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The Numbers Game

In the Zone: Part 2

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Today's column examines NBA offenses via six 'shot zones' defined by NBA.com -- 0-5 feet, 5-9 feet, 10-14 feet, 15-19 feet, 20-24 feet and 25-29 feet.

 

I first look at how many field goal attempts each team allows to their opponents in each 'zone', and what percentage their opponents are shooting from that range. Those numbers combine to provide a simple 'points allowed' statistic, enabling us to rank each team's leniency or stinginess within a given zone. If you're interested in the first 'In the Zone' column I wrote over the summer, you can check that out here.

 

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $250,000 Fantasy Basketball league for Friday's NBA games. It's $25 to join and first prize is $20,000. Starts at 7pm ET on FridayHere's the FanDuel link.

 

After determining which teams give up the most and least points per zone, I list the top five guards, forwards and centers for each shot 'zone' by field goal attempts (rather than total points). For instance, Tyreke Evans has averaged the fourth-most shots per game within five feet of the hoop (9.2), trailing only DeMarcus Cousins (9.6), Dwight Howard (9.7) and league-leader Tony Wroten (9.8). The Timberwolves, Nets, Celtics and Suns are all in the top-five for points-allowed within five feet, making them terrific matchups for any of the players just mentioned. On the other hand, guys who are very reliant on scoring within five feet may struggle against the defenses of the Warriors, Wizards, Pacers, Knicks and Mavericks.

 

For the complete spreadsheet listing each team’s stats (both their own and their opponents’), click here to view or download it from Dropbox.

 

This is particularly useful for daily fantasy sports, where matchups are a huge part of the equation. On FanDuel, for example, Points account for more than 45% of the total scoring system, by itself outweighing Rebounds, Assists, Steals and Blocks combined. Knowing which of your players may thrive or struggle vs. certain teams can also be critical to making tough choices on a busy Wednesday or Friday, or when projecting returns from one player's three-game week vs. another player's four-game week.

 

The most critical area of interest is the 0-5 feet zone, as it accounts for roughly 41 percent of all non-FT points scored this season. It's also the most efficient area by a wide margin, with shots made at a league-average 58.9 percent.

 

  • 33.6 points (within 5 feet)
  • 43.4 points* (from 5 feet and beyond)
  • 18.1 points (from the FT line)

 

*This is likely 4.5 points higher...I assigned three points to every made field goal in the 25-29 feet range, but only two points to shots in the 20-24 feet range. The NBA's 3-point line is just 22 feet away from the hoop in the corners, and 23.75 feet elsewhere, so naturally some of those 23-24 foot shots will have been 3-pointers. I'm also not sure if NBA.com is including half-court heaves and other shots beyond 29 feet in their final category, which would tack on a few more points. The actual league average is 99.6 points per game and the numbers above add up to 95.1 points, so the difference is almost certainly the missing 3-pointers in the 20-24 foot range, as well as the handful of makes beyond 29 feet.

 

I will look at the average number of points each team allows in each zone, rather than focusing strictly on FG% allowed per zone. This is an important distinction. Taking the 0-5 feet zone as an example, the Hornets appear to be the easiest team to score against since opponents are shooting 65.3% from this crucial range against them. However, their opponents are only taking 24.9 shots per game in this zone, which means Charlotte is yielding 32.5 points per game from 0-5 feet. That ranks 19th in the league. Similarly, the Thunder are 27th in FG% allowed (55.1%) but they're 12th in total points allowed (34.4).

 

Note: All top-10 and bottom-10 lists are given in descending and ascending order, respectively.

 

Less than 5 feet

 

The 10 most lenient teams in this zone (giving up the most points) are: Timberwolves, Nets, Pelicans, Celtics, Suns, Lakers, 76ers, Jazz, Kings, Cavaliers

 

The 10 stingiest teams (yielding the fewest points) are: Warriors, Wizards, Pacers, Knicks, Mavericks, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Pistons, Nuggets, Grizzlies

 

I mentioned that for each shot zone I'll also list the top five guards, forwards and centers, in terms of who attempts the most field goals from that range. *For complete lists, peruse the infinite spreadsheets available at NBA.com/stats.

 

PG: Tony Wroten, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Teague, Michael Carter-Williams, Reggie Jackson

SG: Tyreke Evans, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Monta Ellis, James Harden

SF: LeBron James, Tobias Harris, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Corey Brewer

PF: Greg Monroe, Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph, Terrence Jones, Blake Griffin

C: Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Al Jefferson, Nikola Vucevic

 

5-9 feet

 

The 10 most lenient teams in this zone are: Celtics, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Rockets, Nuggets, Kings, Suns, Raptors, Warriors, Jazz

 

The 10 stingiest teams in this zone are: Thunder, Mavericks, Wizards, Bucks, Nets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Bulls, Hawks, Magic

 

PG: Reggie Jackson, Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Michael Carter-Williams, Mike Conley

SG: Joe Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Monta Ellis, Gary Neal

SF: Rudy Gay, Tobias Harris, LeBron James, Jeff Green, Perry Jones

PF: Pau Gasol, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Thaddeus Young, Zach Randolph

C: Al Jefferson, Brook Lopez, Nikola Vucevic, Roy Hibbert, Nikola Pekovic

 

10-14 feet

 

The 10 most lenient teams in this zone are: Bulls, Warriors, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Magic, Pacers, Celtics, Clippers, Cavaliers, Pistons

 

The 10 stingiest teams in this zone are: Suns, Timberwolves, Rockets, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Hawks, Heat, Kings, Pelicans

 

PG: Chris Paul, E'Twaun Moore, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday

SG: Kobe Bryant, DeMar DeRozan, Evan Turner, Rodney Stuckey, Jamal Crawford

SF: Rudy Gay, Anthony Morrow, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Andrew Wiggins

PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Markieff Morris, Anthony Davis, Dirk Nowitzki

C: Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Marcin Gortat, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert

 

15-19 feet

 

The 10 most lenient teams in this zone are: Hornets, Warriors, Pacers, Cavaliers, Pistons, Bucks, Hawks, Magic, Jazz, Clippers

 

The 10 stingiest teams in this zone are: Lakers, Raptors, Celtics, Kings, Rockets, Thunder, 76ers, Knicks, Heat, Suns

 

PG: John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Reggie Jackson

SG: Kobe Bryant, DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Martin, Monta Ellis

SF: Nick Young, Andrew Wiggins, Rudy Gay, Lance Thomas, Paul Pierce

PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis

C: Chris Bosh, Al Horford, Jordan Hill, Al Jefferson, Jason Smith

 

20-24 feet

 

The 10 most lenient teams in this zone are: Mavericks, Timberwolves, Lakers, Thunder, Hawks, Heat, Raptors, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, 76ers

 

The 10 stingiest teams in this zone are: Clippers, Spurs, Pacers, Magic, Hornets, Wizards, Pelicans, Rockets, Grizzlies, Bucks

 

PG: Patrick Beverley, Stephen Curry, John Jenkins, Damian Lillard, Deron Williams

SG: Wes Matthews, Avery Bradley, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Arron Afflalo

SF: Trevor Ariza, Nick Young, Chandler Parsons, Wilson Chandler, Nicolas Batum

PF: Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Kostas Papanikolaou, Serge Ibaka

C: Chris Bosh, Matt Bonner, Jason Smith, Kevin Garnett, Pero Antic

 

25-29 feet

 

The 10 most lenient teams in this zone are: Clippers, Wizards, Knicks, Pacers, Magic, Lakers, 76ers, Grizzlies, Celtics, Hawks

 

The 10 stingiest teams in this zone are: Trail Blazers, Raptors, Rockets, Thunder, Mavericks, Warriors, Heat, Suns, Pelicans, Timberwolves

 

PG: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Brandon Jennings, Donald Sloan, A.J. Price

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jamal Crawford, Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver

SF: Chris Copeland, C.J. Miles, Jeff Green, Mike Dunleavy, LeBron James

PF: Ryan Anderson, Channing Frye, Mirza Teletovic, Draymond Green, Paul Millsap

C: Chris Bosh, Matt Bonner, Spencer Hawes, Pero Antic, Kelly Olynyk

 

Free Throws

 

Teams can't defend free throws, of course, though each arena may have a subtle impact on FT% due to differences in arena lighting, fan noise/distraction, etc. Free throw percentages against range from a high of 80.4% (vs. the Kings) to a low of 67.8% (vs. the Raptors), but it's early enough in the season that those results are likely just a product of the teams they've faced.

 

Teams which foul infrequently may also give their opponents fewer chances to get comfortable at the line, leading to more misses. The number of free throws allowed will be the focus of this section. The Nuggets give up 29.8 free throw attempts per game to their opponents, which is tops in the NBA. They're followed by the Lakers, Suns, Pelicans, Clippers, Knicks, 76ers, Warriors, Kings and Bucks. Having seven of the top 10 teams in the Western Conference is a decided advantage for FT gurus like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Stephen Curry (there may be a 'chicken or the egg' situation here).

 

The Hornets are the stingiest team, allowing their opponents a mere 19.8 free throw attempts per game. They are followed by the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Spurs, Jazz, Pacers, Hawks, Timberwolves, Celtics and Pistons.

 

I calculated what percentage of each player's points come from the FT line, so that owners can anticipate which teams might be particularly detrimental to which players. (I excluded players who have appeared in four or fewer games, as well as those averaging under 10.0 minutes per game). Tyler Hansbrough leads the way with a whopping 46.0% of his points coming off free throws. Here are the top 10 players for each position.

 

PG: Ramon Sessions, D.J. Augustin, Jordan Clarkson, Darren Collison, Ronnie Price, Isaiah Thomas, Jeff Teague, Mario Chalmers, Ty Lawson, Derrick Rose

 

SG: James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, Rodney Stuckey, Alexey Shved, Manu Ginobili, Lou Williams, Alec Burks, Victor Oladipo, Eric Bledsoe

 

SF: Kyle Anderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Danilo Gallinari, Omri Casspi, Rudy Gay, James Ennis, Paul Pierce, Corey Brewer, LeBron James, Harrison Barnes

 

PF: Tyler Hansbrough, Reggie Evans, Derrick Williams, Tim Duncan, Cody Zeller, Carl Landry, Kevin Love, Brandon Bass, Donatas Motiejunas, Zach Randolph

 

C: Chris Andersen, Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Pekovic, Jonas Valanciunas, Mason Plumlee, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gobert, Roy Hibbert, Alexis Ajinca

 

It would be interesting to determine which players each team sends to the FT line most often -- for example, do the Spurs tend to foul poor-FT-shooting big men more often than guards? Does Kemba Walker's porous defense against PGs lead the Hornets to commit more fouls (and therefore allow FTs) against guards? I haven't found a resource that breaks down FT totals with such precision, but if you know of one I'd love to hear about it.

 

For now this is the best I could come up with...unsurprisingly, the PGs and SGs average considerably more points at the FT line, per game, than SFs, PFs and Cs.

 

Position Mean FT pts/game

C:

1.7

PF:

1.6

SF:

1.6

SG:

2.0

PG:

2.1

 

 

Notes on standard deviation of points allowed. (Naturally, the league-wide means for shot attempts and percentages per zone don't change whether you're looking at each team's own stats vs. what they allow to opponents. Standard deviations, on the other hand, do change.)

 

The standard deviation for a high-volume zone like 0-5 feet (team average of 28.6 attempts per game) will inevitably be higher than a zone with fewer shot attempts like 10-14 feet (6.5 attempts per game). To account for this, I divided the standard deviation by the mean points allowed for each zone, to arrive at an adjusted measure of volatility. There's probably a better statistical method I could have used here, but unfortunately I'm not a statistician...just an avid dabbler.

 

In simple terms, I'm looking at how much variance there is among NBA defenses for each shot zone. Do teams tend to allow the same number of points per game from 5-9 feet, or are there vast differences between them? Are defenses either skewed toward protecting the paint or the 3-point line, or is there a general balance across the NBA?

 

Shot Zone

Volatility of Points Allowed

0-5 ft.

9.6%

5-9 ft.

17.1%

10-14 ft.

21.1%

15-19 ft.

20.4%

20-24 ft.

20.8%

25-29 ft.

29.1%

 

Matchups are always a crucial variable for fantasy owners, whether you're setting a daily or weekly lineup. The brief chart above suggests that players who score around the rim most often (typically big men, but also certain guards and swingmen) are the least vulnerable to swings in their scoring due to opponent defenses. Mid-range shooters face a steady variability in the 20% range, but long-range shooters should be the most heavily influenced by the opposition.

 

To put it another way, the Warriors allow the fewest points from 0-5 feet (27.7 points per game). That's still 68.7% of the amount allowed by the most lenient team, the Timberwolves (40.3 points per game).

 

At the other end of the spectrum, the Trail Blazers are allowing the fewest points from 25-29 feet (3.5 points per game). That's a mere 21.0% of the points allowed by the most lenient team, the Clippers (16.7 points per game).

 

That's enough stat-wrangling and discussion for one day! I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family, and I'll see you here again next week. If you have any questions, send me a message on Twitter @Knaus_RW.

Ryan Knaus

Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for NBC Sports Edge since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.