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HoopData: The Wizards' problem is shot distribution

Normally, I'd make posts like these a FanShot, but I thought this was fascinating enough to discuss on its own.

One of the best up-and-coming hoops site on the Net, HoopData, did a study on the Wizards yesterday.  Their basic conclusion should be pretty self-evident to most of us - it's the offense that's struggling, not the defense.  But then they dig deeper and find that the central problem with the Wizards' offense is shot distrubution.

Namely, the Wizards are shooting a significantly higher percentage of their shots from 16-23 feet -- aka long two-pointers -- than they have in the past.  In fact, that's really the only major difference between their shot distribution in 06/07 - Gilbert Arenas' last healthy year - and this season.  If you look at the graph in the post, the Wizards are shooting a similar number of shots at the rim, from short-range and from the mid-range, but are shooting significantly fewer threes and significantly more long twos. 

Now here's the concerning part: the Wizards' shot distribution looks a lot like Detroit's shot distribution in 2007/08 under Saunders.  To quote the post:

In looking at the chart, it’s not hard to see the similarities in distribution between Saunders’ two clubs, with a heavy reliance on the long twos and little emphasis on threes (the Wizards rank 22nd in percentage of field goal attempts coming from behind the arc this season). This strategy worked well in Detroit, but Washington doesn’t have the same type of personnel, and it’s pretty obvious why they’re shooting a 47.13 eFG%, 25th in the league.

In other words, this could be part of Saunders' strategy.  Remember, he eviscerated the Wizards after shooting 29 threes in the Toronto game, when the real problem was too many jumpers in general. 

If it is part of Saunders' strategy - well, one month's data says this is the wrong personnel to do it.  As HoopData explains:

Breaking down the individual player distributions, we see prime examples of players not playing to their strengths, with the most obvious culprit unsurprisingly being Gilbert Arenas. Arenas takes 6.7 attempts per game from 16-23 feet, 5th most of any player in the league, where he shoots just 41%. On the contrary, he’s taking only 5.1 attempts from three, where he shoots an eFG% of 49.5%. For comparison, in 2006 he took 7.9 attempts from three at an eFG% of 52.7% and 6.0 attempts from 16-23 feet at en eFG% of 40%. If you want to know why the Wizards’ efficiency has plummeted and Arenas’ TS% (56.5% to 49.7%) along with it, look no farther than this.


The problem is spread throughout the roster, however, as similar trends are seen with Caron Butler, Nick Young, and Randy Foye, all of whom are noticeably more efficient from three, but take a higher volume of shots from 16-23 feet. This is four of Washington’s highest usage players shooting four-year lows in TS%, all of whom are now well below the league average. It’s probably not a coincidence that this team-wide dip in efficiency occurred right when they started shifting their shot attempts from efficient threes to inefficient long twos.

The alternative explanation, though, is that the Wizards are just exhibiting terrible shot selection.  I mean, this is a team that John Hollinger once said was the "best team in basketball" from 15-20 feet.  The mid-range strategy also worked really well for Detroit under Saunders - they were always one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league.  If the players just shoot better shots, it could work very well.

Anyway, it's an interesting issue.  Have at it, folks.  Do you think this is a strategic problem or an execution problem?