Shot Selection: Aldridge, DeRozan, and Shooting more Threes

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Project Spurs illustration/Courtesy: Spurs

0.90 and 0.88

Those two sets of numbers represent the points per shot San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge and guard DeMar DeRozan got on average from mid-range during each of their best shooting seasons.

That’s right, even during their best shooting season from mid-range, both players still weren’t getting at least one point per shot on the average mid-range shot they put up.

After recently reading the book ‘Sprawlball’ by Kirk Goldsberry, my mindset regarding shot selection has changed to look through the points per shot lens. There’s a reason the NBA is shifting toward trying to get more layups, threes, and free throws – those shots on average are all worth more than one point per shot.

As Goldsberry’s research showed, that’s not the case for the mid-range, which is usually worth less than 0.85 points per shot.

Using the percentages from CleaningTheGlass.com, Aldridge shot 45% this past season from the ‘all mid-range’ area, which matched his best shooting season from that range. In his first season with the Spurs, DeRozan struggled a bit from there, where he shot 42% from ‘all mid-range,’ which equated to 0.84 points per shot.

In his season ending press conference, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich mentioned that he’d like to see both of the Spurs’ go-to scorers increase their attempts from three next season.

“I think that’s something that we really have to think about and discuss, because that’s what the league is all about now,” said Popovich of DeRozan increasing his three-point attempts. “As I’ve said, at the end of the game, the first thing you look at is 3-point shooting and it covers up a whole lot of warts.”

As for Aldridge, Popovich said, “It’s not his favorite thing, but I think we’ll see him shoots more threes.” Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express News also recently wrote an excellent column on why Aldridge should add the three ball to his game if he hopes to get All-NBA recognition again.

Popovich acknowledge that while he does want to see an increase from three from DeRozan and Aldridge, he knows it’s not realistic to expect them to become high volume 3-point shooters by next season. “You have to go with what you have, and all our players aren’t 3-point shooters, and that’s just the way it is, and you’re not going to make them into Steph Curry, just by practicing over the summer.”

So, using some of their past seasons data, I did want to see what the numbers said about what Aldridge and DeRozan’s points per shot would look like if they did take more threes.

Let’s first begin with Aldridge. I used three of his seasons where he attempted at minimum 50 threes. Those were the 2014-15, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons with the Spurs. Here’s what Aldridge’s total looked like and his points per shot compared to his best mid-range shooting season.

Aldridge

SampleMade/AttemptedAccuracyPoints Per Shot
Three Year Sample from 387/25334.4%1.03
Best Mid-Range 2018-19389/86545%0.90

 

As you can see, when you put together Aldridge’s three seasons where he took at minimum 50 threes, he’s actually a decent 3-point shooter – just below league average. By him just stepping back a few feet on those pick-and-pop or spot-up jumpers, he’s giving himself the edge with the math and getting on average over a point per shot. Now, while it’s not realistic to expect Aldridge to completely abandon the mid-range, you can see that if he’s more willing to pop to the 3-point line on his picks, or spot-up when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, he has a chance to make his long jump shots worth more just by taking the shot that’s a few feet further than his preferred long 2s.

Now let’s look ahead to DeRozan. DeRozan has actually had two seasons where he attempted over 200 threes, the 2013-14 season and his last Toronto season, the 2017-18 season. Using these two samples compared to his best mid-range shooting season, let’s see what the numbers say.

DeRozan

SampleMade/AttemptedAccuracyPoints Per Shot
Two Year Sample from 3153/49730.8%0.92
Best Mid-Range 2016-17493/112344%0.88

 

While the percentages from three aren’t as kind to DeRozan, you do see that him shooting 31% from three on average is still worth more per shot than his best mid-range shooting season. Like Aldridge, you wouldn’t expect DeRozan to completely abandon his mid-range game, but he could start to spot-up more often from three when he finds himself wide open off the ball. Perhaps on a high pick-and-roll, he could experiment with taking a few threes when an opponent goes under a screen as opposed to a 15-20-footer.

While these numbers wouldn’t directly translate to real game scenarios, they do at least paint a picture of why Popovich mentioned that he’d like to see his two go-to scorers attempt more threes next season. In the regular season, the Spurs as a team averaged 21.6 points from mid-range, where those shots were worth 0.87 points per shot. In the playoffs, the Spurs got 19.4 points from the mid-range and those shots were only worth 0.81 point per shot. Right now, in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are averaging just 12.7 points from mid-range while the Toronto Raptors are averaging 10 points from mid-range. Both teams are averaging less than 0.86 points per shot in these Finals and as evidenced by the games, they rarely take a mid-range look as their first shot attempt in a possession. The league is continuing to change and for now, the math just says the long twos aren’t worth as much these days compared to years ago.

While Popovich has been vocal expressing his opinion of how he doesn’t like where the league is headed with regards to the 3-ball, he understands that it’s important for success today.

“It’s not very interesting, not much fun, but that’s the way the league is.”

Data collected from NBA.com/stats and CleaningTheGlass.com

 

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