The Spurs, Clippers and where to shoot from
I’m not a huge fan of advanced statistics. I appreciate their value in basketball conversations and know that they have their place, I just haven’t quite figured out my spot in the revolution. Part of it is that I don’t understand many of them and another is that I haven’t figured out how to apply many of the ones I do know. However, one of my favorite aspects of the plethora of basketball data we have at our disposal currently is the shot location information.
Shot locations help tell both micro and macro stories. You can see where a team likes to get shots over a single game or a full season. Coupled with other data, you can see that maybe the reason the Bobcats were so bad is because they took the most shots in the league per game from 16-23 feet, often thought of as the least efficient shot in basketball. It could also be because they played Byron Mullens 22 minutes per game, but I digress.
While many advanced statistics tell you a “what,” shot locations can often give you a “why.”
A lot of times, when you ask Gregg Popovich about playing another team, whether it’s stopping a particular scorer or avoiding a certain shot blocker, he gives the same type of response. Usually, it’s something along the lines of it doesn’t matter as long as we’re able to do what we want to do. To Pop and the Spurs, the game isn’t about making adjustments for every team and countering each little thing a team does, it’s about imposing your will on the game and accomplishing the things you need to do to win. Think less about what the other team is trying to do and more about what you need to do to execute your gameplan. Yes, the other team is trying to prevent you from doing your thing, that’s why you have to be especially sharp.
All of this is why shot locations have become something that I enjoy to look at. They tell the story of how a team was able to control a game and manipulate what the other team wanted to do. Chances are, if the Spurs are able to get the shots they normally take, they’re going to be in good shape. Likewise if they’re able to concede the shots that they want to give up and prevent the opponents from getting their normal looks.
Heading into the Spurs’ second round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, we see some interesting numbers that paint a picture of two very different teams. The Spurs created the most efficient offense in the league during the regular season by getting a number of shots at the rim and open 3-pointers. The Clippers, on the other hand, had the fourth most efficient offense by doing this a far different way.
With names like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Kenyon Martin, you would expect the Clippers to have a large number of shots at the rim. Then you remember that Los Angeles won the battle for Caron Butler and his jab step-jab step-jab step-pump fake-18 footer-style offense. The Clippers took 22.5 shots per game at the rim, sixth fewest in the NBA. From nine feet and in, Los Angeles totals just 32.5 shots a game. Conversely, the Spurs take over 38 shots per game inside of nine feet.
Where it will be important to watch in this series is how often the Spurs are able to get shots at the rim. The Spurs take over 25 shots per game at the rim, but the Clippers allowed the third fewest shots around the basket in the league during the regular season. This is one of those if we have our way sorts of things.
Where you can expect both teams to be similar is from behind the 3-point line. The Clippers are very similar to the Spurs in how they value the 3-point shot, especially the corner 3. Los Angeles was fifth in the league in the regular season in 3-point attempts. The Spurs were seventh. Both teams like to suck the defenses in and kick out for open 3-pointers. Defensively, the Clippers give up a lot of 3s. They gave up the 8th most attempts per game from behind the arc. It’s not like they just handed the other team 3s, but they sure give up a lot of them.
The Spurs are more interested in running shooters off the 3-point line, forcing them into the middle ground where shots are less efficient. Keep an eye on how many 3-point attempts the Clippers get in this series. If they’re shooting 20+ per game, they’ll be getting their way. Less than 20 and the Spurs are doing a good job of keeping the Clipper offense off its spots.
There are a number of options we have to look at with shot locations. We can look at where a team gets its shots in crunch time situations (Note: Chris Paul teams are usually very good crunch time teams) and we see where individual players are getting their shots in games. Shot location statistics are an important tool in evaluating games and one of my favorite things to come out of the statistical revolution. With the Spurs they help tell the story of who was able to do the things they needed to do to win the game. You can just hope that they tell the story of a Spurs win four times over the next two weeks.
All shot location statistics courtesy of Hoopdata.com