Reaching for Rhythm, Playoff Edition

Recently I put together some numbers looking at the shooting habits of specific players to begin each game. The idea came from a Disciples of Clyde podcast where the seeming habit of LeBron and Kobe to attempt to shoot themselves into a rhythm on long jumpers, was discussed. Now that the playoffs have concluded, I wanted to go back and look at some of these same numbers for the postseason.

I would have really liked to include playoff numbers from multiple seasons, but I could only find shot location numbers from Hoopdata for this year’s playoff games. Below are the numbers from the 2009-2010 playoffs. As in the previous analysis, I have included the percentage of each player’s shot attempts from each location on the floor when looking at the playoffs as a whole and when looking at their 1st 4 shot attempts for each game. The players I have included are all the players from my previous analysis which participated in the playoffs this season.

The playoff numbers give us a very small sample size, but as before we can see some clear patterns. In an effort to save space I have put the individual shooting charts on a separate page. The red line representes their 1st 4 shots, the blue line represents their overall playoff shot location percentages.

Individual Playoff Shot Charts

Here you can see even more clearly the pattern of certain players attacking the basket or relying on long jumpshots to begin a game. Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony were players who clearly relied on their jumpers to start games this post-season. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Stephen Jackson appear to have made a conscious effort to begin games by scoring at the basket. Below is a table showing percentage difference for each area from the 1st 4 shots, to the rest of the game for the playoffs. A green value means the player was more likely to shoot from that area at the beginning of the game, a red value means they were less likely to shoot from that area.

Having these numbers also gives us a chance to compare them to the regular season numbers. Below are two tables comparing the playoff numbers to those from the regular season. The first table compares the overall shot location percentages from the regular season to those of the playoffs. The second table compares the percentages for the 1st 4 shots from the regular season to the 1st 4 shots from the playoffs.

A surprising result from comparing this data is how many players drastically change their shots patterns from the regular season to the playoffs. The prevailing wisdom is that defenses stiffen during the playoffs, especially on the interior. Despite that fact almost every player I looked at attempted a higher percentage of their 1st 4 shots At the Rim in the playoffs. To illustrate this better I have combined each player’s individual shots charts from the regular season and the playoffs into one.

Individual Shot Charts Regular Season and Playoffs

Kobe Bryant’s shot selection in particular caught my eye. I was surprised to see him attack the rim less and rely more heavily on his 3PT shot during the playoffs. In addition, with the Lakers going all the way to the Finals he had the largest sample size in this group. Another thing that caught my eye was how his shot selection would change from series to series. In particular the Phoenix series stood out. Below is a comparison of his shot selection from the Phoenix series compared to his shot selection for the playoffs as a whole.

I don’t think anyone would argue with the the assertion that the Phoenix series was the best round of  Kobe’s playoffs this season. Yet bucking the conventional wisdom, he relied on his long jumpshot much more in this series than at any other time in the playoffs. Remember we are not comparing to how he started games, this is his entire shot selection.

There a lot more to this subject then I have included in this analysis. Perhaps as we move towards next season we can tie in some offensive efficiency numbers to shot selection. It will be nice as well to revisit this topic at the end of next season and see what patterns emerge as we look at data across seasons.

1 Comment

Filed under NBA, Statistical Analysis

One response to “Reaching for Rhythm, Playoff Edition

  1. This is impressive work, Ian.

    If you recall Kobe’s best series being the Phoenix series, it was also because he was hitting a ridiculous percentage of his shots, including the long ones. That is what was so amazing – that he was taking these long jumpers and threes, often contested, but still hitting them, leading us to say, “they just can’t do anything with this guy.”

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