) resulted in a 3-pointer. On the same level, dribble penetration gets into the lane and the Jazz big cuts off the dribbler and the ball gets dropped off to the opposing big who would be on the Jazz big … who actually made the right play.

Understanding the flaws in this system, I thought I would try it for last night’s game and see what I discovered. Here’s how the Wolves’ first 100 points came about. It is possible that I missed a shot here or there, but this is pretty close.

v, minnesotaHere is what jumped out to me:

* Marvin Williams had a good defensive night against Kevin Love, who did almost all of his damage on Jeremy Evans.

* The Wolves were going at Alec Burks and took advantage of his inability to get off a pick. The guy he was guarding took 14 shots, and the next closest is Hayward’s with 10. Feels as though Hayward over-helps at times.

* You have to stop transition in this league.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting exercise. I’m not sure it is perfect, but I think if you did it for each night the flaws would be minimal and you could learn a lot.

(Note: Created play means the man he was guarding created a play that led to points for another player’s man.)

BREAKDOWN—Jazz players’ offense, games 31-40

Now let’s look at the Jazz players’ offense in games 31-40.

jazz games 31-40This is sorted by Locke offensive rating—10 is about average offensively, 20 is a high-level starter, 30 is elite and 0 is replacement value. This is only how this individual is using his possessions.

Richard Jefferson is using 15% of his possessions to go to the free-throw line. That is stunning mostly when you consider he is also using 39% of his possessions to shoot threes. Jefferson is playing very well.

Interesting for all the Alec Burks talk is that his lack of 3-point shooting is still preventing him from being a highly efficient offensive player. Going to the line 13% of his possessions is important, but not shooting the three is a detriment to his play.

Both Favors and Kanter have been high-level starters on the offensive end over the last 10 games.

Gordon Hayward was the best offensive player for the Jazz in this period of time.

The nice change here is that all but four players were using their possession above the league average. Previously it was reverse.

Trey is not an efficient offensive player yet. This is not a surprise—he is a rookie point guard getting huge minutes. Historically, players in his circumstance don’t have efficient seasons.

BREAKDOWN—10-game stretch #4, games 31-40

In this season of discovery, rather than getting caught up in the day-in, day-out performances, it seems more prudent to look at the team in 10-game stretches.   Truthfully, it might be better to look at four 20-game stretches.

Last night, the Jazz concluded their first 40 games of the season. Let’s take a look at the Jazz’s performances in their first four-game stretches.

Jazz game 40 10 game stretchesjazz game 40 by rankingsGames 31-40 showed some really significant changes in Utah’s season.

  • The offense was the 11th best in the NBA over that stretch, jumping from 100.1 to 106.3 points per 100 possessions. The EFG% and TS% jumps are remarkable. The offense looks different and has better ball and player movement than it had earlier this season.
  • The defensive change is remarkable. The defensive rebounding went was 7th best in the NBA over the last 10 games. Previously, it was in the bottom 15% of the league. The Jazz jumped from grabbing 72% of defensive rebounds to 78%. This is an increase of about two rebounds per game. The Jazz were allowing 13 second-chance points per game, and over the last 10 games they’ve allowed just 9.8. This is key to a good defensive team. If you are a bottom 20% defensive rebounding team, you can’t be a good defensive team.
  • Interestingly, the Jazz have stopped offensive rebounding. The Jazz were the top offensive rebounding team in the NBA during the first 10 games and are now 26th in offensive rebounding percentage. This should parlay into a much better transition defense.   However, that has not played out. Over the last 10 games, the Jazz allowed 17.2 fast-break points per game, but in games 21-30 the Jazz were down to 13.6. In this small sample size this could be opponent-based, but it is still surprising that the Jazz have lowered their offensive rebounding percentage yet not been able to limit opponents’ fast-break points.
  • Utah’s defense hasn’t gotten remarkably better despite changing how they are playing.   The defense has improved to 25th in the NBA and is down about three points per 100 possessions. Digging deeper, it is interesting to see the changes.
  • jazz gmae 40 4 factorsThe Jazz have reduced the amount of fouls they are committing considerably. The defensive rebounding we mentioned before is in a different stratosphere. However, the Jazz are no longer forcing turnovers and their defense of the shot has not changed. The Jazz only allowed opponents to hit 33% on threes over the last 10 games, but opponents have increased the amount of threes they took over last 20 games from 17.7 over games 21-30 to 20.7 in games 31-40. (Again, this could be small sample size theater.)

Bottom line is that Jazz games 31-40 were by far the best 10 games of the season. The overall efficiency rating was 19th in the league (-1.5) in contrast to being 30th, 26th and 29th in the three previous 10-game stretches.

BREAKDOWN—Improved Enes back to his roots

It is becoming a signature of this season that players who were once in the doldrums work their way out them to find success. First it was Gordon Hayward. And now Alec Burks and Enes Kanter seems to be joining the party as well.

Over the past seven games, Enes Kanter has been in double figures in six of them (and five straight). More importantly, Enes has gone back to his roots as an offensive player.

Time for a brief interruption

NOTE: His defensive rotations have been far better than at any other time this season. He is engaged defensively and is having a positive impact on the defense. This, more than his offense, has allowed Coach Corbin to give him longer stretches on the floor.

now back to our regularly scheduled post

Earlier this season Enes became obsessed with the pick-and-pop jumper. Coming off the shoulder injury may have been part of the reason. Playing on the floor with Favors could have been part of the equation as well.

Over the last seven games, Kanter returned to the bruising big body working in the paint that we recalled from his first two years.

Here is the shot chart for his last five games:

kanter last 5Kanter has made only three shots from outside the paint. His outside jumper has been less consistent this year than it was last year, and by no longer relying on that shot he has become a better offensive player.

Kanter has remarkable touch for a big man. The outside shot will return, but he needs to make the paint his domain and have the outside game be an added bonus, not vice versa.

BREAKDOWN—Kanter and Favors together

If the Jazz are without Marvin Williams tonight, then Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are likely to start together again. This combination is 1-17 together this season.

Here is a look at how Favors and Kanter have played together over the past two season. I have broken them into three sections: starting together this year, since they inserted Marvin into the lineup (though this includes four combined starts) and last year.

favors-kanter togetherThis year’s numbers have not been able to equal last year’s success. Last year the combination struggled to score at just 99.4 points per 100 possessions (the league average is 102.7). However, they defended well against primarily second-team units. This season the defense has been terrible with the two of them on the floor together. Both 112 and 116.3 would make the team last in the NBA.

The poor EFG% when they started together was impacted by point guard play. However, the poor defensive rebounding numbers are surprising. This combination should be dominant on the glass. 70.6% defensive rebounding would equal the worst in the NBA, and even the 71.3% since no longer starting together would be 29th.

Because of this performance, Tyrone Corbin staggered the playing time of Kanter and Favors. However, he has recently started to play them together a bit more. Over the past 10 games they have played a limited 35 minutes together.

favors kanter last 15Some of these numbers are improved. The offense has improved a bit, and the defensive rebounding is at an elite level. However, the overall performance has not been good and the defense is still very poor.

Coach Corbin talks about the two of them needing to learn what makes the other one successful. Hopefully they can begin to discover this.

BREAKDOWN—The next D is on its way

De-Fense. De-Fense. De-Fense.

Utah’s defense over the past season has not be adequate. In the offseason, general manager Dennis Lindsey was very clear that the defense must improve. During the opening portion of the season, the Jazz’s defense was the worst in the NBA. However, over the last 10 games the Jazz have made tremendous strides.

The Jazz have altered their pick-and-roll coverages and changed how they are practicing pick-and-roll coverage and rotations. The impact has shown on the floor.

Using Dean Oliver’s four factors from Basketball on Paper, here is a look at the defensive improvement (shown by how the Jazz rank in the NBA).

defensive imporovemtn 1-3What I see here is a team that has learned a new method of playing defense. They players are executing the principals of the defense but are not being aggressive. As they get more comfortable they will begin to force more turnovers.

Having three of the four factors in the top half of the league is the foundation of a top-15 defense, which would be a huge success this season.

BREAKDOWN—Hayward changing shot selection

Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward is having his first experience as a go-to guy in the NBA. The transition has been difficult and trying. However, as the season progresses you can see Hayward evolving as an offensive player.

Earlier in the season, Hayward was taking a large amount of low-percentage shots. The league shoots on average about 38% on mid-range shots or 2-pointers in the non-restricted areas. Shots at the rim or from 3-point range are much more efficient shots.

Here is Hayward’s shot distribution for the first 25 games of the season.

gh shot distrubution first 2537% of your shots coming from mid-range is a lot. Chandler Parsons, the model small forward in terms of efficiency, takes just 10% of his shots from mid-range. Nicholas Batum takes 23% of his shots from mid-range. However, neither of these players are go-to guys on their roster.

Over the last 10 games you can see Hayward is taking fewer long range 2s and in turn is taking more efficient shots.

gh shot distrubution last 10Hayward has reduced the amount long 2s from 37% to 29% of his total field goal attempts. Almost all of those shots have changed from mid-range 2s to 3-point attempts.

Hayward shoots 40% on mid-range 2s—or 0.8 points per shot. On 3-point shots he is averaging 0.84 points per shot, and considering he is shooting 10% below his career average, that will improve.

This is a nice evolution in Hayward’s game. My guess is that this continues, and over the next 10 to 20 games we’ll see even more 3s and fewer mid-range shots.