What if your team had Houston’s shot selection?

Stephen Shea, Ph.D.

November 21, 2017

There are 5 major shooting zones on an NBA court: the restricted area (at the hoop), the paint (but not in the restricted area), mid-range, corners, and above the break. Among the zones, the paint and mid-range shots are, by far, the least efficient.

One team has leveraged this information to design a strategy that attempts to greatly reduce paint and mid-range shots. This season, just 7.6% of Houston’s field goal attempts have come from the paint and just 5.8% have come from mid-range. Both percentages are league lows.

Houston’s shot selection is far from the norm. While mid-range attempts are on the decline, many teams are still taking 20% or more of their shots from this inefficient region. What if they didn’t?

As a thought exercise, let’s suppose every team had Houston’s shot selection. We’ll keep each team’s field goal percentages from each zone the same. For example, Sacramento has shot 36.6% from mid-range this season and taken 28.1% of their shots from that region. We’ll assume Sacramento maintains their 36.6% but that they only take 7.6% of their FGA from mid-range (Houston’s percentage).

We’ll measure the team’s shooting efficiency by points per shot (PPS). The table below contains each team’s current PPS, their hypothetical PPS with Houston’s shot selection (labeled NewPPS), the difference between the hypothetical and actual PPS, and the additional points per game the team would score with Houston’s shot selection.

TEAMPPSNewPPSDiffAdditional Pts/GP
Sacramento Kings0.951.090.1512.6
Orlando Magic1.061.170.119.0
Minnesota Timberwolves1.021.130.108.6
Atlanta Hawks1.041.130.108.2
Indiana Pacers1.081.170.098.2
Utah Jazz1.001.090.097.6
Denver Nuggets1.071.150.097.7
Washington Wizards1.041.130.097.5
Detroit Pistons1.041.120.097.6
Portland Trail Blazers0.991.080.097.3
San Antonio Spurs1.011.100.087.2
Philadelphia 76ers1.061.140.087.1
Charlotte Hornets1.011.090.086.8
Dallas Mavericks0.991.070.086.9
Chicago Bulls0.951.030.087.0
New York Knicks1.041.120.086.7
Miami Heat1.031.090.075.8
Cleveland Cavaliers1.081.150.075.6
Golden State Warriors1.181.240.075.6
Brooklyn Nets1.001.060.065.5
Milwaukee Bucks1.071.120.064.7
Oklahoma City Thunder1.021.080.064.9
Boston Celtics0.991.040.054.0
LA Clippers1.011.050.054.0
Phoenix Suns0.991.030.043.6
New Orleans Pelicans1.081.120.032.8
Toronto Raptors1.101.120.021.6
Memphis Grizzlies1.001.020.021.3
Houston Rockets1.101.100.000.0
Los Angeles Lakers1.001.000.000.0

Shot selection can impact shooting efficiency, and so, it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that a team could radically alter their shot selection tomorrow and maintain their shooting efficiencies from each zone. Still, when we see that a team like Sacramento would produce 12.6 more points per game with their current field goal percentages and Houston’s shot selection, we have to ask, why aren’t they trying?

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