Thursday, February 28, 2008

Death of the midrange offense

This article on the Basketball Prospectus by Ken Pomeroy is essential reading for college basketball fans. He charted 4,000 games worth of field goal attempts which totaled about 340,000 shots over five seasons. There were some interesting results and it is pretty clear that the 3-point shot has had a seismic effect on the way that offense is played in college basketball. If you have to chance to watch some films of the college game before the 3-point shot was instituted you'll notice it has little resemblance to the chuck and duck style of today's game. In a counterintuitive way there was more pressure on defenses to cover more area on the floor before the 3-point shot. As Pomeroy wrote in his article many defenses are designed to force shots inside the 3-point arc but outside of ten feet from the basket.

Pomeroy notes that the accuracy of intermediate shots is lower than those shots right at the 3-point line. There may be a number of reasons for this but the coaches in the game understand there is little to gain shooting from around 15 feet when the percentages are worse than beyond the 3-point line. Part of this could be explained by the fact that every player has practiced thousands of shots over the course of their basketball career from 3-point range but probably few from 15 feet. Besides that it is simply a numbers issue. You need to hit 60% of your two point attempts to match a 3-point shooter hitting only 40% of his shots. There are many players who can shoot over 40% from 3-point range, there are nearly 20 in the ACC alone, but there are very few players who can approach 60% from the floor. There are less than a half dozen players who are shooting over 50% from the floor in the ACC. Now this calculus doesn't account for free throw shooting and a player like Tyler Hansbrough doesn't need to shoot 3-pointers to be the best scoring machine in the conference. Still, ignoring the advantages of 3-point shooting is a losing proposition in college basketball today.

Many of the finer minds in college basketball understand these concepts and hence devote their entire defensive scheme to preventing good looks from 3-point range. It is probably no coincidence that the best three teams against the 3-point shot in the ACC this year, Clemson, Duke and North Carolina, are the top three teams in the standings. It shouldn't surprise you to find out that NC State and Virginia are the two worst teams at defending the 3-point shot in the league.

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