Last week, I laid out a theoretical experiment at Hardwood Paroxysm for the basketball laboratory of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Prompted by Wade’s somewhat bizarre assessment of his own jumpshot, I put some numeric value to what both he and James accomplish in the paint compared to what they accomplish from the outside. Both players pair incredibly efficient finishing at the basket with a lengthy history of shaky outside shooting, an assessment that was borne out by the stats. Last season, Wade averaged 1.295 points per shot inside the paint; James averaged 1.429. Outside the paint those numbers fell to 0.805 and 0.923 respectively. That means the trade off for both players between a jumpshot and layup is roughly half a point, an extremely significant difference. My intellectual proposal was for James and Wade to avoid that negative trade-off and simply refuse to shoot unless they had an opportunity in the paint.
In preparing for that piece I ran the same numbers for a much broader sample of players and thought it might be interesting to look at how the patterns revealed themselves for a bigger section of the league.
My calculations for points per shot, inside and outside the paint, come from shot location data courtesy of NBA.com. I included both three-pointers and free throws, using a 95%/5% split for assigning free throw credit inside and outside. For my larger sample I looked at the 90 players who attempted the most mid-range jumpshots last season. The table below shows the inside the paint PPS, outside the paint PPS and the difference for each player. I also calculated the average in each category for this group of 90 players. Values that are average or better are in green. Values that are worse than average are in red.
I acknowledged at Hardwood Paroxysm that this is somewhat of a silly comparison. Looking at a player’s points inside and outside the paint and then assigning a negative value (the difference in the chart above) for each jumpshot taken, rests on the assumption that each decision to shoot is made an a vacuum, devoid of circumstance, with equal opportunity to take any type of shot a player chooses. Of course this is almost never the case.
However, even if we don’t use these numbers is an evaluative tool for a player’s offensive decision making, they still exist and have very real import. Jose Calderon is a very accomplished outside shooter, averaging 0.989 PPS outside the paint. He also does a terrific job of finishing his limited opportunities inside the paint, averaging 1.524 PPS. His interior efficiency is largely a product of his selectiveness, but the fact remains that he averages 0.535 more points on a shot inside the paint. If the balance of his shot selection was shifted, even slightly, it would undoubtedly effect those numbers. But would it erase a half-point advantage? The Raptors clearly can’t build an offense around Calderon on the low block. But what if they were committed to running whatever action the use to get him those handful of layups, an extra two or three times a game? That difference could be a point a game in their favor, nothing to sneeze at for a team with plans to fight for a playoff spot this season.
Professional football is often referred to in hyperbole as a game of inches. Well the NBA is a game of fractions of points. As I said these scoring efficiency differentials do not represent a static reality for teams and players. However they would seem to indicate there are places where both teams and players could be doing more to subtly tilt the balance in their favor.
A few of the other oddities I noticed:
- Of the 90 players I looked at, just 13 (Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack, Kevin Love, Joe Johnson, Anthony Morrow, Jared Dudley, Marco Belinelli, Chris Paul, Jason Terry, J.J. Redick, Kyrie Irving, Ben Gordon, Klay Thompson) were above average in their PPS both inside and outside, and had a differential between the two that was better than average.
- Having a better than average difference between the two categories is not necessarily an indicator of offensive acumen. Jrue Holiday had the smallest difference between his inside and outside the paint efficiency, primarily because, at 1.014 PPS, he had the worst scoring efficiency in the sample inside the paint.
- At the other end of the spectrum, we find Carlos Boozer with the largest differential. However, Boozer’s efficiency was better than average both inside and outside the paint. That huge differential was a product of his astronomical efficiency in the paint, 1.633 PPS the highest in our sample. Like with Calderon, Boozer’s offensive contributions are firmly on the positive side of the ledger sheet. But what if the Bulls shifted the balance slightly and ran sets focused on getting him a few extra looks on the inside?
- Optimism is in short supply in Sacramento these days, and these numbers don’t do much to change the atmosphere. Tyreke Evans was one of the most overwhelmingly underwhelming presences in this analysis. He was 85th in PPS (0.633) outside the paint, and just 65th in PPS (1.186) inside the paint. That worked out to the 6th worst differential in the entire sample. He is rightly lambasted for blindly forcing bad jumpers, but if the alternative is his worse than average efficiency in the paint, it may not matter for Sacramento’s offense in the big picture.
- It’s also hard not to be struck by John Wall‘s struggles to score from the outside. At 0.632 PPS outside the paint he scraped the bottom of the barrel. The only other players with a PPS average below 0.700 from outside the paint were the aforementioned Evans and Glen Davis. I’m stating the obvious, but Wall simply can’t leap into the NBA’s top tier without somehow fixing that gaping hole in his game.