Early in Friday night's surprisingly-competitive Lakers/Clippers tilt, miserable basketball-hating curmudgeon Jon Barry brought up Lakers head coach Byron Scott's stated preference for capping his team's three-point shooting at some number below 20 attempts per game. Because Jon Barry lives in a perpetual state of being a five year old who skipped nap time, this led, inevitably, to a bad place.
After mentioning the controversy Scott's philosophy represented to a certain segment of NBA fans — we'll call these people thinkers — Barry made a big show of announcing that he applauds Scott's position, applauds a coach who sees a dearth of reliable knockdown shooters on his roster and adjusts his philosophy accordingly, the implication being that a team that can't shoot well from beyond the arc ought to shoot less from out there.
Look, we can attack this thing from any number of good angles here, but before we move too far into it, let's get one thing clear: what we're about to talk about isn't high level stuff. It's not controversial, it's not new, it's not advanced, it requires zero investigation. People sometimes refer to this stuff as advanced stats or analytics, but those terms are charitable as hell. If you can work out the tip amount on your dinner check, this should be easy. What we're talking about here is basic math. Literally grade school stuff.
And, okay, one more thing: there's this notion among a certain segment of sports fans — and no one has helped this impression along more than everyone's favorite talking Wes Welker jersey, Bill Simmons — that there is a movement within sports, towards advanced metrics, being spearheaded by a group of party-crashing nerd interlopers, and, more importantly, that this group of paradigm-challenging dorks are bringing along with them some set of analytics-based commandments about How The Game Should Be Played. Maybe there is such a group, and maybe this is what they think of themselves, and maybe they have such rules, and if those things are true then they are, in fact, dorks, but they're just as completely obsolete as, well, Jon Barry himself.
Here's what I mean when I say that: there's a common perception that analytics say no one should take a mid-range jumper. This is false, an oversimplification of an observation, derived from easy, basic math, that one kind of low-percentage shot is better than another. But, of course, a player or team could theoretically perform in such a way that the respective values of those two low-percentage shots would be reversed, and, in such a case, analytics would have no objection whatsoever. We'll get into what exactly that means and how it bears itself out on an NBA court, but an important point is this one: if there's a group of dorks categorically deriding the mid-range jumper, their position is ill-informed and inflexible and they simply do not represent any sort of movement within sports to use information — math — to give your team a better chance of winning.
Here's a case in point: Dirk Nowitzki is a downright amazing mid-range shooter. Last season, the guy made 48% of his shots from 10-14 feet, 52% from 15-19 feet, and 41% from 20-24 feet, and he accomplished those rates while attempting a high volume of mid-range jumpers, and, in most cases, with defenders all over his shit, because that's what you do when you face the Mavericks: you gear up to contest Nowitzki all over the court, at almost any cost. So, let's do some easy head math, here: shooting at the respective percentage (52%), in 100 possessions from 15-19 feet, Dirk is going to score 104 points. Right? He'll make 52 2-pointers, and 52 x 2 = 104. Easy enough, right? You can almost count it on your fingers, especially if you have 26 of them.
So, here's the question: what percentage would Dirk need to shoot from behind the three-point arc in order to score 104 points per 100 possessions? Well, this is easy enough, just divide 104 by 3, and you get...well, first of all, you get a calculator, I ain't no fuckin' math wizard. Here, we'll get close: if Dirk shoots 35% from behind the arc, he will score 105 points per 100 possessions. As it happens, in the 2013/2014 NBA season, the league average for three-pointers was 36% on the nose. So, in other words, Dirk could be a slightly below-average three point shooter and still be more productive, offensively, than he is as a flat-out amazing mid-range jump shooter.
Now, this is where you accuse me of making the case that a bad three-point shooter is more valuable shooting threes than an amazing mid-range shooter is shooting mid-range jumpers. No! No, I have not said that. Basketball, at any level, is more than just a series of mathematical equations (even while the winner is determined using one long-ass equation whereby 1s and 2s and 3s are totaled over the course of 48 minutes). Not all three-pointers are created equal, and not all mid-range jumpers are created equal, and there will be any number of times when a Dirk Nowitzki 19-footer is the best available outcome of a Mavericks possession, and, under such circumstances, the Mavericks will be very glad to have a 52% shooter wearing the Dirk Nowitzki jersey. No right-minded basketball fan on earth will have anything bad to say about such an outcome. The Mavericks have given themselves a good chance of scoring points, and points are good.
But this is where we get back to Byron Scott and his self-imposed cap on three-point attempts: An offense's philosophy should put this kind of very basic math to use. A competent basketball offensive strategy would acknowledge that it will not always be possible to generate a quality three-point attempt even while it makes its central aim to always generate a quality three-point attempt. And here's why: the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA last season made just 32% of their three pointers, scoring a meager 96 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, the very best mid-range shooting team in the NBA, from anywhere outside of 5 feet, shot 45% from mid-range, which works out to be a flat-out atrocious 90 points per 100 possessions.
Sometimes a mid-range jumper is the best your offense can manage, and when that's the case, it should be a quality, uncontested look from a capable mid-range jump-shooter. And that's okay! There are worse things! Like, for example, allowing Austin Rivers to touch the ball. But in order for the Jon Barry-applauded self-imposed cap on three-point attempts to make sense, your team would have to be the very worst three-point shooting team in the NBA while also being better than the very best mid-range shooting team. Let's make the Lakers 2 whole percentage points worse than last season's worst three-point shooting team. A Lakers team shooting 30% from beyond the arc would be exactly as terrible over the course of 100 possessions as the very best mid-range shooting team in the NBA. 90 points is 90 points, you know?
When the so-called analytics crowd tugged their collars noisily upon hearing Scott's proclamation, it wasn't because mid-range jumpers are bad and everyone hates them. That's a way of describing things that plays the notes without knowing the music, know what I mean? It was because Byron Scott was announcing his intention to very literally deliberately manufacture an offense that does not score very much. And when Jon Barry says urhhh I applaud grumble grumble coach grumble players grumble play the right way grumble grumble, what he's saying is that the Lakers are so catastrophically bad at shooting three-pointers, so much worse at shooting than any other team in the NBA, that they'd be better off taking shots that, even if they were the best in the NBA at making them, limit them to a level of offensive productivity with which they will almost certainly never be able to win a game.
This, of course, is just another example of Jon Barry being a bone-headed dipshit ape.
Listening to him call a game is like one of those dreams where you show up to the blacktop to play pickup with your friends and instead of a ball they start shooting with a hardcover book, or a live duck. Anyway, that's as much as I have to say about this.