At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, along with the many panels discussing analytics of all the sports, there was a research paper competition and presentations on each paper.
The first one was a study done on rebounding. Using SportVu’s technology, Rajiv Maheswaran, Yu-Han Chang, Aaron Henehan and Samantha Danesis tracked locations of rebounds and looked for a relationship between rebound locations, shot locations and offensive rebound rate.
The data was not terribly surprising but very interesting. In basketball, there is a common thought that the longer the shot you take, the longer the rebound and thus the better chance for an offensive rebound in some cases.
According to the study, the highest chance for offensive rebounds occurs for shots taken very close to the basket within four feet. This makes sense with there being a lot of tip-ins near the rim.
The offensive rebound rate then started to decline by almost exactly one percent every foot you moved away from the basket that a shot was taken. It continued to do this all the way to the three-point line at around 20-feet. But after you got to 20-feet, the offensive rebound rate began to rise more and more the further you went out all the way to 26-feet by the same percentage of one percent per foot.
This isn’t surprising since a lot of deep threes will result in unpredictable and rare acting rebounds. The interesting part is that the value of taking deeper shots pertaining to offensive rebound rate mirrors the same value of taking three-point field goals in terms of effective field goal percentage.
We know that taking a long two-pointer is the worst shot in basketball because it is a low percentage look and only worth two points. It makes sense to then take a three-point shot only a few feet further instead because it’s worth 50 percent more. It also now seems to make sense because not only will the shot be worth three points instead of two but you also have a significant better chance of getting the offensive rebound on three-pointers compared to long two-pointers.
We’ve seen this strategy in place in the NBA most notably by the Orlando Magic. The Magic surround Dwight Howard with a bunch of three-point shooters. They shoot as many threes as any team in the league and when they don’t, they try and throw the ball into Howard for shots in the paint. On paper, this makes more sense than anything else in basketball.
But it’s funny when we think that LeBron James is doing something smart but not taking any threes like he was doing at the beginning of the season. All he was doing was not shooting threes but leading the NBA in long two-point attempts, shooting around seven per game and making only 40 percent of them. If James shot 30 percent on three-pointers, that is a more efficient rate.
As far as I’m concerned, the greatest strength of James is his strength. He shows this off on fast breaks with his dunks but even more so with the ease with which he tosses up 30-foot shots. I have a feeling that if James completely stopped taking two-point jump shots and just backed up to the three-point line and totally focused on that, that he’d become even more efficient in a way.
It’s amazing that every team that was won titles in the last 20 years or so has had one of their best players being someone that takes a lot of bad shots. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki are the best examples of this. A championship team needs someone that can basically post-up from 17 feet and make a few dribbles and throw up a fadeaway. But this kind of makes no sense.
I am guilty of this too when I ranked the best players in the NBA at the start of the season by player-types I valued this type of player over anyone else in terms of being needed to win championships. I called for James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant to not shoot threes anymore and instead start posting up from 15-feet in and take worse shots.
If you really think about it there is one team out there that one championships playing a more efficient style of offense than the teams with Jordan and Bryant: the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs surrounded Tim Duncan (the best post player in the league at the time of his titles) with a great penetrating point guard in Tony Parker, good defenders and three-point shooters and then the epitome of efficiency Manu Ginobili.
I think Ginobili is really the key here. He is a player that can make threes at a 40 percent rate and can drive to the basket at will in an unorthodox way getting to the line and finishing as well. The numbers say a player like this is the perfect player to have.
James Harden is the next player like this. He comes from the Ginobili-mold and is blossoming into a star this year. A time will come in the playoffs this year when the Thunder need to call on Harden to step up and take over and they will need him to do it with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook standing around the three-point line spotting up.
Will the Thunder be able to make this decision when they need to? Can head coach Scott Brooks look Durant and Westbrook in the eye and tell them to give the ball to Harden and get out of the way?
Topics: Deconstructing The Rebound With Optical Tracking Data, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Michael Jordan, MIT Research Papers, MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Russell Westbrook, Tim Duncan