Keep an Eye on Where the Bigs Get Their Shots

One of the things to keep an eye on for the Indiana Pacers is what their offensive sets will look like now that Coach Frank Vogel and his staff have had a full training camp. The absence of key players – Danny Granger and George Hill have missed both games, David West and Roy Hibbert have not played together – and sheer lack of data limit our knowledge. However, one thing that I think I want to watch is where and how the Pacer bigs get their shots. When I say bigs, I’m talking about the players who are getting minutes at what are nominally either the 4 or the 5 position.

Thus far, the Pacer bigs have accounted for just over 40% of both the team’s shots and points. This is actually pretty consistent with last season, when bigs accounted for just under 40% in both those categories. Of course, much of that was driven by the presence of David West and Roy Hibbert, who took roughly two thirds of the bigs’ shots and scored two thirds of the bigs’ points. That’s not true this preseason, where the starting tandem have only played 44 combined minutes and accounted for less than 20% of both shots and points.

But I’m less concerned with how much of the offense the bigs are contributing, than I am with where it’s coming.

Consider the distribution of field-goal attempts by Pacers bigs so far this preseason.

The bigs are taking more shots outside of the paint than inside. This ratio is not quite opposite last year’s numbers, where over 64% of the looks taken by Pacer bigs came from inside 10 feet.

The downside can be see by looking at the distribution of their field goals made.

When the ratio of where the shots are made is more than the inverse of the ratio of where the shots are taken, you’ve got a problem. It manifests in the 43% shooting that the Pacer bigs have posted this season. Digging a little deeper shows you that it would be far worse, if not for Ian Mahinmi.

Blue = Made Yellow = Miss

Above is Ian’s shot chart from the first two games. Mahinmi has shot 60% from the floor in the first two games, thanks in large part to the fact that 11 of his 15 shots have come in the paint, and he’s made 8 of those. This is the shot chart for the rest of the Pacer bigs:

If you exclude the French import, Pacer bigs have combined to shoot 38% from the floor. Their shot vs. make distribution looks like this:

Now, I actually believe that a mid-range game is a necessity for most NBA bigs. Unless you bring an elite level skill – like Jeff Foster did on the glass – not being able to step out to 15-18 feet will make you a liability in the NBA. David West has carved out an excellent career as the king of the mid-range. His presence both exacerbates the trend – five of his seven shots have come outside the paint – and mitigates the damage – he’s made three of them. Removing him from the equation leaves the Pacer bigs shooting 37% overall and less than 30% outside the paint.

And when you peel another layer from the onion, you can see that there might be two bigs who are just a little more eager to take that open 17-footer than they should be.

The chart above shows the shot locations for Jeff Pendergraph and Miles Plumlee. They have combined to take more than half of the shots the bigs have accounted for (33 of 65), with 21 of those coming outside of the paint. Unsurprisingly, the two are shooting a combined 36% from the floor.

Of course, this isn’t all bad. In a lot of ways, this is the raison d’être of the preseason. Try different things and different players, and see what works. Pendergraph’s trigger was far too quick in game one (6 of his 8 shots outside of the paint) and early in game two, but settled down late to take 5 of his 7 4th quarter shots in the paint. Though I’m not wild about Plumlee’s almost 2-to-1 outside-to-inside ratio, he’s actually be respectable from range, making four of his nine shots outside the paint.

Another aspect that I don’t have available to me that would be interesting to correlate this data to would be when these shots are being taken. If these looks are being taken late in the shot clock, then it could be a symptom o more basic offensive problems. If they’re occurring early in the shot clock, then it’s more likely to be reflective of judgment issues on the part of young, inexperienced players.

Also, it will be worth watching this trend as the regular season approaches, and the rotations start to normalize. Plumlee is likely to be out of the rotation for at least the start of the season, as Hibbert and Mahinmi are clearly ahead of him in the pecking order. Pendergraph, on the other hand, may have a shot at dislodging Tyler Hansbrough. Neither has looked particularly good in their preseason appearances, and Frank Vogel said the other night that they would alternate as backups to David West during at least the early part of the season.

If this pattern continues when regular rotations are being used, then it’s a part of the offensive design that we’ll have to consider.

In any case, it’s just one more thing to keep your eye on as we try to learn who the 2012-2013 Indiana Pacers will be.

Tags: Shot Locations

  • dwain

    @Tim if Ian becomes a second center starter, giving Roy more rest, and Plumlee and Pendergraph play most of the full second team time, then yer stats show heavy out of paint shooting for the second team bigs. They could easily fall in a trap doing that with shot % dropping too low and good teams second string eating ours for lunch. But if coach V has them training for pick an roll pick an pop, then when the second team settles in for extended play won’t the paint #’s climb? Pre season is always a bit of a crap shoot with non normal combos of players out there trying to get to know each others styles and predilections. If the second string bigs are in a steady rotation with Green and AJ, won’t thoses guys be eating most of the outside shooting and forceing them to rebound and run set plays more?

  • dwain

    sorry to double post here but yer posit has me wondering….are we going to see a different style of subing from coach V this year? Bare with me a sec….last year with the depth of the bench Roy would go out early and the first sub seemed to be Lou or Psycho T and then Hill would come in for DC and pretty quickly the second team would be in except for PG or West or Danny maning a holddown spot to stabalize the weaker line up. From first blush the bench seems to have some really solid pieces firming up. Ian could well be a solid replacemnt for Roy in a starter lineup….so perhaps we see Ian off the bench first to play with the other starters for extended play, and then AJ giving Hill a breather with the other starters still in, after a little breath Hill could spot Danny and Pendergraph(shudder) might replace West till pretty deep into the second quarter. We might no actually see a full second team until deep into the second and it might not last near as long as it did last year. Surely by the second half starters will be winded enough for some real sub time for the bench but maybe just maybe coach V will have the luxury this year of maintaining a much longer starter hold on these games with a rotation aidded by Ian and AJ that has 2 or 3 starters in it for long stretches. I like the sound of it anyway :)

  • dwain

    gahhh DJ not AJ…sigh

  • Jack

    preseason means jack

  • Joe B

    The points made in this post are extremely relevant to the second unit, which was awful last year. If TH does not hit his 15 footer, he has to try to go to the rim–if he consistently makes that shot, the Pacers are lethal, but let’s face it–TH has not proven he can make that shot consistently and there is little reason to expect he will. Take it to the rim with your hands, bro.

    Mahini on the other hand brings an outside shot that Lou did not have at all last year. Of course, when it comes to offense, Lou did not have much and was not asked to do much, to be fair. Mahini might open up the paint for TH, paradoxically.

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  • Chris R

    To go off what you said it looks like Ian, Jeff, and Miles have got to stop shooting outside 15 feet. They will not be successful this year if they shoot beyond 15 feet. They are primarily for rebounds and hustle. TH has got to find confidence to be a guy off the bench gettting the amount of boards as he is points. I see with the addition of Green, the Pacers will run more small linups with Roy obviously the 5. Such lineups like; DJ, Hill, George, DG, Roy or Hill, Green, George, DG, Roy. I don’t see the Pacers keeping West unless he has a better year than last getting 10 & 10 or something like that. ‘Cause there is not enough room for everyone to avgerage 15-20ppg. If West stays for $3-$5m, TH is gone and I want to see the Pacers to attempt to get Millsap of the Jazz. Great scorer and defender in the post with perimeter D in addition. Roy HAS to up his stats to 12-15ppg, 12-15rpg, and at LEAST 2 bpg. That is all.