Thursday, January 18, 2007

An interesting question

Big Ten Wonk posed a question worth pondering about the nature of "good basketball" and shot selection.
Sometimes I wonder if the Norman Dale presumption is really just a stylistic preference masquerading as an iron law of basketball. I wonder--but I don't know. First I'd need answers to two questions, one ethical and one empirical.

The ethical question: Is it OK to take a three early in the clock if it meets all the other criteria for a "good" shot (you know, open look, ability "to step into your shot," shoulders square, etc.)?

The empirical question: What would the graph look like if we plotted 3FG pct. by number of seconds remaining on the shot clock? Would accuracy really steadily increase as shot-clock time remaining decreases? Or would something more random emerge?
The responses were interesting enough:

Ethical answers basically said that you should know your personnel,

Ultimately, an uncontested three in the hands of a good shooter is a good option but it's not better than an uncontested layup or dunk in the hands of a reliable big man.


we're not passing the ball around to pass the time. We're doing it to get an open shot. When you see one, take it....
And the empirical answer was, well, inconclusive. The only real statistical crunching available was from the NBA stats machine 82games, and their nifty touches/possession/results breakdown. Big Ten Wonk sums up.

"...while there appeared to be no relationship between the mere number of touches and offensive production, there did appear to be a correlation between offense and the speed of the touches: "the more touches per second the higher the points per possession (along with FG%)"

I would respond that speeding up the passes in college is very good, if you can do it. The problem is that you have a lot of kids playing who are still learning the fundamentals, so you're going to naturally have a lot of problems with turnovers if you make this a point of emphasis. If you are a Duke or North Carolina who wants to speed up the tempo because you have better athletes than everyone else, and you can absorb the cost of the turnovers, then you do probably want to really zip the ball around. If you are, say, Indiana, it's going to be much better to make sure that your players are making the right pass rather zipping one to the Iowa bench, as Lance Stemler did in the first half.

And back to the basic question of whether it is okay to shoot a three early in the clock or not, I think that it isn't necessarily okay (and usually isn't for IU this season), but for some clubs, it really can be a good thing.

the unusual, if exemplar case:

Illinois, 2005
If you have a lot of good 3-point shooters, and aren't afraid (and in fact, may actively desire) to increase the number of possessions per game, and your post players are not terribly intimidating offensively, then the answer should always be "yes" when confronted with such an opportunity.

Also similar: Indiana, 2002

the more likely scenario:

Wisconsin, 2000

You are a decent club with reasonable balance, but have won most of your games by taking the air out of the ball, and then defending very well. You have at least one decent shooter (Jon Bryant), who you green-light your only transition opportunities for, having him spot up behind the arc. You shock #1 seed Arizona by producing points in this manner, and ride it to the Final Four.

Also similar: Michigan State 1994


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