When it comes to studying basketball, knowing a player’s shooting spots (where he feels comfortable, as is exhibited by his shot attempt totals in that area) on the court is incredibly helpful in breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of said player’s game. For years pundits and professionals lamented LeBron’s inability to utilize his superior strength in the post, let alone be effective there. It’s not so much that shooting out of the post will always yield positive results; it is more that a balanced game gives a team more options to score.
Knowing a player’s “sweet spots,” so to speak, is also helpful in constructing line-ups. In my most recent article on Pau’s bench role, I highlighted not only the difference between Clark and Gasol’s shooting numbers, but more specifically from where those shots were generated. Based on the numbers, Clark is no less comfortable in the mid-range than Pau, but he is much more comfortable from three point range. That makes a difference, especially when Pau’s skill set would be much better used with the bench anyways. And in recent games, Pau has seen an uptick in his offensive performances, even before Dwight Howard was injured.
In July, I wrote an article that highlighted Dr. Kirk Goldsberry (a Harvard scholar and professor at MSU) and his work on spatial analytics in the game of basketball. His work has received much more attention since July, and deservedly so. In essence, Dr. Goldsberry graphs field goal percentage in terms of frequency and efficiency. His presentation at the Sloan Sports Conference a few years ago revealed something altogether not too surprising: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and Dirk Nowitzki are the best shooters in the league.
Too often we cite field goal percentage as the end all in terms of efficiency, but Dr. Goldsberry pointed out that just because Tyson Chandler consistently shoots a high field goal percentage doesn’t mean he’s a good shooter. LeBron may dominate the paint, but his successes in the paint are offset by his weaknesses in the other areas. In essence, Bryant, Nash, Allen, and Nowitzki post the best efficiency numbers from the most places on the court. They can do anything.
Let’s focus specifically on Kobe Bryant. Why? Well, he’s a Laker and this is a Lakers website. Also, his increased efficiency this year marks a shift in shot selection that Dr. Goldsberry can help us out with.
Observe this graph (credit to Dr. Goldsberry, of course) that ranked the most efficient shooters from different spots on the floor last year:
Last year, Kobe dominated the midrange areas. Practically all of them. And he was pretty darn good at it too, posting in the top five in multiple areas. But just because Kobe’s awesome doesn’t mean it’s always the best look for the team. This year has been entirely different, something that’s not gone unnoticed by many intelligent Lakers fans.
Last year, Kobe took nearly 48% of his shots from the midrange. That’s a buttload of shots from the midrange area. His shots at the rim accounted for 14.5%. Not nearly as many, and for the Lakers, that’s a bad thing.
This year? Kobe’s taken 36% of his shots from the midrange, and has increased his shots at the rim to nearly 21%. He’s not even tops in the league anymore in terms of midrange chuckers. Even Kevin Durant, someone not particularly noted for his midrange game, shoots there more often than Kobe. There’s no reason why Kobe shouldn’t attack the rim. Statistically, he’s a better finisher there than Durant.
This has seen a boost in his offensive efficiency this year, as evidenced by his 46.4% field goal percentage. And what’s more, Kobe’s post play is increasing opportunities for his teammates. Operating in an isolation set in the midrange not only reduces Kobe’s shooting percentages, but it also reduces the opportunities for assists on high-percentage shots.
Playing Kobe out of the post not only increases Kobe’s comfort level (as evidenced by his near 70% shooting percentage at the rim), but also allows the Lakers more options for other players. Kobe’s recent string of high assist games is not only because he’s taken a more team oriented approach. It’s because he’s made a concerted effort to operate where he’s comfortable, and that leads to higher percentage shots for him and his teammates, despite recent poor offensive performances from the Lakers. For the Lakers, this is a win-win situation.
If only the defense wasn’t so bad.