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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Several Stars Shine During the Christmas Day Quintupleheader

A full recap of each game from the Christmas Day quintupleheader may be a bit much to digest but here are some bullet point thoughts and observations distilled from over 12 hours' worth of holiday hoops:

Game One: Milwaukee Bucks 109, New York Knicks 95

1) Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged this season as the best in the paint scorer since prime Shaquille O'Neal destroyed defenses (and rims) in the early 2000s. The Knicks are not equipped to slow down, let alone stop, Antetokounmpo's onslaught, as he finished with a game-high 30 points, a team-high 14 rebounds, plus three assists, four steals and two blocked shots. Those numbers do not much exceed his MVP-caliber season averages: 26.2 ppg (ninth in the league), 12.8 rpg (fifth in the league), 6.0 apg (a career-high), 1.4 bpg and 1.2 spg. Antetokounmpo is shooting a career-low .130 from three point range; lack of a consistent jump shot is the only weakness in his game but he is so dominant in the paint that it does not matter much. Of course, it would be ideal if he could shoot three pointers well but if he can even just develop a reliable 15-18 foot jumper he will be unstoppable.

2) The Bucks have the second best record in the Eastern Conference after finishing seventh last season. They rank first in defensive field goal percentage (.435) and first in point differential (8.4 ppg), two statistics that strongly correlate with championship contention.

3) The 9-26 Knicks have the second worst record in the NBA and have been "rebuilding" for the better part of the past two decades. Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas, Larry Brown and Phil Jackson have not been able to turn the franchise around. It has become fashionable to bash one, two or all three of those guys but considering that the problems preceded each of their tenures and then continued after each of them left it might be worth contemplating the notion that the real issue may be the one constant: owner James Dolan.

Game Two: Houston Rockets 113, Oklahoma City Thunder 109

1) James Harden scored 41 points on 15-35 (.429) field goal shooting. We used to be sagely informed that such shooting percentages and points per shot ratios were inefficient but now apparently this is considered efficient--at least when Harden does it. I doubt that a 15-35 shooting performance by Russell Westbrook will ever be viewed with favor.

2) Whenever Kobe Bryant attempted 30 or more shots in a game, ESPN and other media outlets pounded a non-stop drumbeat about how selfish Bryant is and how much better off his team would be if he shot the ball less frequently. I think that evaluating any player's effectiveness by only looking at one statistic is not intelligent but--that being said--it is odd that when James Harden shoots the ball more than 30 times none of Bryant's critics say the same things about Harden that they said about Bryant.

By the way, in case you forgot, Bryant once scored 81 points on 28-46 (.609) field goal shooting. I recall some commentators suggesting that it was never good for a player to shoot 46 shots--and I remember wondering how scoring 81 points on 46 shots could possibly be a bad thing. The "efficient" Harden would need about 70 shots to score 81 points based on how he shot against the Thunder. 

If Harden ever scores 81 points in a game I suspect that the media will petition to have him immediately inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame and retroactively named to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List.

Bryant was also widely criticized for scoring 60 points on 22-50 (.440) field goal shooting in the last game of his 20 season career. That is slightly more points per shot spread out over a larger workload that Harden's performance against the Thunder.

3) An interesting moment happened at the 7:29 mark of the second quarter. Eric Gordon jumped into Russell Westbrook while Westbrook attempted a three pointer. Gordon fouled Westbrook on the shot and did not give Westbrook room to land (which would be a foul even if Gordon had not fouled Westbrook on the shot). Westbrook missed the shot and was incensed when no foul was called. Westbrook fouled Gordon and then Westbrook got a technical foul for complaining about the non-call.

Westbrook's foul and technical foul were not smart plays. The Thunder led 35-33 before Gerald Green made the technical free throw and the Thunder later lost a close game in which every possession/shot/free throw mattered. However, it is baffling that Harden is the beneficiary of numerous phantom foul calls yet a Houston defender can get away with two obvious fouls on the same play. It is also baffling that the ESPN announcers did not believe that Gordon committed a foul on the play.

The Thunder went on a run after the bad call to take a 48-38 lead and they were up 60-52 at halftime. At that point, Westbrook had 14 points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals and a game-high +14 plus/minus number. Meanwhile, Harden had a game-high 23 points and a -5 plus/minus number.

Westbrook finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, four steals and a +6 plus/minus number even though his team lost by four points. Harden ended up with 41 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and a +4 plus/minus number.

So, the Thunder led by six points while Westbrook was on the court and trailed by 10 points when he rested, while the Rockets built a small lead during Harden's on-court time and were able to extend it by one point even when he sat.

Yes, this is just one game but this is the kind of thing I am talking about when I suggest that Harden's individual numbers are not strongly correlated with winning.

Harden is an All-Star caliber player. He is a streaky shooter and a crafty scorer.

However, the hype about him is so out of control that I don't think that it will ever get back under control. Maybe 20 years from now dispassionate historians will be able to place his career in proper context but I have given up any hope that Harden will be compared fairly and objectively with his contemporaries, let alone with all-time great players from previous eras. A whole generation of basketball fans is going to be indoctrinated with the false narrative that Harden is the best one on one scorer ever.

4) ESPN's Jalen Rose pointed out that Paul George--who has been touted as an MVP candidate--benefits a lot from playing alongside Westbrook. Rose noted that the opposing team's defense is geared first toward dealing with Westbrook, which gives George a lot of room to operate. Westbrook's lack of shooting prowess is supposed to be a great detriment and yet it is amazing how much defensive attention he draws: George is able to play one on one most of the time and other Thunder players are often wide open when Westbrook collapses the defense by driving.

Westbrook is having an MVP caliber season, averaging a triple double for the third straight season (!), but there is probably zero chance that he will win the MVP; if the Thunder finish with the best record in the West then perhaps George will be a dark horse candidate and if the Thunder fall off then neither Westbrook nor George will get much consideration.

One cautionary note about Westbrook is that he seems to lack his previous explosiveness. Don't forget that he had knee surgery just before the season began. Westbrook is able to get up in the air occasionally for spectacular blocked shots/rebounds/finishes but during the course of an entire game his athleticism seems muted compared to his previous capabilities. Hopefully, this is just a temporary setback and not a permanent change. It is amazing that he is still averaging over 10 rpg despite being somewhat limited. The lack of explosiveness is evident not only when Westbrook tries to finish in the paint but also on his jump shot. However, I don't think this explains his uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting, unless his knee is so stiff that he is not able to bend it normally during his free throw attempts (that does not appear to be the case but it is harder to determine that when watching TV as opposed to seeing a player in person).

5) ESPN's Paul Pierce called this a bad loss for the Thunder, who were not able to finish off a Houston team that has generally been inept with Chris Paul sidelined by injury. While I don't think that any losses are "good," I agree with Pierce that this is the kind of game that the Thunder need to win to establish themselves as legit contenders and separate themselves from the pack of good but not great teams.

Game Three: Boston Celtics 121, Philadelphia 76ers 114 (OT)

1) Kyrie Irving lives for the big moment and his scoring has an impact on his team's success. Irving scored 40 points on 17-33 (.515) field goal shooting and he accumulated a +19 plus/minus number in a game that his team won by just seven points. He had six of Boston's 13 overtime points--back to back three pointers that turned a 114-112 deficit into a 118-114 lead that Boston never relinquished.

2) Ben Simmons, often touted as the next Magic Johnson, had a near-triple double (11 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists). Despite his individual box score stuffing, he had a -17 plus/minus number. On the other hand, Joel Embiid caused all kinds of problems for Boston, finishing with 34 points, a game-high 16 rebounds and a +2 plus/minus number. Jimmy Butler, whose arrival via trade has boosted Philadelphia's record, had decent box score numbers (24 points, five rebounds, four assists) but did not have his usual impact; long stretches passed during which it was easy to forget that he was on the court and he had a -13 plus/minus number. Butler is the key to this team's success, though it does seem like the 76ers should give Embiid more touches in the post.

3) The Celtics have been hard to figure out so far. They blew out the 76ers on opening night, then limped to a 10-10 record before winning eight games in a row. They lost three straight before this victory over Philadelphia. On paper, the Celtics should be no worse than the second best team in the East (behind Toronto) but they are having problems figuring out how to cohesively blend all of their talent; somewhat paradoxically, they looked better last season when injuries forced them to rely on fewer players. I suspect that the Celtics will be a very tough out come playoff time, but there is a chance that they never quite get their act together consistently enough to vie for conference supremacy.

Game Four: L.A. Lakers 127, Golden State Warriors 101

1) LeBron James left Cleveland for L.A. seeking out a better supporting cast (or to make movies or to enroll his kids in a different school or to join forces with Paul George, Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard--the narrative shifts faster than I can follow). So, this game was supposed to be something of a measuring stick. James' Cavaliers faced the Warriors in the NBA Finals four times and lost three times. The seemingly ageless James is having another MVP caliber season, all the while working feverishly to ship out his brothers--I mean, teammates; no, I mean, impediments to James' plans--in order to stack the roster with one or more All-Stars.

Most star players at least pay lip service to the idea of being loyal to their teammates and wanting to go into battle with them but that is not the case with James. His teammates are often mentioned in trade rumors (rumors that are almost certainly being fueled by the actions of James and/or his business team) and James is not very sympathetic. Here is what he said about Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who apparently should be renting and not buying in L.A.: "It's a business. If you get traded, that don't mean your paycheck stops. It doesn't matter, you're still going to be in the NBA, just continue to get better and better. If you get traded it's part of the business. It happens. I mean it sucks, that's for sure, but it happens, so you just go about it." I can't imagine why Kyrie Irving did not want to play with James or why Paul George re-signed with the Thunder without even speaking to the Lakers or why Kevin Durant recently described the atmosphere around James as "toxic." ESPN cannot imagine it, either; during its entire Christmas Day coverage no ESPN commentator directly discussed James' recent comparison of NFL team owners to slave owners or James' social media post of rap lyrics containing an anti-Semitic slur. ESPN knows better than to do anything that could restrict access to James.

2) James played very well as the Lakers built a 65-50 halftime lead. He had 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists before a groin muscle pull forced him out of action at the 7:51 mark of the third quarter. The Lakers were up 71-57 at that point. The Warriors cut the margin to 78-76 in the next five minutes but then Rajon Rondo, Ivica Zubac (who started at center due to JaVale McGee's pneumonia) and several Laker reserves took over, extending the lead to 117-94 before the Warriors threw in the towel at the 3:34 mark of the fourth quarter. Rondo contributed 15 points and a game-high 10 assists but the star of the game was Zubac, who had 18 points on 9-10 field goal shooting, 11 rebounds and a gaudy +25 plus/minus number. Zubac was a seldom-used third year player until injuries/illnesses recently created an opportunity for him. In his last three games (including this one), he has shot 25-32 (.781) from the field. He is mobile and skilled offensively and he even has had some good moments defensively (which is unusual for a young big man), including two blocked shots versus the Warriors.

3) For most of the game, the Warriors looked bored and/or mentally fatigued, which is how they have looked for most of this season. Despite being on cruise control, they still have the second best record in the Western Conference. One could argue that not being mentally engaged now is going to come back to haunt them later, but one could also argue that this team is so talented that whenever they decide to play their best no one will be able to beat them. I tend to incline more toward the latter view but I would also say that the Warriors' doldrums are giving some of these young teams confidence and when young players/teams are confident that can be very important. Tiger Woods lost his dominance not only because of his off-course issues and physical maladies but also because his opponents no longer feared him. If the Warriors lose that fear factor then they may find these other teams to be more competitive and harder to beat come playoff time.

Game Five: Utah Jazz 117, Portland Trail Blazers 96

1) I picked Utah to be the second best team in the West but right now they are struggling just to get into the top eight in the standings. The biggest difference is a drastic decline defensively; last season, the Jazz ranked sixth in defensive field goal percentage and first in points allowed but so far this season they rank 19th and 13th respectively in those categories.

2) That defense returned with a vengeance versus Portland, holding the Trail Blazers to .393 field goal shooting. The Jazz routed the Trail Blazers 120-90 on Friday but in their last 10 games the Jazz are just 5-5. They started slowly last season before becoming a force to be reckoned with down the stretch but one would have hoped that they carry that momentum into this season instead of regressing. In addition to the defensive issues, the Jazz have also been hindered by Donovan Mitchell's struggles. Mitchell looked like a star in the making down the stretch last season and during the playoffs but this season he is shooting less than .410 from the field and less than .290 from three point range. He is undoubtedly the first name on the scouting reports for opposing teams, and sometimes young players need some time/tutelage to develop options/counters after teams learn how to take away their primary, preferred attack methods. Mitchell led Utah with 19 points but he shot just 8-19 from the field and only had two assists. The Jazz featured a balanced attack, with seven players scoring in double figures.

3) Portland had a great season in 2017-18 (49-33) only to lose 4-0 in the first round to the New Orleans Pelicans. They do not seem to have suffered a hangover from that setback, and they are currently in that pack of teams jockeying for the fourth through eighth seeds. They are not quite as talented as several of the other West teams, and once the standings sort out I expect them to drop to the bottom tier of the playoff teams.

Analysis of Previous Christmas Day Quintupleheaders:

Christmas Day Quintupleheader Recap (2012)

Comments and Notes About the Christmas Day Quintupleheader (2011)

Thoughts and Observations About the Christmas Day Quintupleheader (2010)

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:11 AM

31 comments

31 Comments:

At Thursday, December 27, 2018 12:03:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

"Yes, this is just one game but this is the kind of thing I am talking about when I suggest that Harden's individual numbers are not strongly correlated with winning. "

You're not wrong there but then neither are Westbrook's. His two triple double seasons have amounted in a grand total of zero second round playoff games, his Durant-era team replaced him for most of a season with Reggie Jackson without missing a beat, and his team this year, while obviously better with him, is still posting a positive margin when he sits (similar to Harden last year).

In fact, this year, Harden's teams are losing when he sits (-2 per 100) and winning when he plays (+1.6 per 100). Granted, the absence of Chris Paul probably has something to do with the "Offs" being so poor, and they may go up as the season drags on, but that's where they sit right now.

You are right that the media treats Harden very generously and I agree that they do so wrongly. But the impact--in terms of results relative to statistics-- between he and RWB is pretty similar in their respective post-Durant lives. Both are volume scorers (albeit of different flavors) who can fill up the stat sheet/drag an iffy cast to the playoffs but they both have minimal defensive impact and struggle to put up efficient numbers when 1) their perimeter shots are not falling or 2) the refs are not bailing them out at the rim. Westbrook is not the flopper that Harden is (though he's not *not* a flopper, either) but he often barrels full speed towards the rim with little hope of finishing in hopes of drawing a whistle; when that whistle doesn't come consistently, he often finishes with a sub .400 FG%.

Westbrook is better than Harden, particularly as a rebounder and passer, and this year clearly has the better supporting cast, so it will be interesting to see if he can drag his team any further than Harden has. Anything less than a conference finals loss to the Warriors has to be seen as a disappointment, given their roster/profile relative to the rest of the West this season. I personally expect them to bow out in the second round to somebody like Denver or Utah, as RWB's playoff numbers tend to be worse than his regular season numbers (41% shooter in the playoffs for his career, 39% post-KD) and George sometimes shrinks from the big moments... but if RWB is truly the Oscar Robertson-caliber legend his numbers and cheerleaders seem to suggest he is, that shouldn't be the outcome. Time will tell.

On the subject of MVP, I don't think anyone should win the MVP if they're not even clearly the best player on their own team; Paul George is OKC's leading scorer and best defender and has the most dramatic On/Offs on the team (they lose by 6.6 per 100 when he sits and win by 12.2 when he plays for a net On/Off 6 points higher than RWB's). Given that, I think it's difficult to argue for either as an MVP candidate over a guy like Giannis or Jokic or Lebron or Kawhi who is clearly the best player on a similarly (for now, at least) contending team. I also obviously would not argue for Harden.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 2:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

There is the not so little matter of Westbrook's abominable supporting cast during his first triple double season. Last season, the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony was less than helpful. The Thunder have not underperformed relative to their overall talent level during Westbrook's career, nor have they underperformed during his triple double years. You are correct that, barring injury or unanticipated developments, the expectations for the Thunder this year should be higher than they were the previous two seasons. I do not necessarily agree that "anything less than a conference finals loss to the Warriors has to be seen as a disappointment" because there are several teams in the West that have approximately the same talent level/ceiling. It remains to be seen how everything pans out.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 2:24:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I agree that the Thunder have performed to their talent level from my perspective, but then I do not consider RWB to be a Top 3-ish player the way you seem to. If I did, losing in the first round with an All-Defensive-ish center + Paul George would be a massive underperformance, Melo or no Melo.

I would take RWB over most current PGs in a vacuum (although certainly not over Curry and perhaps not over a more one-dimensional but reliable PG like Kyrie Irving) but as I've said before I believe that he raises a team's floor and lowers its ceiling, so I am skeptical of his ability to lead a team to a title as its best player.

I feel roughly the same about Harden, although I will reiterate that I think RWB is better than he is.

I will also say for the record that my estimation of either player could increase by the time their career is over, as both of their skillset weaknesses are fixable problems, as opposed to physical/talent-based limitations. In Harden's case it is primarily (IMO) an issue of defensive effort and offensive awareness (what is best for James Harden is not always best for Houston, and he does not seem to grasp that) while for RWB I would suggest that, in order, his issues are awareness/decision making (especially on defense), defensive effort, and efficiency/shot selection (particularly in playoff scenarios). I suppose you could probably group all three of those under "decision making" when it comes down to it, actually.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 4:03:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

What if OKC loses to a fully healthy GSW in the first round? The situation in the West is too fluid to say for sure what would be a "massive underperformance." I agree that if OKC gets the number one seed and loses at full strength to a "normal" eighth seed then that would be a "massive underperformance."

Westbrook's only skill set weakness is his poor three point shooting but his strengths as a driver, midrange shooter, rebounder and passer more than compensate. His shot selection is less than ideal at times but that is true of most high usage players. Among high usage players, I would rank his shot selection as average to slightly below average. A bad shot for a lesser player is not necessarily as bad of a shot for the team's best player, and I would rather have my best player take that shot than pass the ball to someone else (which LeBron James and James Harden often do to preserve their stats).

Harden's skill set weaknesses have been the same for several years, with no discernible improvement: poor defense, questionable shot selection, overdribbling, frequent disappearing acts during postseason play.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 4:25:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

If OKC loses to GSW in the first round (assuming neither team suffered a massive injury that caused them to sink in the standings) they will already have underperformed by ending up a 7 or 8 seed. Obviously any "underperform" statement comes with an injury caveat.

I disagree that RWB is a strong midrange shooter, and therefore that his selection is "average." On midrange shots, here are his percentages since Durant left town:

'19 Pull up: 36.2 (5.1 attempts)
'19 Catch and Shoot: 33.3 (0.2)

'18 PU: 39.2 (7.1)
'18 CAS: 42.1 (0.2)

'17 PU: 39.5 (7.5)
'17 CAS: 41.4 (0.4)

By comparison, here are Kyrie's (a good midrange):

'19 PU: 48.5 (4.4)
'19 CAS: 53.3 (0.5)

'18 PU: 51.9 (4.2)
'18 CAS: 44 (0.4)

'17 PU: 48.7 (5.5)
'17 CAS: 42.3 (0.4)

Those numbers are not merely not "good" they are cleanly bad. Factoring percentages in, he'd actually be better off shooting a 3, even with his crap percentages from that range.

RWB is a strong finisher, and he is pretty good from midrange on one specific shot (his elbow pull up) but he is not statistically a good midrange shooter. In fact, he's a borderline terrible one, especially on pull-ups (which is by far his most common midrange shot).

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 4:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Just to be clear, my hypothetical assumed OKC finishing first and a lethargic GSW finishing eighth before coming alive in the playoffs. That is why I added that if OKC finishes first then they should not lose to a "normal" eighth seed.

I agree that a healthy OKC should not finish eighth.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 4:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

For context, a league average NBA possession over the last three years is worth about 1.9 points. An RWB Pull Up jumper is worth about 0.75 points. It is literally less than half as reliable as an average possession from the worst offense in the league (about 1.5 points).

Midrange shots in general are not efficient unless you're Dirk or KD or Klay Thompson or whomever, but Russ' are especially bad. You'd literally get the same result (on average) having a 25% three point shooter jack a three. This is made much worse by the fact that the vast majority of Russ' midrange shots come early in the clock (he loves to shoot them in transition) when there's still time to find a good (or even average) shot.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 4:54:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

Fair enough. In the corner case of losing to a 7th or 8th seeded GSW team I agree with you that it should not be held against OKC.

Let me amend to say that a playoff loss to any Western team who isn't the Warriors (assuming relative health) should be considered a disappointment given their talent level if RWB is closer to the player you think he is than the player I think he is.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 5:16:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

1) I don't have all of the numbers in front of me, but I am pretty sure that no NBA team is averaging 1.9 points per possession, let alone that being the average mark. Average points per possession tends to be fairly stable around 1 to 1.05, much like NFL running backs tend to average about 4 yards per carry.

2) I do not feel confident saying what would or would not constitute "massive underperformance" until the season plays out. We agree that in PG's second year in the fold and with Adams as a legit third option that OKC should have elevated expectations compared to the past two seasons.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 5:19:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I misplaced a zero and got confused by my own typo. An average team gets 1.09 points per possession. Apologies. That makes RWB's midrange more than half as effective as a an "average" shot but still less that 75% as effective as one. It is still statistically identical to a 25% three point shooter jacking threes, so my larger point stands.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 5:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

For added context, a Russell Westbrook midrange shot is significantly less valuable than a pair of Shaq free throws (1.05 points on average, with added time to set your defense). It is .001% better than a 2019 Draymond Green three point attempt. It is over 25% worse than the average 2019 Chicago Bulls possession. It is about as valuable as a Dennis Rodman field goal attempt when he was on the Mavs.

I'm beating a dead horse here, I know, but only because it's so dramatically bad that I honestly don't see where you're coming from calling it a "strength."

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 5:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Last thing on this for now:

RWB takes a combined 10 of his 18.6 shots per game this year from either midrange or 3. He gets (roughly) 7.5 points on them per game. He gets the remaining points on free throws (3.4 on 5.6 attempts) and shots within 10 feet (9.3 points on 8.6). Even his *good* shots are only modestly efficient (1.08 per possession, still below league average). I just don't see how shot selection, and efficiency in general, doesn't count as a weakness for him.

I am not saying he shouldn't shoot--obviously, his team needs those points and the threat they pose as nobody else but George and Shroeder can create their own shot-- but he could obviously stand to shoot a lot better, or at least a lot smarter.

 
At Thursday, December 27, 2018 6:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Regarding Westbrook's shooting:

(1) He is not shooting particularly well this season from any range. I think that the knee surgery has a lot to do with that, and I expect his numbers to improve as the season progresses.

(2) Westbrook's pull up j from the free throw line and free throw line extended is typically an unguardable shot that he hits at a good rate. That is a good shot and it forces defenders to either contest (which opens up driving lanes) or live with the results.

(3) Westbrook is not as good of a shooter as Irving from any range, other than perhaps right at the hoop (but Kyrie is a very good finisher, albeit a less spectacular one than Westbrook).

(4) I think that the proliferation of analytics has promoted a lack of understanding of how basketball is played, how it can be played and how it should be played. With a 24 second shot clock and sophisticated NBA defenses, sometimes the best option is a pull up j early in the shot clock. The numbers may show that it did not turn out to be a high percentage shot in retrospect but if the team had held the ball and shot later in the shot clock then a contested shot may have been the result. Unless a team has a great low post player and is slowing the pace to get him the ball, early open shots are better than late contested shots. That is not to say that every pull up Westbrook j or three is good but it is incorrect to assume based solely on shooting percentage that every one of those shots is bad or even suboptimal.

All of that being said/stipulated, I agree that in general Westbrook should shoot fewer three pointers and should improve his shot selection.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

1) His midrange numbers are right in line with his career norms this season, and his two point FG% is actually above his career average and is the fifth highest of his career. The knee injury cannot be blamed for his two point numbers unless he has had a knee injury every season. That said, his three point percentage is down a full five points from last year (ironically putting him right at the number where it has about the same expected rate of return as his midrange shot) and that is probably fair to blame on the knee, at least somewhat. He's always bad from that range, but he's not usually this bad.

2) So, at the eye test level I agree with you. However, looking at the numbers there are two and only two possibilities: either he does not hit it at a good rate (which may be why defenders live with it; to paraphrase you from the other thread, sometimes you are open for a reason) or is represents a relatively small percentage of his midrange pull-ups to the extent that even if he is canning it at a high rate, his other midrange shots drag the overall percentage down to abysmal. I suspect it's probably a little of both, but either way he is a statistically miserable midrange shooter.

3) Yes, but I used Kyrie as an example of the difference between a "good" midrange shooter (plenty of people are better than Kyrie from that range even) vs. Westbrook, who is a bad one. 10% points is a lot, and is basically the difference between a very good three point shooter (40%) and Westbrook's (who we all agree is a particularly bad one) career thirty percent average.

1/2

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

4) Here I think you are correct in a general sense but mistaken in the specific context. For those shots to be "good" shots, they have to be more effective than the shots OKC would otherwise get, contested or otherwise. Here are some reasons that is demonstrably not the case:

* OKC with RWB on the bench scores at a rate of 1.06 points per 100 possessions; their average shot when he's not even on the court is nearly a third of a point more valuable than his average midrange attempt. The team is clearly capable of either finding uncontested shots or making contested shot at a high enough rate to make hunting for them more worthwhile than letting RWB clang away on pull ups.

* Paul George shoots 56.8% on drives. Schroeder shoots 50.5%. RWB shoots 50.3%. You can easily generate a drive with a pick on almost any possession, and it obviously more likely to warrant a good shot than RWB's early shot clock heaves.

* Steven Adams shoots 52.7% on his post-ups (though he only shoots on about half of them). This is also not a hard shot to generate for passer of RWB's caliber.

* OKC on average generates around 25 "Catch and Shoot" opportunities per game. These are mostly out of the half-court. Everyone on the team who plays at least 14 minutes a game except Adams and RWB make these at a higher clip than RWB makes his pull ups. These are obviously not terribly tough shots for them to find since they take them on about a quarter of their total possessions.

*NBA Stats no longer offers specific Pick and Roll data but it's the most common play in basketball and I'm pretty confident has a better ROI, by a wide margin, than 0.75 points for possession.

For an RWB early-clock pull up to be the right shot, statistically, OKC would have to otherwise but so offensively inept as to make the Bulls look like the Globe Trotters. That isn't true. OKC is nearly exactly league average in offensive efficiency this year, and that's with RWB blowing a full 10% of their possessions on terrible shots; on the 94 possessions per game where he doesn't shoot a three or a midrange shot, OKC gets an average of 1.13 points per possession (the Warriors score 1.14, for reference).

So, when they take any shot but an RWB three or midrange, they are among the best offenses in the league. When he's not on the court at all, they're a bad offense (1.06 points per possession) but not an abominable one.

That all being the case, it's pretty ludicrous to suggest that those pull up shots are "better" than looking for another shot later int he clock, even if it occasionally might lead to a more contested shot; on the ninety percent of their possessions where they do hunt for another shot, it works out way better than when they don't. Plus RWB makes them at such a low rate they may as well be contested anyway.

He is statistically, objectively, and demonstrably a bad midrange shooter. Has been his whole career. It is nice that his elbow jumper goes in sometimes but either it does not go in enough, or he needs to stop shooting any midrange shot other than that one; either way, in the meantime, he's hurting his team from midrange.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Addendum:

If Irving is too good of an example of a "good" midrange shooter, let's look at Harden instead. It has long been the book on Harden is that the best way to guard him is to force him into midrange shots because 1) he makes them at a low clip and 2) he usually can't flop on them.

Harden pull-up midrange numbers (RWB numbers in parenthesis for convenience).

2019: 39.4/1.1 FGA(36.2/5.1)
2018: 45.1/2.1 FGA(39.2/7.1)
2017: 43.1/2.5 FGA(39.5/7.5)
2016: 43.9/4.3 FGA(43.1/5.1)
2015: 43.2/3.7 FGA(40.5/7.7)
2014: 44.5/3.2 FGA(43.1/5.3)

Harden's a slightly better midrange shooter in general than RWB (RWB's best midrange season would be his second worst) but he's still not a good one (his midrange shots are generally worth around .86 points per possession) but the difference is that Harden knows that and tries to avoid them (though good defenses force him into them). He's never taken more than 4.3 per game while RWB has never taken less than 5.1.

I bring this up because I think if you're shooting worse from midrange than a guy where the opposing book on him is literally to get him to shoot from midrange, you're not a good midrange shooter. And if you're shooting from there 2-3 times (or, this season, 5 times) as often as he is, your shot selection sucks too.

One more thing on the "maybe it's better than the contested shot they'd get instead" argument: he's on a team with Paul George. Even fi they can't manufacture something good, Paul George has an EFG% of 51% when he takes 2 dribbles, 47.1% when he takes 3-6 dribbles, and 50.7% when he's taken 7+. Even if you remove the possibility of finding a "good" shot out of the offense (say, one of those shots RWB gets all those assists on), just giving George the ball with 12-14 left on the clock and getting out of his way is an objectively better option than jacking up a bad early midrange shot with 20 seconds to go.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 12:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

You may have a point but I disagree with some of your stated and/or implied assumptions. For instance, players who can score at a certain rate in limited minutes against reserves probably could not sustain that rate in extended minutes against starters. So, a Westbrook pullup early in the shot clock at a particular time and circumstance may in fact be the best option or at least a reaonably good one.

As for PG, maybe he could handle an increased workload without a corresponding decrease in efficiency but maybe not.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 1:15:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

David-

For it to be a "reasonably good option" those other players would need to see their efficiency drop about 20-30% from one or two extra shots. Strikes me as improbable.

The hypothetical increase in workload we're talking about for PG here is probably 2-3 shots per game. I am not saying that RWB should never shoot midrange shots or three (though he might not need to shoot them early in the clock) but he certainly shouldn't shoot them at the rate he is. If he were to redistribute five of those ten attempts per game-- let's two to Paul George isos, one to Steven Adams post ups, and the other two to his own post-ups/driving attempts/pick and rolls, it would likely change the team from an average offensive unit to a very good one, and it would not increase anyone's workload by a terribly significant margin (even if those two extra shots came with a massive 10% FG% reduction for George they would still be scoring more points than if Russ was shooting them).

Moreover, the initial contention I took issue with was not that RWB has good selection (you and I agree it should be better, we just differ on how much) but the assertion that midrange shooting is a strength of his, when in fact he is perhaps the worst midrange shooter of anyone in the league who scores at least 20 PPG (I haven't done the legwork to verify that-- he may be better than, say, Giannis--but I would be shocked, based on what I have looked at, if he were not in the bottom 5). Even if we allow the idea that his midrange shots are better than the other shots they would hypothetically get on those possessions*, they are still not *good* shots and are worse than the average shot taken by the league's worst offense.

Also, suggesting that Westbrook-- one of the best passers in the league-- could not help his team generate an average-ish field goal attempt if he wanted to is kind of an insult to him.

*Although the data loudly suggests otherwise unless you think a team of even average NBA players would struggle to consistently generate 40% EFG% opportunities; the Knicks (the league's least efficient team) have an EFG of 49%. The gap between the "RWB doesn't take the early jumper" Thunder and the last place Knicks would then be significantly larger than the gap between the Knicks and the first place Bucks so I'm gonna go ahead and suggest that argument doesn't exactly hold water.

TL;DR If Russell Westbrook is a good midrange shooter, then so is Ricky Rubio, James Harden, and basically everyone in the league except Ben Simmons.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 1:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"So, a Westbrook pullup early in the shot clock at a particular time and circumstance may in fact be the best option or at least a reaonably good one. "

Also, fundamentally, I disagree that a sub-40% success rate two-point shot with a low chance of generating fouls is ever a 'reasonably good option' with more than three or four seconds left on the shot clock. It is quite literally the worst shot in basketball, and basically every modern defense is constructed to encourage taking it.

Perhaps there are corner case exceptions-- if they are down multiple scores in a game with very little time left and Paul George has the flu-- but we both know that is not when he takes the majority of his bad shots.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 2:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

This is the comment that I wrote about Westbrook that has apparently inspired you to make so many comments about his shooting:

"Westbrook's only skill set weakness is his poor three point shooting but his strengths as a driver, midrange shooter, rebounder and passer more than compensate. His shot selection is less than ideal at times but that is true of most high usage players. Among high usage players, I would rank his shot selection as average to slightly below average."

I listed several strengths, not just one, and I did not say that midrange shooting is his greatest strength or that he is the best midrange shooter in the league. I really feel like you are constructing a straw man argument here instead of reading what I actually wrote.

Also, I described Westbrook's shot selection as "average to slightly below average" among high usage players. You keep pounding away at me as if I said that Westbrook is the greatest shooter ever with perfect shot selection, when all I have said (and then clarified in a subsequent comment) is that Westbrook has a good, unguardable shot in the free throw line/free throw line extended area but that his overall shot selection is not great.

I am not sure where you found the numbers you cited but I looked at Basketball Reference.com for FG% in the 16 foot to 3 pointer range. That is the range that I was thinking of when I wrote my original comment (basically, the area between the free throw line and the top of the key). Westbrook likes to stop just above the free throw line/free throw line extended and shoot jumpers. The distance stats have been tracked by Basketball Reference.com since the 2000-01 season. Here are career field goal percentages in that range for 18 players:

1) Stephen Curry .465
2) Chris Paul .457
3) Kyrie Irving .450
4) Ray Allen .436
5) Damian Lillard .435
6) Kevin Durant .433
7) LaMarcus Aldridge .421
8) Richard Hamilton .415
9) Kobe Bryant .402
10) Paul George .401
11) Bradley Beal .394
12) LeBron James .387
13) Dwyane Wade .386
14) Russell Westbrook .385
15) James Harden .379
16) DeMar DeRozan .383
17) Giannis Antetokounmpo .352
18) Ben Simmons .343

I chose a mixture of players who have a reputation as great midrange shooters, high usage players who are not necessarily considered great shooters and two players who are justifiably considered poor shooters.

Westbrook is nestled right among Beal, DeRozan, Harden, James and Wade, just a little behind Paul George.

Westbrook is not nearly as terrible from this range as you are trying to suggest. This season he is shooting a career-low .340 from this range and I attribute that to the after effects of the knee surgery, but over the course of his career his midrange shooting is quite solid.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 3:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

I am not "pounding" you nor am I creating a straw man; I am disagreeing that his midrange shooting is in any way one of his "strengths". You were claiming he had only one skillset weakness and in so-doing you incorrectly listed another of his weaknesses as a strength.

The stats I was citing are from the 10 foot to 3 point range (via NBA.stats.com), so perhaps that explains the disparity. Having said that, DeRozan and Harden are both famously inefficient midrange shooters--although DeRozan especially can get hot from that range on a given night and kill a team--so I am not sure that being at their level is much to boast about.

If we are going to define midrange by the 16-24 feet rather than 10-24 Westbrook still ranks as a below-average midrange shooter, although it does move him fractionally ahead of Harden (whereas he trails in the wider range).

There are some names on that list who surprise me with their placement--I would have thought Wade's would be a bit higher, and Lebron's, but looking at their season-by-season numbers it seems my memory holds more tightly to their higher-end seasons (.445 and .429 respectively) but none of that suggests that Westbrook is actually good from that range. He ranks right alongside the guys who opposing coaches regularly dare to shoot midrange shots. I would also pausit- though can't prove-- that Wade/Lebron/DeRozan/Kobe specifically took a much higher percentage of their midrange shots later in the clock against tough, contesting coverage, while RWB shoots most of his in semi-transition and is usually relatively open; in theory he should then be shooting a much higher percentage than them. That is an eye-test based observation and I could be mistaken but I would be surprised to find out if I were; I don't see RWB utilizing a ton of turnarounds or jab steps on the wing the way those players do.

You are right that in the range you prefer, RWB is shooting a career low this season. It is an entire half a percentage point worse than in his MVP season, so I would argue that at worse the knee injury transformed him from a poor midrange shooter to an awful one.

The bottom line is that in your zeal to build up Westbrook, you suggested he was a good midrange shooter; having watched him for years, I knew that was not the case and therefore objected to the analysis (and whether or not he is a good midrange shooter changes the algebra on the quality of his shot selection, so the conversation expanded from there).

I continue to disagree that shooting .385 from anywhere but three point range is "quite solid." It is bad shooting. The other (good) players on your list who shoot in that range are either also taking questionable shots (Beal) or are taking tougher, later clock shots (Kobe, Wade). Even on your own list RWB is closer to Ben Simmons (perhaps the worst shooting guard in the league) than Kyrie Irving.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 4:13:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

In a comment thread about an article that discussed five games, you have posted more than 10 comments trying to prove something about Westbrook's shooting. I define that as "pounding." The "straw man" is that you are misstating what I wrote as fodder to make the point that you want to make. I already know that you don't rank Westbrook as highly as I do. That is OK. It is not necessary to make over 10 comments about his shooting to emphasize the point.

The range that I specified is not "the range I prefer." The range I specified is midrange or at least as close to it as one can find within Basketball Reference's shot distance data. The "range I prefer" would probably be 15-18 feet but that is not the way they keep their data. I don't know where you found a definition of midrange that includes 3-10 feet.

I suspect that almost any coach or scout would tell you that Westbrook's shot in the 15-18 foot area around the free throw line is (1) unguardable and (2) a strength. When he stops on a dime and elevates, no one is going to block or even meaningfully contest that shot. He either makes it or he doesn't. It is a good weapon for a player who is not a great three point shooter; it is a change of pace to counter defenses that are waiting for him to go all the way to the hoop.

It is OK if you disagree, but the numbers you cited did not address the point that I made. I was not talking about 3-10 feet, which is not midrange but rather in the paint. So, part of the problem is a misinterpretation by you, but this seems almost deliberate, because no matter how much I clarify my original comment you just keep shouting "But Westbrook is a bad shooter!"

Here is one example of the tendentious nature of your comments in this thread: You state that Westbrook's shooting in the 16 foot-three point range is "an entire half a percentage point worse than in his MVP season, so I would argue that at worse the knee injury transformed him from a poor midrange shooter to an awful one." I never said that he shot great from that range during his MVP season. In fact, during that season he shot several points below his career norm from that range. Again, that is a straw man argument and that type of argument is never going to gain traction with me. That kind of tendentious argument makes me question/rethink anything that you have said, because it is an attempt to deceive the reader.

It is news to me that DeRozan is not an effective midrange shooter. Shooting .385 or so from that range is not terrible against NBA defenses. Yes, there are shooters who shoot even better from that range, but I never said that Westbrook is the best midrange shooter and I specifically said that his shot selection is average at best for a high usage player.

Regarding the portion of your comments that relate to "eye test," with all due respect I will trust/rely on my "eye test" observations about Westbrook and others.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 4:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

First, a clarification: the range I am citing is from 10 feet to 3 pt range, not from 10 feet to 3 feet. I understand how the way I phrased it could been confusing. Obviously 3-10 feet would not be midrange.

Second, if you do not want me to post you need only to ask. It's your site, after all.

Third, I am not attempting to deceive anyone. I, like you, occasionally employ sarcasm to emphasize a point or highlight a trivial difference. The comment you labeled as tendentious is merely meant to point out that his poor performance from that range is not unique to this injury-impaired season. I don't consider that misleading, I consider it accurate.

Fourth, you forbid ad hominem attacks here but you're certainly happy to imply that I am dishonest/deliberately misleading.

Fifth, you may find DeRozan to be an effective midrange shooter but the consensus as I've heard it--and I agree- is that he has always been that he is overly reliant on inefficient long twos. When he is hitting them he is unguardable but he does not hit them consistently enough. What he is better than most it is manufacturing something from nothing late in the clock against tight defense; I find .385 in that scenario much more palatable than I do when someone is shooting relatively uncontested at the start of the position.

Sixth I have pointedly used your own phrasing of his midrange shooting as a "strength," so I don't think I'm misstating what you wrote. I have not suggested that you said that he was the best midrange shooter, or even a great one, but that you suggested he was a good one. I do not know another way to interpret your original comment.

Seventh, if you are amending your contention to the idea that his specific pull-up shot from 15-18 feet is a good shot, that is difficult to specifically investigate statistically and I would at least agree that it is his best midrange shot. However, his overall midrange performance is still below average and based on the eye-test I think he takes more of that shot than any other in that range, so while it may well be unguardable it is not particularly accurate. You are right that he "either makes it or he doesn't" but the problem is that he mostly doesn't and his team would be better off with almost any other shot. I agree that it has some value as a change of pace option to keep defenses honest-- I earlier suggested halving his "bad" shot attempts, not abandoning them-- but that still does not make it a good "shot," at best, it's a tactic.

Eighth, I disagree that it is a good shot against NBA defenses early in the clock, at least with the frequency he takes it. You feel differently and that is, as you put it, ok, but it still does not make him a good midrange shooter.

Ninth, regarding the eye-test, does that comment mean you disagree with my observation that more of Lebron/Wade/Kobe's midrange attempts come in later clock/isolation type situations vs. Westbrook's? This, at least, was something I thought we would agree on, but of course I could be wrong.

Ultimately, I took (and take) exception to implying mid range shooting is a "strength" of one of the worst midrange shooters in the league. I used factual data, eye-test, and the best apples-to-apples comparisons I could find to express that.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 10:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Thank you for clarifying regarding what you meant by midrange.

Westbrook is historically a .385 shooter from the 16-23 foot range. We can agree to disagree about how good that is or what it means but this partial season and his MVP campaign are aberrations in that regard.

I apologize for the tone of my previous comment.

Also, in retrospect I perhaps should not have termed midrange shooting a strength or at least not one on par with his skills as a driver, rebounder and passer.

 
At Friday, December 28, 2018 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

No worries, we're good.

Yes, we may disagree on how good or bad that .385 number is, but partly I think because it (like the numbers I was using initially) covers an incomplete sampling of midrange shots and probably shouldn't be the basis of the debate anyhow (nor should the similarly limited numbers I started with; mea culpa). In a related story--and I wish I'd discovered this fifteen comments ago--it turns out a different part of the NBA stats website has a straight-up midrange category, which is more "official" than either of the sources we were using previously:

https://stats.nba.com/players/shooting/?Season=2018-19&SeasonType=Regular%20Season&DistanceRange=By%20Zone&sort=Mid-Range%20FG%20PCT&dir=1&CF=Mid-Range%20FGA*GE*2

It hurts RWB's numbers relative to that .385 figure but we can infer from these numbers (to your point) that he is actually much better from the 16-23 foot range than he is from the 10-16 range (or 8-16, or whatever; they don't stipulate what the distance cutoff is). In retrospect that distinction may also have been part of our disagreement, as regardless of whether or not .385 is good overall it is much better relative to his peers than the numbers I was looking at, so we were coming at it from not only different philosophical angles but also straight up different sets of numbers.

Given those numbers I do continue to believe that he is a poor mid range shooter overall (18th of 20 among players who shoot at least 4 per game,18th of 24 last season, somewhere around the 25th percentile among players who shoot at least 2) but I think we're both getting tired of arguing at this point, and my primary complaint no longer stands as of your last comment so at this point it probably isn't worth the keystrokes to keep harping on it.

Thanks for talking it out, sorry if it got frustrating.

 
At Saturday, December 29, 2018 1:00:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Yes, I think that we were approaching this with different number sets as well as a different philosophical approach.

I like the data available at the link that you shared. How does one change the +/= FGA filter? I see how to manipulate the other filters but I don't see how to change that one, other than just removing it. I wanted to run the data for 15-19 feet among players with a larger number of attempts than the 2 FGA/gm filter in the link that you sent. Westbrook attempts 4.3 FGA/g from that range according to the chart and I would be interested to compare him to other players in the 4 FGA/g and up range. I think that his efficiency/shot selection should be compared to high usage players, and not to players who just attempt a couple shots a game from that range, because those players are likely in completely different roles.

Interesting discussion, sorry about any role I played in making it more contentious than necessary.

 
At Saturday, December 29, 2018 1:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I just found the way to change it: click Advanced filters and then adjust the value. The site seems a little wonky, in that if you keep changing filters the searches come back with no results even within parameters that clearly should have results.

 
At Saturday, December 29, 2018 1:58:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

David-

Yeah, it's a little fussy. I think it's partly a poor programming issue and partly a browser issue; I tend to get better results with Chrome than with Safari, whatever that's worth.

I agree about the usage, which is why I ran it for both minimum of 2 attempts and minimum of 4; on 4+ attempts, RWB is 18th of 20 qualifying players this year, and was 18th of 24 last season.

I'll see if I can figure out how to make it spit out the specific range you're talking about as opposed to just flat "midrange," as I'm curious about that as well.

 
At Saturday, December 29, 2018 2:19:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

Got it. This year RWB shoots exactly 2 attempts from that range, so I used that as the filter. His FG% on those shots this season is 28%, which places him 33rd of 35 qualifying players.

I'm gonna run the last few seasons as well to see if we can attribute that to the knee injury, as it feels low even to me.

Last season he attempted 4 per game from that range and shot 39.3% which is a lot more in line with what I'd expect. Among players with at least 2 attempts, that places him 31st of 37. If we up the threshold to 4 attempts, he ranks 1st out of 1, as no one else took that many that season. Adjusting to 3 attempts to try and get him some competition, he ranks 10th of 12.

The season before, he shot 36.1% on 4.7 attempts, ranking him 51st of 58 among players with at least two attempts. Among players with at least 4 attempts , he ranks 10th of 10.

The year before that (2016), in his last year with Durant, he did not meet the 4 attempts threshold (though 12 other guys did, making last season something of an interesting aberration with only one player meeting that number). Among players with 2 attempts (Russ took only 2.2 per game that year with Durant eating up more offense) Westbrook shot 40.9%, good for 47th of 73 players, though it's worth noting with that threshold you get a few garbagey outliers throwing the rankings off (i.e., Dahntay Jones technically shooting 100% from that range in his single appearance) so he's probably two or three spots higher or lower among players that actually, you know, played.

2015 he was back up at 4.4 attempts and shot 37.5 on them, ranking 63rd of 83 on at least 2 attempts and 15th of 15 on at least 4 attempts.

So, I think we can conclude a couple of things from this data:

*This year aside, Russ generally shoots better on them the less of them he takes (and most players would).

* He tends to hover around the mid to high 30s, this season exempted. I was correct that he's one of the worst among high-usage players on those shots, but he generally ranks a bit better among the wider sample size of >2 attempts (although still sub-par).

*You are absolutely right about his knee injury, as he's almost ten percent below his usual performance in the 15-19 range.

*The eye-test is probably a little bit of a liar for both of us, as I think we both assumed that range would be the best of his midrange performance based on those pull-ups, but it's not meaningfully higher and in some cases I think is even lower than his all-up midrange scores.

 
At Saturday, December 29, 2018 2:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick Feldman said...

While I've got these open, I'm going to look at Derozan and Harden as well, since they've come up in this thread.

2015:
DD: 5.3 attempts, 33.9% (77/83 >2FGA, 15/15 >4FGA)
JH: 2.1 attempts, 36% (70/83 >2FGA)

2016:
DD: 4.3 attempts, 38.9% (52/73 >2FGA, 8/12 >4FGA)
JH: 2.5 attempts, 41.5% (44/73 > 2FGA)

2017
DD: 6.1(!) attempts, 41.2% (37/58> 2FGA, 7/10 >4FGA, league leader in attempts by a full 1.4 per game)
JH: 1.1 attempts, 42.2%

2018
DD:3.2 attempts, 43.7% (17/37 >2 FGA)
JH: 0.9 attempts, 43.3%

2019:
DD: 4.4 attempts, 42.1% (20/34 >2 FGA, 3/3 >4 FGA)
JH:0.3(!!) attempts, 40%. Doesn't qualify for any leaderboards, obviously, but man has he stopped taking those.


Observations/Conclusions:

*Top guys in a given year hover around 50%. Guys I think of as "good" are rarely much below 45%. I'd argue anything below 43% or so is broad strokes sub-optimal, but tastes vary and context matters.

*Harden's not great from that range, but he knows it and works pretty hard to avoid shooting them. I don't like his game, but credit where its due for minimizing a weakness.

*DeRozan has improved pretty dramatically over the last five years, in terms of percentages. He was literally league worst five years ago. He's still not elite by any stretch, but he's average to slightly below average for his shot volume, and he at least keeps it over 40% (and, unlike some of the guys on these lists, takes a lot of tough, covered shots from that range).

 
At Saturday, December 29, 2018 3:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

All of that data is very interesting. Thank you for looking it up and posting it. In general, I agree with your conclusions. I would have thought that Westbrook shoots a little better/ranks a little higher from those ranges (other than this partial season, when I think it is evident that the knee has affected his shot).

 

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