Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Late Game Three's are Not Helpful

Between the six and seven minute mark against Utah, Mark Lyons took Arizona's first three point attempt.  It was a miss.  About 40 seconds later, Solomon Hill drained one.  Near the ten minute mark, it was Grant Jerrett's turn.  His three put the Cats up 17-12.   Three point shooting is a wonderful thing when the shots are falling.  Nothing frustrates you more, though, than many consecutive misses from behind the arc.  It makes you long for higher percentage shots.  In today's edition of the Wildcat Report, I would like to make the argument that the Cats would be better off largely abandoning the three as games go on, and the reason why is simple.  It's clear that early in games, Arizona shoots the long ball well.  Late in games, they do not.

The graph above shows the evolution of Arizona's three point shooting during the Utah game.  Notice that early on, the Cats were shooting very well.  At the end of the first half, the Cats had made 5 of 12 three's for 41.7%, a very good percentage.  By the end of the game, they were 6-22, or a not so good 27.3%.  In the second half, they went 1 for 10.  They missed their last seven.

It is certainly tempting to argue that you can't generalize from one game to the entire season, but this game serves as a microcosm of the overall trend that I pointed out a few days back.  Here is how Arizona's three-point shooting looks when games are divided into quarters:

That graph includes every three point shot taken this season, except a few from overtimes.  That's more than 520 attempts.  As games go on, the Cats' long range shooting proficiency steadily declines.  For the last ten minutes, the Cats shoot threes at under 30%.  For the first ten minutes, they are over 40%.  This is a big difference.  At the start of games, they are making around 1.3 points per shot.  In the last ten, they are under 0.9.  In an average game this year, the Cats have had 21 three point attempts. For 21 attempts, that's a difference of nine points, a difference that could win or lose many games.

What is driving this decline in shooting ability?  Well, if I had to guess, it's fatigue.  If you have spent any time shooting threes, you know that your legs are critical to the shot.  After running up and down the court for twenty or thirty minutes, it should come as no surprise that guys increasingly miss three point shots, especially by hitting the front of the rim.  If you are looking for a scapegoat , you would be hard pressed to find one.  Here are the same graphs for Arizona's most common three point shooters:

Notice that for three players (Johnson, Hill, and Jerrett), the worst game segment for shooting threes is the final quarter of the game.  For the other two (Lyons and Parrom), the final ten minutes has been their second worse time to shoot the the three.  Johnson and Jerrett have especially struggled at the ends of games.  Johnson is shooting it at 18.2% for the final ten minutes, and Jerrett is at 22.2%.

From a coaching perspective, this is not a trivial matter.  Three point shots are a high risk/high reward game, but what is interesting about this analysis is that the risk involved in shooting three's is not constant.  It becomes increasingly risky as the game goes on.  An ideal strategy would be to take more threes early in games before players get tired and to have the offense slowly shift to an interior approach as the game goes on.  It would be interesting to simulate this process to determine what the optimal mix of two and three point shots would be as a function of game time, but that's another job for another day.  As a general rule of thumb, I would advise players to only take threes toward the end of the game when: 1) it is necessary because it's the only way to make up a deficit given the amount of time remaining, or 2) they are wide open looks.

By the way, here are how our three point shots have been distributed within games:

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