Kentucky Basketball: Shot Type Distribution or Why Jump Shots Make Me Nervous

There is a lot of interesting information to be gleaned from play-by-play transcripts of basketball games. One example is Plus/Minus and thanks to Statsheet those numbers are available for many players for most of their games (albeit sometimes with errors). Another is a loose categorization of shot types which can help lend some insight as to where a team likes to attempt its shots.

If you peruse a typical play-by-play account, such as this one from Kentucky's recent game against Iowa St, you will find that each shot is labeled based on what kind of a attempt it was: Dunk, Layup, Tip-In, Jumper, or 3 point attempt. 3 point attempts are obvious; dunks, layups, and tip-ins are all shots that come at the rim; and jumpers are any 2 point shots that don't fall under the previous categories. They can be anything from a baseline hook shot, to a floater in the lane, to a spot up 17 footer and anything in between.

A while back jc25 alerted me to website run by Reggieball, a blogger for SBN site Burnt Orange Nation, that collects this shot information for schools that have play-by-play transcripts available (not all schools do). There is some fascinating information there about Kentucky's offense and how each player does on various shot types.

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The graph above shows the fraction of all field goal attempts for each Wildcat that come at the rim - ie are dunks, layups, or tip-ins. The blue bars show the percentage of shot attempts that are classified this way and the red bar represents the shooting percentage on these attempts relative to how often they take these kinds of shots.

So for example, just over 60% of Anthony Davis's shot attempts are layups, dunks, or tip-ins and he shoots 84% on those shots so the red bar is set so that it covers 84% of the blue bar. Basically, the more red you see, the better a player shoots. Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and Kyle Wiltjer are all very good at finishing around the rim, but none of them take very many shots this close to the basket. By contrast, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist take many of their shots close to the rim, but none are as good as Davis at finishing there. That is not unexpected since nearly everything Davis shoots at the rim is a dunk and the other players usually have a lot more layups mixed in.

Here's the same kind of graph, now for 2pt jump shots:

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Not surprisingly, there is a lot more blue here than there was on the previous graph. What perhaps is surprising is how poorly the Cats shoot. Darius Miller hits a very respectable 48% - mostly floaters and pull up jumpers, but almost everyone else is between 34 - 37%. Essentially these shots have the same chance at going in as a 3 pointer does, but they are only worth 2 points.

That's what makes me nervous. Opposing teams are going to try to take away the inside from the Cats - Vanderbilt did it in the SEC Tournament finals, Iowa St did it in the 2nd round, you can bet your bottom dollar that Indiana and any future opponents will try to do the same. The way to overcome that of course is to hit outside shots. Kentucky was able to do that brilliantly against Iowa St and won. They were not so fortunate against Vanderbilt and lost.

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(click for larger image)

You can see just how effective the Commodores and Cyclones were at closing down the inside - they were able to hold Kentucky below the 30% mark for the percentage of shots that come at the rim (the first blue and yellow columns). While the Cats were exceptionally good at finishing at the rim against Vandy - over 90% FG% (the 2nd blue column) - they just weren't able to get enough shots there to make a difference.

You can also see how much better the Cats shot against Iowa St on their two point jumpers. Led by Miller and Teague, the Cats shot close to 50% on those shots - many of them contested. That complimented superb shooting outside the arc (note that the last set of columns is the eFG% to place the shooting on the same scale as 2pt shots).

One of the reasons that Kentucky has had a consistently great offense is that they are able to get a lot of shots that have the best chance at going in. If they can continue to do so then they should be in good shape the rest of the tournament. But if opposing teams are able to take away the inside as Iowa St and Vanderbilt were then the Cats become a jump shooting team and bad luck - they kind that reared up against West Virginia 2 years ago and UConn last season - could play a much bigger role in the games.

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