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Friday, February 23, 2007

What is a Good Shot?

A couple months ago I did a post titled Is Gilbert a Gunner? That came shortly after Gilbert Arenas scored 60 points against the Lakers and Kobe Bryant questioned Arenas' shot selection. Of course, most people jumped on Bryant for being a sore loser as opposed to actually considering whether or not what Bryant said may actually be true. Looking at Arenas' stats--and watching him play--it is pretty clear that he is a gunner in both the good and bad senses of the word: he scores a lot of points, including making big shots at key moments, but he also fires away from all angles regardless of the game situation. That post prompted a lot of comments and Agent Zero's defenders argued that his good three point field goal percentage makes up for a multiude of sins. My response to that is that if your point guard shoots 6-9 on three pointers in one playoff game and 1-9 in the next that his percentage is .389 but his team will be 1-1 at best and possibly 0-2 in those contests.

The reason that I am rehashing all of this now is that TNT's Doug Collins talked about "What is a good shot?" during Thursday's Chicago-Cleveland telecast. Collins explained that when he was coaching he impressed upon his players that four factors determine whether or not a shot is a good one:

1) Time and score
2) FG % of the shooter
3) Chance to get an offensive rebound
4) Chance to defend if the shot is missed

Notice that the shooter's field goal percentage is just one of four things that Collins considers. The amount of time left in the game (and on the shot clock) and the score are important; if your team is winning, then it might be advisable to pass up even shots that are open in order to drain the clock and give the other team less of a chance to come back. If none of your teammates are in position to get an offensive rebound then if you miss the shot it is basically a turnover and an invitation for the other team to start a fastbreak. On the other hand, if the floor is balanced in such a way that no one is in position to get back and the missed shot is not rebounded by the offense then the other team will get an uncontested layup.

Of course, no player always takes good shots. Above average players, because they have the ball in their hands more than good, mediocre and bad players, take more bad shots than other players--but if the best player on your team regularly takes bad shots it can seriously limit the team's opportunity to be successful.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:40 AM



At Friday, February 23, 2007 4:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this would be a great question to explore in depth.

I wonder if you asked coaches and their players, if the answers would match?

It would be a great indicator of the player's understanding of the team/coach's philosophy or of the coach's ability to relay that info to his players.

At Friday, February 23, 2007 4:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I'm pretty sure that in many cases the answers given by players and coaches would not match. Arenas and Eddie Jordan just had a public mini-feud about how much Jordan emphasizes the importance of defense and in Cleveland LeBron James wants the Cavs to push the ball more while Coach Brown wants the team to focus on playing better defense and creating high percentage offensive opportunities that way. Talented players think that they can make any shot and score in any situation, while coaches look at the big picture and want their teams to play in a way that offers the maximum chance for success in the long run. When Tex Winter used to try to get MJ to run the triangle offense by saying that there is no "I" in "team" MJ would respond that there is an "I" in "win."

At Friday, February 23, 2007 4:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not too sure I agree with Coach Collins. Two out of the four criteria essentially boil down to "what happens if I miss" rather than "what can I do to not miss", and another one is strategy rather than tactics, having little to do with the actual play except regarding the shot clock and such.

I think all those criteria are valuable, don't get me wrong, but I also think that he should stress the "getting the ball in the net" aspect a bit more; only the first criteria deals with it, and it's plain old shooting percentage.

At Friday, February 23, 2007 4:53:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The point is that even the best shooters are going to miss half of their shots or more, so what happens after the miss is hardly trivial. If the miss comes at a time when the court is well balanced then the other team will not be able to fast break. There is a reason that no team has yet won an NBA title with the approach of just jacking up threes from all over the court.

The NBA is the highest level of the game and you can't win in the NBA by just rolling the ball on the court. There has to be some kind of a philosophy that a team adheres to offensively and defensively. Phil Jackson likes the triangle offense and has certain defensive principles that he uses. Jerry Sloan has his system, Popovich has his, etc. Just shooting the ball whenever you feel like it because you have a decent shooting percentage--the approach advocated by Gilbert Arenas and his devoted fans--is not a championship-winning philosophy. It can work on some nights and it can work against poor opposition (or even good opposition once in a while) but it does not work consistently against good opposition in the playoffs.

At Friday, February 23, 2007 6:42:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Houston Rockets champion teams were pretty close to the "shoot treys without a conscience" approach. Well, not really, but you know what I mean.

Having proper balance so that the opposition cannot just run counter time and again is crucial, and it has been so since the Lakers and Celtics in the 80s. But I still can't help but think that coaches are increasingly leaning towards doling out shots as if they cost actual money. Specially when taken by non-star players.

You still need more than .400% of your shots to go in if you want to go home with the W, but other than Jackson's triangle I don't see coaches focusing on getting his players higher percentage shots.

I think that Coach Collins' criteria are sound and valuable, but I also think that execution of the offensive play should also factor in somewhere. After all, the aim of the offensive play is still scoring.

There must be a balance between taking pot shots without a conscience and running a play based on what you'll do when it fails.

At Friday, February 23, 2007 4:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The '94 Rockets did lead the NBA in three point field goals made and attempted, as did the '95 Rockets. The difference between those teams and, say, Arenas' Wizards is that the Rockets had a premier post player (Olajuwon) who ranked third and second respectively in scoring during those seasons. He commanded double and triple teams that led to wide open three point shots, meaning that the Rockets had excellent floor balance; a missed three pointer was not going to become an easy layup for the other team because most of their players were clogged in the lane trying to stop Hakeem. When Arenas and other current gunners launch threes the other team can release one or two players on the fastbreak, grab the rebound and score. Again, the issue is not just shooting percentage or number of shots but the quality and timing of those shots, as Collins indicated.

By the way, the Rockets' rankings are a little deceptive because they did not shoot as many threes as the current league leaders shoot.

The aim of the offensive play should be to penetrate the opposing defense by posting up or driving, which results in a breakdown that leads to a high percentage shot. That shot may be by the post player, the driver or someone shooting an open three pointer after the defense has been compromised. Dribbling up the court and shooting from 27 feet without probing the defense is just a bad shot, unless there are only seconds left in the game.

At Tuesday, February 27, 2007 9:31:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

On Sunday Arenas was 4-22 vs the Timberwolves. Sometimes you have to stop shooting. Like I said in your gunner post of course he is a gunner.

At Thursday, March 01, 2007 12:00:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Tonight Arenas was 3-18.

At Thursday, March 01, 2007 1:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I think that he is shooting his way out of the MVP discussion that he never belonged in anyway...

At Thursday, March 01, 2007 3:27:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The aim of the offensive play should be to penetrate the opposing defense by posting up or driving, which results in a breakdown that leads to a high percentage shot."

I fully agree. That's what is was `[ineptly] trying to say regarding Collins' comments: I miss such a criteria in his list. To me, a good shot is above all a shot that culminates some kind of advantage the offensive has gained over the defensive - a mismatch, a player free after a screen, a first step that leaves your mind behind etc. You have an advantage and you try to press it home with the shot.

Arenas, on the other hand, seems to have the "itch": high volume shooters quite often get the itch if they don't get the ball after two or three plays, and their body language starts saying "next time the ball goes anywhere near me, I'm shooting it". No advantage over the defense, no consideration of the situation, no nothing.

At Thursday, March 01, 2007 3:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"that leaves your mind behind".

I was trying to say "man", but it looks almost better that way.

At Thursday, March 01, 2007 6:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Roger Brown had a first step that would leave people's minds behind but that is a different story...

I agree that Gilbert has what you so aptly described as the "itch." I think that he leads the league in the "itch," at least among All-Star players. Guys like Eddie House and Earl Boykins have it, too, but they are pretty much one dimensional players who are brought off of the bench to shoot and are not expected to do much of anything else. Guys who have the "itch" can be quite entertaining to watch at times--I just wouldn't vote for one for MVP, unlike the "analysts" who have been propping up Arenas' case for MVP the first half of this season. As Illest's running countdown of Arenas' recent shooting shows, I think those guys are going to be rushing to destroy any record of them touting Agent Zero as the best player in the league. Supposedly Arenas was making Butler and Jamison better, but without his two All-Star level cohorts Arenas seems quite helpless--unlike Kobe, who has been carrying an All-Star-less team for the better part of two years now. I'm sure that Arenas is not going to shoot 3-18 for the rest of the year but I'm equally sure that he is not close to being the most valuable player in the NBA, either.


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