shotcarts and roles
Welcome back to Hack a Stat! This new analysis has a very specific purpose: to dispel the myth of the death of the mid-range shots. And to do that, I wanted to evolve my classic static graphs. In fact, in this article, you will only find shotcharts in video format.
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A while ago I was discussing about this Goldsberry‘s tweet with my podcast colleagues:
The chart published shows the distribution of shots of the entire NBA during the entire regular season. It is obvious that today the NBA teams know which are the best shots to take (from 3-point territory and at the rim). These two types of shots provide the best PPS (point per shot) values, making them the most efficient. Mid-range shots remain a rarity when compared to those shots. But that does not mean that they are no longer used.
Shotcharts based on roles
I think is wrong to simplify this tactical evolution with phrases like “The mid-range is dead!” or, for practically the same reasons “The low post is dead!”. These simplifications can deceive basketball fans; the risk of these simplifications is leading to think that mid-range shots are always and only inefficient shots. And this is wrong.
In that sense, shotcharts like the one reported by Goldsberry surely don’t help. They’re not wrong but I find them misleading. Combining the shots of all the players together is like, as we usually say in Italy, adding apples with pears. As I tried to explain through the Advanced and Simplified Roles, the players have different roles on the court and each of them has favored areas and types of shooting.
Although I have been aware of this fact, I had never thought of visualizing this fact via shotcharts. So I want to thank Lorenzo Neri who gave me the idea and granted me the right to steal it. Below you will find videos in which, team by team, you can observe the differences of the shotcharts of creators and other players. In fact, comparing the shooting maps filtered in this way, it will be evident how the roles and skills of the players greatly influence the game, alternating the perception of the shotcharts that we normally find on the web. Let’s start with the NBA ones, found on the official website.
As just said, filtering the shotcharts by roles, we obtain quite interesting graphics. The graph is also heavily influenced by the skills of the players themselves. Among the creators, we can find players who love to drive to the rim or shooting threes. I then divided the videos into groups, in order to analyze the common characteristics among them. Each video shows in the first 5 seconds the shooting map of the team’s creators, while in the remaining 5 seconds you will find the shotchart of all the other players. The selected handlers are almost always backcourt players; in some cases, however, I have selected particular creators, such as Draymond Green or Jokic. Forgive me if they are not exactly handlers, but creators.
In this category, we find Portland, Golden State, Atlanta, Dallas, and teams whose creators love to take 3-point shots off the dribble. However, this generates advantages for their teammates: in fact, users of the logo-triples, an increasingly popular type of shooting, force their defenders to follow them beyond the arc. So, the PNR (or logo-PNR) turns out to be even more complicated to be guarded: the handler has more space to accelerate and finish at the rim, the roller has more space for the cut, the screener defender has to come out from the area even more than usual. So let’s look at some shotcharts:
Teams with this type of creator are more likely not to take shots from the mid-range, taking advantage of what I explained above. The skill of their players in the 3-point shot allows them to play PNR farther from the basket, thus guaranteeing the possibility for handlers to take a triple even after passing the screen. For this first block of shooting maps, the use of corner-three for the “Others” stands out above all. Triples from that position are taken in spot-up situations, a common type of shot for players who spread the court. We will find this in every block of videos, as it is practically impossible to see creators create from the corner.
In this second block, we find instead the teams in which their creators love to drive to the rim. Philadelphia and Milwaukee are the first two examples that can come to mind. These teams try to spread the court as much as possible to allow their creators to attack the basket. This also allows creators to pass the ball after the defense has collapsed around the basket. Let’s look at the graphs:
In this case, the corner threes are even more used by the “Others”: in fact, during a drive, the most comfortable pass is to the teammate in the opposite corner. This explains why corner-3s are slightly more used than the previous category. Again, mid-range shots are rarely used; slashers in fact prefer to finish in the short-range with a floater rather than attempt a mid-range shot.
We, therefore, come to observe the teams in which the creators exploit the free space between the basket and the 3-point arc. In fact, the current structure of NBA attacks leads to having all players outside the arc. At the same time, the defense is focused on not conceding 3-point shots and drive to the rim: these factors create a free space between the arc and the area. It is in that “no man’s land” that some players love to attack, also because the defense usually does not help in those zones. The mid-rangers, however, guarantee high efficiency to make that shot still valid.
Is the mid-range dead then? Absolutely not and as you can see, several teams still tend to exploit it. For example, the Clippers have Kawhi and George, two masters in mid-range shots; however, this did not prevent the Los Angeles’ team from averaging the third Offensive Rating of the regular season. This is because other players continue to take the most efficient shots, as can be seen from the “Others” shotchart.
Finally, there are teams with creators who do not have a predilection for a certain shooting area. They exploit in a more or less balanced way the various zones seen so far.
I think Denver is the most prominent example of this category: having Jokic and Murray as creators (at least until Murray has played), the creators’ shotchart shows homogeneous exploitation of the whole court. However, several teams fall into this category, proving that the skills of the individual players influence the shotcharts.
As you can easily see then, the shotcharts that we find on the web, those that show how certain shots are now very rare, are actually shooting maps strongly influenced by the shots taken by finishers and stretch players. The reality is that shots like those from the mid-range are not very profitable for these players; however, they are still valid shots for the creators.
The shotcharts of the “Others” show what the purpose of the non-creators is: generate space for their playmakers. In other words, from the second shooting maps, we can see the current spacing of the NBA teams and their main goals (3-point and rim shots).
The same can also be said for the low post: it is certainly a medium-low efficiency shooting option, but it is so if we take the overall data. If used properly, the low post can lead to defensive doubles and consequent rotations that create 3-point shooting chances. However, there are few players able to shine in that dynamic. Therefore, the sample is small compared to the global one and it seems that low post is not used anymore. Basically, if you have Embiid, you want him in the low-post situation.
And in Euroleague?
For the Euroleague, thanks to the Instat data, I had the opportunity to create my own shotcharts. They are very homemade, but I think they achieve their purpose, which is to show the shooting map differences between creators and other players for the highest European competition. In this case, however, the data are available by zones: I, therefore, took the data of each zone and calculated the shooting frequency with respect to the total number of attempts. The color scale shows this frequency.
I also had the opportunity to create the League map: so, to start, let’s look at the general differences of the League. I also report the color scale used.
The different rules and the different spacings between the two leagues create some discrepancies with the shotcharts seen above. In fact, some hot zones in the “Others” NBA shooting maps in Europe aren’t as hot. As we already know, corner triples are not used with the same frequency here in Europe: this is not because they are less efficient than NBA ones, but for a matter of space. The rectangle that is formed with the sidelines and the linear part of the 3-point arc is much narrower and shorter than the equivalent in the NBA: this leads to greater difficulty in creating and taking those shots, which determines a lower frequency.
Another difference is the frequency outside the restricted area: in the NBA, since there is the 3-second defensive rule, the chances of reaching the rim are a little higher than in Europe. Here, therefore, it is more common to stop just before the area and take a shot to avoid the defensive help of the opponent’s center. This leads to slightly higher use of those zones compared to the NBA.
Instead, for the handlers, there are no big differences with the NBA shooting maps: as happens over there, the creators tend to take above break triples and drive to the rim. This in general, let’s look at the team-by-team shooting maps.
TEAM BY TEAM SHOTCHARTS
The subdivision into these zones does not allow the evaluation in detail of the shooting freqs. The 3 + 5 zones beyond the restricted area mix different types of shots such as floaters, short-range shots, mid-range shots, and long-2. So, it is difficult to say with certainty which Euroleague teams use more certain conclusions. Focusing on the zones, it is clear that the long-2 zone is not so much used. We hardly find “rare birds”: all the teams take advantage of the most profitable areas, both with the handlers and with the “Others”; the only exception may perhaps be the Asvel, which uses the central long-2s slightly more. This is probably due to the distance from the basket with which the PNRs are played.
I know it sounds strange, but Khimki was the most modern team of this edition: looking at his shotchart, you can see how much they used the corner-3s and drive to the basket.
Unfortunately, the shotcharts available for the Euroleague do not allow a detailed analysis as done for the NBA. It remains clear that the differences in regulations and space available between the NBA and Europe create different situations in the two leagues: however, this does not change the main task of the attacks, which is to seek 3-point and rim shots. In this sense, the shooting maps of the “Others” of the NBA and Euroleague are practically identical.
As for the handlers, not being able to analyze the shooting zones in detail, we can see how the privileged ones are more or less the most valuable; in Europe, it would seem that it is rarer to come across mid-rangers.