Dictating On Defense II: Potential Playoff Opponents

Darius Soriano —  April 4, 2011

Matt Scribbins provides insight and analysis throughout ESPN’s TrueHoop Network, including at HoopData and Magic Basketball. He graduated with distinction from Iowa State University last spring, where he was also a member of the Cyclone football team. In the fall, Matt is part of Football Outsiders’ Game Charting Project. You can also find him on twitter: @mattscribbins

Last week, I broke down the Lakers’ tendency since the All-Star break to entice opponents into low percentage shots. With the playoffs magnificently close, here is a look at how the Lakers’ main intra-conference foes shoot from various locations. 

Your Attention Please

Some offenses intentionally shoot long jumpers to help their transition defense.

Some defenses intentionally leave players open from long range (e.g., Rajon Rondo). On the other hand, Kevin Durant may have a hand in his face at all times, and research has shown shooting percentage decreases with tight defense.

Red cells in the charts indicate a player shoots below league average in the specified zone. Players who only attempt shots near the rim are not included in this piece. Also, please remember some players may attempt six shots per game in a specific zone while another player may attempt only three from the same distance.

The number after each team name indicates NBA shooting rank using effective field goal percentage as the barometer. The number below each zone indicates the team’s rank in the specified zone, according to shooting percentage. Effective field goal percentage is used for three point shots.

The following designations will be used: Zone 1 (within two feet of rim), Zone 2 (3-9 feet), Zone 3 (10-15 feet), Zone 4 (16-23 feet), Zone 5 (three point shots).

All statistics were updated the final week of March and are courtesy of hoopdata.com.

San Antonio Spurs #3

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A playoff matchup between the Spurs and Lakers would pit strength against strength and break the record for “live by three, die by three” remarks. The Lakers defend three-point shots better than anyone in the West, and the Spurs’ shooting percentage in Zone 5 is the best in the NBA.

As noted last week, the Lakers have coaxed opponents into more long jumpers since the All-Star break. San Antonio is great all over the court but struggles mightily in Zone 4. It should be noted only the Magic and Clippers attempt fewer shots in Zone 4 than the Spurs.

The Spurs’ offense is led by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Lakers can make the Spurs’ offense feckless if they force these guards to pull up in Zone 4. The duo can wreak havoc with penetration, but Rajon Rondo actually shoots better on long jumpers than Ginobili or Parker.

The Lakers second half defensive surge has been led by great defense in Zone 2 and San Antonio is the second best shooting team in the NBA in Zone 2. The defensive dominance from Lakers in Zones 2 and 5, combined with the Spurs offensive success in these zones, sets the stage for a classic series.

Dallas Mavericks #1

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This isn’t breaking any news, but Los Angeles will end a series versus Dallas post-haste if they pry the ball from Dirk Nowitzki’s hands. Dirk’s 2011 shootings percentages have skyrocketed from his 2010 marks everywhere besides on three-point shots.

Most notably, his current shooting percentage on long jumpers is the best on his Hoop Data profile, which dates back to his MVP season. In 2010, Dirk made 46% of his shots in Zone 4. This season, he has improved his mark by over 17%. Furthermore, Dirk’s shooting performance in nearly every zone is his best over the last five seasons. His only declines are in Zone 2 (46% in 2008), and Zone 5 (63.2% in 2010), hardly a setback in either category.

Jason Terry is also an elite shooter. Zone 2 is the only spot Terry shoots below average. Over 60% of Terry’s attempts come beyond 16 feet from the hoop.

Jason Kidd is a below average shooter everywhere, but he basically only attempts three-pointers.

The second-tier players for Dallas are decent near the rim, and shaky beyond the arc. If the Lakers can force Barea and Beaubois to hoist it from deep, the footage may make Mark Cuban wish there was no such thing as HDTV.

The most notable difference between the teams sandwiching the Lakers in the standings are their offensive ranks in Zone 4. Dallas is the best shooting team in the NBA between 16 and 23 feet, and the Spurs rank 24th.

Oklahoma City Thunder #14

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A playoff matchup between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City may turn into the cutest series ever. The Thunder is the epitome of a team the Lakers revamped defense is designed to stop.  Oklahoma City is a young team who can shoot all over, but shooting is different than making. The Thunder is a below average shooting team from every area on the floor excluding shots in Zone 1. They are elite within two feet of the rim, but the NBA’s worst shooting team in Zone 2.

Kevin Durant is the league’s leading scorer, and his shooting ability receives great accolades. Maybe, though, his shooting isn’t as great as advertised. Durantula actually shoots below average from 16 feet and beyond. Two small forwards on contending teams in the East (Paul Pierce and Hedo Turkoglu) shoot significantly better in Zones 4 and 5. Even The King Without a Ring has a better percentage than Durant in Zone 4. 

Unfortunately for Scott Brooks, Russell Westbrook’s shooting percentages resemble Jason Kidd’s. Even worse, Westbrook shoots a dozen more shots per game than Kidd does. He attempts 6.9 shots per game in Zone 1, only trailing Carmelo Anthony and dunk heroes Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin.  On the plus side, Oklahoma City’s point guard can slice defenses, and his turnover rate is better than other great players at his position.

James Harden is the team’s sniper, but he doesn’t make Ray Allen blush. He merely hits league average beyond the arc, and his skills don’t travel inside Zone 4.

Percentages point to a simple strategy against the Thunder’s offense: make Durant shoot outside, make Harden shoot inside, and convince Westbrook to shoot everywhere.

Portland Trailblazers #22

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Only masochistic Portland fans should watch this team shoot. Below average percentages in every zone cannot excited the Rose Garden faithful.

One would surmise the Blazers must lock it down on defense, but they actually allow the eighth highest effective field goal percentage in the NBA. Portland makes their money by owning the best turnover rate differential in in the Association.

All-Star snub LaMarcus Aldridge is a monster inside, and he deserves credit for shooting better in Zone 4 than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Manu Ginoboli, and Tony Parker. Making the feat even more impressive is the fact Aldridge attempts more than four long jumpers per game.

Gerald Wallace’s numbers are from his 2011 campaign in Charlotte. He appeared in more games for the Bobcats, and his numbers from Charlotte are more consistent with his career averages.

Memphis Grizzlies #21

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This is quick – Memphis is decent inside, and a disaster outside. If it is any consolation, fans in Memphis can smile knowing Marc Gasol shoots better inside nine feet than his All-Star brother does.

The Grizzles lost a great shooter when Rudy Gay went out for the season. Mike Conley is currently the best outside threat in Memphis, and he attempts over five shots per game in Zones 4 and 5.

Final Horn

The Lakers are rolling and it may not matter who they take on in the playoffs. Nonetheless, they could face the best shooting team in the NBA and also the third best shooting team during their Western Conference run. If Denver pulls off two upsets, the Lakers could also face the second best shooting team in the NBA.

All of the listed teams are at least close to average near the rim and below average in Zone 4, with Dallas being the only exception. The Lakers will be in great shape if they continue to limit attempts near the hoop and coax their opponents to launch long jumpers.

-Matt Scribbins

Darius Soriano

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