NBA HD: Analyzing Shot Location Matchups by Team

Last week, for my debut article here at Hardwood Paroxysm, I used shot location data from my mother site Hoopdata.com to see whether good shooting teams from a particular area from the floor enjoy an advantage against weaker foes in that shot location.  I found some compelling results; teams who dominate around the rim have generally shot better against weak post defenses, and vice versa.  I also discovered that a good three-point shooting team has not exhibited much of an improvement between facing a poor 3-point defense and an average defense, which was the only area to show that type of diminishing return.  So a team like the Suns, who terrorize opponents from downtown, may not see their deadly shooting talents magnify against a poor three-point defense.

My findings provided enough juice to take this a step further.  This time, I’d like to amp up the focus and look at specific teams this year.  I replicated the method I used last time and grouped the teams in tens depending on their opponent field goal percentage in each shot location.  I tossed the top ten teams into the “Good” pile, the bottom ten in the “Poor” pile and the rest in between were classified as “Average”.  You can find all this good info in the team shot location pages over at Hoopdata.  If you’ve read my work before, you know I really, really love adding colors to charts and graphs.  Each color has been formatted like a heat map to correspond with their relation to the group norm.  Looking at the FG% column, green fill illustrates a team’s excellent standing in that particular area and the opposite holds for red fill.  As it follows, yellow fill indicates a number close to the norm.  For the FGA column, the gradient ranges from yellow to burnt orange.   The colors should help you identify the extremes and digest the numbers faster.  The following chart shows how each team performs at the rim (layups, dunks, and tip-ins) when facing a good, average, and poor defense in the same area.

We’ll start with the Cavs.  They don’t miss at the rim, no matter who they face.  Led by LeBron James’ 73.8 at rim FG%, the Cavs shoot better at the rim against good defenses than 21 teams fare against poor ones. They shot 19-24 vs. the Lakers on Christmas Day.  In their two games against the 5th-ranked Pacers at rim defense, the Cavs nailed 30 of the 39 attempts at the basket.   LeBron’s finishing abilities are contagious in the sense that he pulls help defenders toward him as he drives, opening up easy buckets for his teammates cutting to the rack.

Looking elsewhere, the Raptors and Spurs are the only other two teams who finish above-average against all three groups while the Bobcats, Nets, and Bucks struggle against all defenses.  The Celtics wilt before top at rim squads but otherwise, they finish with gusto.  A lot of their problems at the rim would be solved if they never have to face the Magic.  In three of their four games against the Magic this season, the Celtics have missed 42 of their 73 chip-ins.  Granted, the Magic have the best post defense in the league but we’re talking layups here.

Do teams take more shots against poor defenses?  Not many, if at all.  On average, teams shoot 25.7 shots at the basket against good post defenses which is only one fewer than the rate against lesser defenses.   So the difference is marginal on the whole.  Interestingly enough, the Lakers don’t seem to be taking advantage against the weaker teams and actually take fewer shots at the rim in those scenarios.  Their .610 field goal percentage against poor defenses ranks 6th-worst in the NBA.  Kobe Bryant, who shoots 57.5 percent at the rim,  shares some of the blame for the Lakers woes.  He is actually a below-average finisher at the basket compared to his shooting guard positional comrades who average 59.8 percent.

Moving away from the basket, let’s take a look at how teams shoot on long twos.

Despite experiencing a sizable 22 point advantage in field goal percentage, teams don’t really look to take more long twos against poor perimeter shooting teams; teams average 0.4 fewer long twos against poor defenses than their portion against good ones.   It’s harder to distinguish between a good defense and a poor one in this range because the spread is so small.  The 10th best long two defense allows 40.2 percent whereas the 10th worst allows 38.6 percent.   Not a huge difference.

Nonetheless, some teams have really struggled against good perimeter teams.  Houston plummets from a healthy 42.2 FG% down to a league-worst 34.6 FG% as the going gets tougher.   Although, their distaste for long twos keeps that damage to a minimum; they take the second-fewest long twos in the game

It’s hard to fathom how difficult it is to shoot nearly 50 percent from this range but the Mavericks somehow manage to do it against bad perimeter defenses.  Led by long two resident Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs have shot 50 percent or better 17 times this season from that area.  The Bulls?  Three times.  And they take average eight more heaves per game.

Let’s move along to our final destination: behind the three-point line.

Just as we saw with long twos, teams don’t tend to take more threes against poor 3-point defenses.  In fact, teams on average attempt more shots beyond the arc against good defending foes (18.3) than the average (17.3) and poor (18.2) opponents, despite knocking them down at a higher rate.

The Cavs are on top of their game in the most efficient areas on the floor.  Just as they were unfazed at the rim, Cleveland shoots well from downtown no matter who they face.  Not all 3-point shooting teams weather the storm like the Cavs however.  Contrast the Cavs with the Suns, another sharpshooting team, whose three point shooting numbers fall from .428 to .379 as their opponent improves.   Count Denver in that group, too.

With a .454 field goal percentage beyond the arc against poor 3-point defenders, the Spurs effectively shoot .681 with the added one point bonus.   That’s an amazing figure considering it’s more than 100 percentage points above the rest of the league, in terms of effective field goal percentage.  If the perimeter exploitation continues, the Spurs hope to draw either the Suns or Mavericks  come playoff time as they both rank among in the bottom ten in 3-point defense.  Otherwise, the Spurs are a below-average shooting team from beyond the arc.

While teams enjoy an advantage against the different quality defenses, they don’t launch more from the perimeter depending on their opponent.  Since the likelihood of nailing a shot from downtown is much smaller than at the basket, the perimeter ranks may be more random variation than true representation of strength.

Curious about the short and mid-range numbers?  Take a look at them here and here.  I saved them for the sake of  space but they’re definitely worth a look.

Seth Carstens