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


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


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


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


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


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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to Dictating On Defense II: Potential Playoff Opponents

  1. This post is well-written, informative, and extremely hilarious, especially the part about OKC. “Cutest series ever… Make Westbrook shoot everywhere, etc.” Just a fantastic read.


  2. I still that anyone in Dallas can believe that team can beat L.A. when they expect Barea and Beaubois and play key minutes.

    Those guys are so small that, when either is sharing the floor with Kidd, the Lakers can post up Kobe or Artest and have a mismatch each time down the floor.


  3. Gerald Wallace’s much better FGP, even though a smaller sample in Portland, may show more what he would do in the playoffs. On the Bobcats he was the best player and the focus of the defense.


  4. Is there really so little faith that the Nuggets can beat the Thunder despite being in the top 5 or at the top of various statistical power rankings, compiling a better record than the Thunder since the trade, and beating the Lakers yesterday?


  5. The Nuggets would then have to beat the Spurs, assuming San Antonio is the #1 seed.


  6. I can’t stand this guy.
    @johnhollinger Now I have to be the bad guy and point out that maybe there should be > 11 NBA coaches in there before we start inducting career assistants.


  7. And…? Hollinger’s column lists the hierarchy in the West as Group I: The Lakers, Group II: The Nuggets,
    Group III: Everybody else and Wayne Winston has them at the top of his power rankings over the last 30 days. They’ve already beaten the Spurs (albeit without Tim Duncan, but the Nuggets were missing some players too) and the Lakers. This team needs to be taken seriously.


  8. #7. I don’t think the Nuggets should be takent lightly at all. I wouldn’t favor them in any round of the playoffs (OKC is a very good team as well) but you can’t dismiss them as threats to win a round or two in the playoffs. They’ve been on a great run since the Melo trade and what they have that other teams don’t is very good depth. Now, some of that depth is quite streaky (Smith and Harrington come to mind quickly) but if everything is clicking they can beat anyone. The key is doing it against the same teama 4 times in 7 games…


  9. Darius,
    Any team that will be knocked out of the first round should be taken lightly. Thus Denver should possibly be taken lightly.


  10. So far, so good re our two bigs:

    Gasol said the knee feels better than it did yesterday, when he played on it after the initial tweak. He also lifted today.
    28 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone

    Pau Gasol said that if the MRI goes as he hopes, showing no damage, he should be able to play against Utah tomorrow.
    30 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone

    Jackson added that @AndrewBynum was “pretty good today” in practice in limited work. He’ll start against Utah tomorrow.
    44 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone

    Phil Jackson said the Lakers are “very optimistic” about Gasol’s knee. He talked to Gasol, said his spirits are high.
    about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone

    As for Pau Gasol… He won’t have the precautionary MRI on his right knee until 3 p.m., & we won’t hear until the evening.
    about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone

    Bynum repeated his comments from Sunday that he’s all right after Odom ran into his leg. He practiced fully today, has no pain.
    about 1 hour ago via Twitter for iPhone



  11. Excellent piece on Bynum from ESPN(insider).

    Trending team: Los Angeles Lakers relying on Bynum

    Despite Sunday’s home loss to the Denver Nuggets, no contender is heading into the stretch run with more momentum than the Lakers. Los Angeles has won 17 of its 19 games since the All-Star break to get back into the race for the top spot in the Western Conference.

    It’s no secret that Lakers 7-footer Andrew Bynum has been key to the team’s surge. The impact of a productive Bynum is evident throughout the team’s numbers. For one, the Lakers have been playing at a slower pace lately. Before the break, they averaged 90.3 possessions per 48 minutes, a pace only slightly below league average. Since then, their possessions per 48 minutes have dropped to 87.4, which would tie them with the New Orleans Hornets as the league’s second-slowest team. Only the Portland Trail Blazers (87.2) average fewer possessions per 48 minutes.

    In terms of performance, Bynum’s impact has come largely at the defensive end of the floor. While he’s been highly efficient with his possessions (he’s making 62.3 percent of his shot attempts and getting to the line regularly), the Lakers have weaker floor spacing with Bynum and Pau Gasol on the floor together, so their overall offense has been no better since the break — exactly 4.0 points per 100 possessions better than league average before and after, when adjusted for opposition.

    On defense, however, the Lakers have taken a huge step forward. They held opponents 1.8 points per 100 possessions below their usual efficiency before the All-Star break, but have improved to 8.0 points better since then. That would make them the NBA’s best defense over the course of the season.

    Bynum has been at the center of that stingy defense. He’s grabbing 28.3 percent of available defensive rebounds, which would put him seventh in the league, and has blocked nearly as many shots as he’s committed fouls. (Only one player in the NBA, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, has pulled off that feat this season.)

    Basically, Bynum has played at an MVP-type level when on the floor over the past month and a half. His numbers during that span compare favorably with Dwight Howard’s in every category save usage (Howard is a much bigger part of the Orlando Magic’s offense). This is the type of dominant play from Bynum that has convinced the Lakers to hold on to him despite attractive trade offers. If he stays healthy (having missed the end of Sunday’s game after tweaking his right knee) and plays at this level, it makes the Lakers favorites not only to win the West but to repeat as NBA champions.

    In case you’re wondering where Bynum ranks, on a per-minute basis his player winning percentage was the best in the league. However, he did not play enough minutes (31.2 per game) to rack up enough total value to crack the top 10 in WARP, ranking 14th overall.


  12. All is finally right with the Basketball World, Artis Gilmore was FINALLY selected to the Hall of Fame!!!! He was the most deserving player not in the Hall of Fame. Check out his career stats. Of course, Congrats Tex!!!


  13. The Nuggets are no joke. What scared me most was the way that JR played yesterday. He was great in the 4th quarter. I kept waiting for him to hoist up dumb shots, but he never did. They were even helping the Lakers up. WTH?? Kenyon Martin displayed the only ignorance with his profanity laced tirade down the sidelines. Was this team forced to grow up after losing their father figure (Billups)?

    They will put a big time scare into OKC. I see that series easily going six and I’m not counting Denver out. They are Big, Deep, and Dangerous.


  14. Rest him. Bone bruises can linger. Damn it I think back to last year’s postseason with Kobe draining his knee and Bynum hobbling, and I just wish the regular season was 10 games shorter.


  15. My roommate is a college basketball fan, so I’m being forced to watch this ugly game. Let’s face it–last night’s game between Stanford and Texas A&M was better to watch. The NCAA should go to a 30-second clock.


  16. First off, great article Matt, very informative. Thanks, The Dude Abides for the consolidated injury reports on our 7-footers, I came here today to see if someone had posted that info, and low and behold it was.


  17. Butler is shooting 19% from the field, with a minute left in the game.


  18. @17. You can call me Dude, or his dudeness or el duderino…if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.


  19. I’m with The Dude on a 30 second, or even a 24 second, shot clock for college. The 35 second shot clock is unbearable.


  20. They could cancel March Madness and I wouldn’t notice. College basketball is so much less entertaining than the NBA to me that I quit watching it altogether years ago.

    Plus I couldn’t stand the NCAA’s phoniness — athletes, even in non-revenue sports, can’t take a summer job at Pizza Hut without blowing their scholarships, yet the NCAA and its schools will rake in billions from the tournament’s TV contract, merchandise, sales, etc.

    Give me the NBA any day; there’s less hypocrisy, Doc Rivers’ whiny comments notwithstanding.


  21. @21

    Agree with every you stated. You have to believe some NCAA official is in Stern’s ear begging him to make pushing the age limit to 21 part of his bargaining package. Imagine if Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, and John Wall were still in college this year. Maybe we wouldn’t have a 53-41 final score in the national championship game. The talent level in the NCAA has fallen off a cliff. The excitement is in the single game elimination format. However, the actual quality of basketball is pretty dismal.


  22. Butler shot 18.8%. Tonight’s game was worse than every WNBA game I’ve ever watched. All one of them.
    /yes, I know I’m going to hell

    /yes, in a hand basket


  23. Renato Afonso April 5, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Duderino, yes, you’re going to hell for watching the WNBA… How could you do it?

    Regarding the topic, great piece by Matt. Really good analysis. Keep it coming!


  24. What’s college basketball? Ohhhh. You guys are talking about the minor league basketball championship game that was on last night? Yea… It’s very hard formme to watch single A basketball. I barley recognize the sport. They are pretty bad. And contrary to popular belief they don’t play as hard as the NBA guys. When a TNT play by play guy (I forgot who it was) did his first NBA game after the tournament he said he (forgot how fast and intense NBA games were). I went to Arizona back when Luke Walton, Richard Jefferson, and Loren Woods were playing. I was shocked the lack of work ethic there was in the college game. There is a reason the guys that go to the NBA are in the NBA. Not only are they the better athletes they also have the better work ethic.


  25. 25, do you do anything but troll?


  26. The shooting in the championship game might have been atrocious, but I thought the D was pretty stout. Both teams did a great job in consistently hustling hard to closeout on shooters. Guys were moving their feet on D and being really disciplined about not reaching. It was just a grind type game and guys were missing shots.

    Do we all so quickly forget that these kinds of games can happen? G7 against Boston anyone?

    There were plenty of other games where the shooting and offensive execution was very high. I’ll be the first to say that NBA is more exciting to me because of the high level of play. But there’s a lot of value and enjoyment in college ball too.


  27. 26,
    I don’t know what troll means but if it’s synonymous with the honest truth…. Then yes.