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Anatomy of a good shot – the shot clock

During Sunday’s telecast of the Lakers/Heat game, Jeff Van Gundy made a statement that at first seemed simple and commonsensical, yet upon further thought was very interesting. He said, “Shooting percentage is as much a function of decision making as it is of technique.” As basketball fans, I think we intuitively understand what Van Gundy is pointing out. There are good shots and there are bad shots in basketball. But what constitutes a good shot from a bad shot? Surely there are many nuances when it comes to making a determination. The specific one I want to look at today is shot selection and relative effectiveness given the amount of time left in the team’s possession.

A contested corner three-pointer – good shot or bad shot? It all depends. Since shooting percentage is indeed as much a function of decision making as it is of ability, determining whether or not a shot is a worthwhile attempt often comes down to opportunity cost.  Essentially, could a more effective shot be taken at a later point in the possession than the one currently being considered by the player? A quick example –

Biyombo rebounds a miss and outlets the ball to Kemba, who makes his way up the court and passes the ball to Mullens on the wing 18 feet from the basket with sixteen seconds remaining on the shot clock. Byron jab steps and takes a fade-away jumper.

The result of the shot is immaterial. This is an inefficient use of resources (time left in the possession). This is a bad shot. Even on a team that wants to push the pace and up the possessions, there are a multitude of quick shots that could be categorized as bad shots. If Mullens catches the ball in the post, drop steps into a right-handed jump hook? Probably a good shot. Even a relatively open corner three-pointer is more than likely a worthwhile attempt in this situation. A long-range jumper with 16 seconds left to shoot? Always a bad shot. But why? Let’s take a look at the Bobcats’ shooting percentage broken out by time remaining on the shot clock (per 82games.com).

Secs. Att. eFG% Ast Pts
0-10 40%  .517   51%  33.6 
11-15 22%  .438   58%  15.7 
16-20 22%  .418   59%  15.2 
21+ 16%  .390   57%  10.2 


As you can see, the Bobcats have recorded an Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of .517 so far this season when shooting ten or less seconds into the shot clock. So why don’t they just shoot quicker more often?!? Because remember, shooting percentage is a function of decision making. Overall, the shots they elect to take early in the possession are high expectation attempts (layups, wide-open 3-pointers, shots in the lane). You’ll also notice that their eFG% drops with each shot clock interval. This is normal for the League. Only a handful of teams shoot a higher percentage in a later shot clock interval than any that preceded it, while every team notches their best shooting numbers in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock.

So back to why Mullens’ fade-away jumper with 16 seconds remaining on the shot-clock is a bad shot. If it isn’t clear by now, unless you’re afforded a high percentage look early in the possession, it’s worth passing up the attempt for the opportunity at a better shot. A long 2-point shot is regarded as the most inefficient shot in basketball, but let’s take a look at just how inefficient it is in the context of our example. So far this season, Byron Mullens’ eFG% from 15-19 feet is a lowly .291. .291! Yes, that’s worse than his 3-point percentage (.324). Under the aforementioned set of circumstances, the “penalty” for taking this shot is a loss of between .45 and .33 points per field goal attempt, depending on whether you juxtapose the attempt versus the Bobcats’ eFG% within the first 10 seconds of the shot-clock (.517) or to their overall eFG% (.457). Just to hammer home the point even further, a long two-point attempt from Byron is even a bad shot with the shot-clock running down (.390 eFG% with four or less seconds remaining).

Sure, Byron may (and hopefully) improve his ability to shoot from this range going forward. But what you should really hope for is that he improves his decision making abilities. But Mullens is not the only culprit. I can recall a number of times Haywood has grabbed an offensive rebound, granting the Bobcats a brand new 24 second shot-clock, yet to inexplicably turn around and hoist a contested 14-footer. Every player on the roster has taken his share of bad shots.

Decision making is a result of habit, one which I’m sure Coach Dunlap is trying to instill in this young team. As the Bobcats play out the last thirty games of the season, be sure to look for progression in this area – from both individual players and on the team level. And feel free to scream at your TV whenever someone takes a bad shot.