Do you remember the first time you fell in love with the NBA? Was it Julius Erving’s reverse lay up? Was it Michael Jordan dunking from the free throw line in the Slam Dunk Contest? Was it Baron Davis dunking over Andrei Kirilenko? Or maybe it was as recently as Lebron James having no regard for human life over Kevin Garnett? The one thing we have in common is there was one particular play where a player took it strong to the rim and wowed everyone watching. Everyone enjoys a good dunk.
But does dunking resort to winning? With the paradigm shift in the style of play the NBA has taken on over the past few years, more and more teams are turning to three point shooting because analytics explains that it’s more efficient to play that style of play. To break it down for those non math geeks, if you shoot 40% from three point range, this is better than shooting 50% from within the arc. Here is a simple break down with 10 attempts:
10 Three Point Attempts x 40% = 4 made three pointers for 12 points
10 Two Point Attempts x 50% = 5 made two pointers for 10 points
This is the meat and potatoes behind the analytics to suggest you are better off shooting three’s than twos. Of course this is all contingent if you make them. Which brings us to the point of this article.
Why do certain teams drive and why are they doing it less? Or are they doing it less?
In the 2013-14 season, the Chicago Bulls took the least amount of drives to the basket per game with 17 whereas the 76ers took the most drives per game with 31.2. Last year (2015-16), the Knicks took a season low 15.5 drives per game compared to the 76ers (again) leading the league with 37.1.
So far this season, the Warriors are driving the least in the league with 17.4 per game while the Miami Heat are taking the most with 36.8. On the whole, it appears that the lowest drives per game is still around 17 per game while the most is around 37. What does this mean in terms of the win column?
During the 2013-14 season, the league leaders in drive to the basket (76ers) only won 19 games. At the same time, the Bulls lead the league in fewest drives (17) while winning 48 games. This season the number of drives didn’t swing one way or the other, the Spurs (62 wins) drove 24.3 times per game while the Clippers (57 wins, 3rd overall) drove only 17 times per game. At the same time, the 15 win Milwaukee Bucks drove 22.4 times per game, which was in the middle of the pack.
Three point shooting was slowly making its way to the forefront of the league’s preferred style of play. During the 2013-14 season, the Rockets led the way with 2,179 three point attempts while Memphis only shot 1,147 three pointers.
Let’s flash forward to the 2015-16 season, where the Knicks (15.5 drives per game) and Warriors (19.9 drives per game) took the fewest drives to the basket but the Warriors led the league with 2,592 three point attempts, 413 more attempts than the Rockets in 2013-14. Or to put it in perspective, 5.04 more three point attempts per game. This same season, the Bucks only took 1,277 which is 130 more attempts, or 1.58 more attempts per game. Even teams that don’t shoot threes saw their attempts increase due to the style of play.
This season so far, the top five teams in terms of drives per game total to 43 wins (.370 winning percentage) versus the bottom five teams in terms of drives per game totaling to 88 wins (or .721 winning percentage).
Looking at last year’s numbers, the top five teams in terms of drives per game had a collective record of 183-227 (or .446 winning percentage) while the bottom five teams had a record of 232-178 (or .567 winning percentage).
Obviously looking at these numbers in a macro sense you could state that teams that drive to the basket less are more likely to have a successful season. However, if you look at the micro of these statistics, you would have to dig deeper per team to find out why certain teams don’t drive (Warriors, because they are an excellent shooting team) versus teams that drive more (Nets 32.7% from three, Heat 33.3% from three, Suns 33.4% from three) are all in the bottom portion of the league in terms of three point field goal percentage.
What it comes down to is if you have the personal to shoot threes, you will. If you don’t, you’re left with driving to the basket to get the highest percentage shot possible.