Freelance Friday is a project that lets us share our platform with the multitude of talented writers and basketball analysts who aren’t part of our regular staff of contributors. As part of that series we’re proud to present this guest post from Tim Sartori. Tim writes about the Pacers for 8points9seconds, and the Magic for MagicBasketball.Net. You can find him on twitter @Tim_NBA.
It’s no secret that jumpshots off the catch generally yield better results than those off the dribble. A shot off the catch is typically somewhat open, and comes due to prior movement which has the defense scattering. Conversely, a shot off the dribble is more likely to be contested, and – for most players – the motion of ‘pulling up’ isn’t as fluid as catching and shooting.
Last season, according to the NBA’s SportVU Player Tracking Statistics, teams shot almost five more attempts per game off the catch than they did off the dribble, which is understandable – catch-and-shoot attempts generated a league-wide average effective field-goal percentage of 51.6%, far superior to that of pull-up attempts, 40.4%.
Catch-and-shoot attempts might not always be the goal of the offense, but a good offense with screens, cutting and, in particular, ball movement, will generally open up these opportunities. Unsurprisingly, multiple teams in the top 10 of catch-and-shoot attempts converted per game are known for moving the ball offensively, including the Hawks, Spurs, and Trail Blazers.
Pull-up jumphots, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily bad for an offense, but often are forced and occur without prior ball-movement, meaning they are contested and in general, far less efficient shots. The teams that make and take the most of these aren’t exactly reflective of that team’s offense, but rather point to the fact that they have one or two particular players who take large numbers of them.
With these shots being so difference in circumstance and therefore efficiency, players often have a wide disparity in percentages between the two. To ensure a sufficient sample in identifying these players we will consider only those who attempted at least three pull up shots and three catch-and-shoot attempts per game.
The players that fit the criteria, per SportVu, are as follows, also displaying their number of attempts per game for both types of shots:
The list is basically what you’d expect — predominantly comprised of players known for their skills on the offensive end. There’s also Avery Bradley.
The following table displays the aforementioned players with other numbers in relation to the type of shot attempt – makes, attempts, but more importantly: FG%, 3PT%, and EFG%.
I subtracted these particular percentages on the ‘pull-up’ side from the typically greater ones on the ‘catch-and-shoot’ side to demonstrate which players have the biggest difference in expected value of a shot depending on whether or not it’s off the catch.
The following table displays all those that had a difference in eFG% either greater than 18%, or less than 10%:
Surprise, J.R. Smith has bad shot selection! He leads the pack by a country mile, which not only points to his ridiculous efficiency when he shoots off the catch, but to just how poor he is when he shoots off the dribble. Perhaps even more frustrating is that JR takes more pull-up attempts per game, than he does catch-and-shoot (5.2 vs 5.1 respectively — not a huge gap, but still!).
The difference between that list and one for exclusively 3pt% between the two shot attempts isn’t huge, but noticeable nonetheless. Here it is (displaying those with differences greater than 15% or less than 4%, paired with another table showing the same thing for fg% (those greater than 7%, or 0% and fewer):
On the three-point chart, J.R. is still atop, but Paul George isn’t too far behind. Deron Williams also makes a big jump, indicating that it is beyond the arc where he is really hurting his percentage. This does make sense when looking back at the early numbers, which indicate that Williams shoots a measly 25% on three-point attempts off the dribble.
Something worth noting is that Kyrie Irving sits at the bottom of the list, with a difference of over -8%. He makes 40.9% of his pull-up three-pointers – quite ridiculous – but only connects on 32.1% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from this range, not only terrible for a shooter of his calibre, but extraordinarily rare. This could be explained by the fact that during last season he was often the only remotely threatening offensive player on the floor, drawing the attention of the defense even when he didn’t have the ball. His sample size also isn’t as big as many others, taking just 2.2 three-pointers per game from behind the arc off the catch, the third lowest of the group. Regardless, it will be an interesting trend to watch next season when he’ll be playing with a couple more skilled offensive players in LeBron James and Andrew Wiggins, who will help take some of the load off his shoulders.
Gordon Hayward also sits close to the bottom of the FG% difference table, but around the middle of the pack for 3PT%, showing that it was actually three-point shots off the catch which are dragging him down. This was reflected in this image (https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BsjNUqLCAAAvMzg.png:large) tweeted out recently (by @AkbarRazaNaqvi) which displayed his inconsistency from year to year.
I don’t intend to overstate the importance of this, for there doesn’t seem to be much of a correlation between teams that take/make more catch-and-shoot opportunities and teams that win, or that have a good offensive rating, but that’s not to say it’s worthless. The difference in expected value between the two shots is huge, and are unquestionably key to a good offense.
To me, however, this speaks more to the importance of players understanding their roles and strengths. Perhaps J.R. Smith and Paul George should realize they don’t have to create all the time, and instead can help the offense more by being spot-up threats. On the other hand, maybe some isolation-heavy players shouldn’t be ridiculed for that reason if they shoot similar or even better percentages than they do off the catch, as is the case with Jamal Crawford, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and others.
Whatever the case may be, these sort of statistics give us additional insight into how and in which aspects players impact their teams, both positively and negatively. Fortunately, these types of metrics are only getting better.