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

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