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All Threes Are Not Created Equal

Post number two in the fun with Synergy series is the test of a theory I've had for a while. There was some crowd participation, check the comments on this post for a little bit of background. After the jump, we'll take a look at three-point shooting, in particular, we'll isolate desperation threes at the buzzer from the total numbers.

The germ of this idea was planted in my head a few years ago when Tim Legler was doing a game. Essentially, he was bragging about how he never threw up a half-court shot at the buzzer because those misses hurt his three-point percentage. It struck me as one of the most selfish things I've ever heard, and probably goes a long way to explain why he only topped 1,000 minutes in 2 of his 10 seasons in the league.

Anyway, if you've watched the Sixers play, I'm sure you've noticed that Iguodala likes to take those heaves as the clock expires, in fact he seeks the ball out in those situations (I'm talking about the end of any quarter, not only the end of the game).

My theory was that he takes more of these extremely low percentage attempts than most players, and these attempts make his overall three-point percentage look worse than it actually is. Does this matter? That's up for debate, obviously. I think it does. When I look at three-point percentage, I want to see a number that represents how good of a jump shot the player has. Is he enough of a threat to keep teams honest? Is it worthwhile for him to be taking any threes? Pulling out half-court shots should give you a more informed answer to those questions.

So, with those thoughts running through my mind, I looked at video of every three Iguodala attempted in the 2009-2010 season, and identified what I considered a desperation shot. This is the criteria I used:

  • The shot had to be the final play of the quarter, half or game.
  • The shot had to be a deep three (meaning at least a step behind the line), or an unusual three (on the run, off one foot, double-pump, etc)
  • Dribbling the clock down to zero then jacking a shot did not count

Using these criteria, Iguodala attempted 24 heaves this season, making 2 of them. So it does seem that he attempted quite a few, heaves accounted for 7.9% of his total 3PA. If you remove these attempts, and makes...well, his percentage is still poor, but a bit closer to respectable: 92/279, 33%. Overall he shot 94/303.

This brings me back to the post from yesterday. I asked about other shooting guards because I wanted you guys to choose my control group. Essentially, I wanted names of a few other shooting guards, who are considered good three-point shooters, to see how many heaves they attempted. I did this because without some peers to compare Iguodala's number to, they really wouldn't mean anything.

Well, at this point I realized I may have bitten off more than I could chew. There was no way I was going to look at over 1,900 three-point attempts tonight. So what I did was condense it. For the most part, these heaves are classified as "Transition" three-point attempts. Synergy allows you to look at only transition threes, so I went back and looked at the 23 attempts for Iguodala (he was 1/12 on transition heaves), then I looked at the transition attempts for the following players.

Eric Gordon
  • 0/3 on transition heaves
OJ Mayo
  • 0/2 on transition heaves
Joe Johnson
  • 1/2 on transition heaves
LeBron James
  • 0/7 on transition heaves
Kobe Bryant
  • 1/4 on transition heaves
Andre Iguodala
  • 1/12 on transition heaves
I figured LeBron would be up there with Iguodala. He doesn't seem shy about taking half-court shots. I wasn't sure about Kobe and Joe Johnson. The other guys, I figured wouldn't be so high. You figure Baron Davis is taking those shots for the Clippers. Mayo has Rudy Gay. Still, Iguodala led this category by a wide margin. I'd love to be able to say you can multiply everyone's results by 2, because that was the ratio of Iguodala's total vs. his transition only numbers, but there's no way to prove that. The only thing I can say with any kind of certainty is that Iguodala took nearly twice as many transition desperation threes as the number 2 guy on this list.

So was my theory correct? I think it's probably safe to say part of it was. He does take more desperation threes than these other guys, and since we're looking at some of the best perimeter players in the league, I'd say it's a safe bet that he takes more than most players in the league. So my eyes weren't lying to me on that front. But the other part of my theory about his desperation heaves dragging down his overall three-point percentage, and therefore dragging down his three-point percentage more than other shooters who don't attempt as many heaves, well, that probably doesn't mean much. Like I said, if you remove Iguodala's heaves, he gains roughly 2% on his overall percentage if you count all of the heaves, if you only count transition heaves, it's only a 0.7% increase in his total 3p%. These other guys saw an increase of less than 1% across the board. In the end, though, removing the heaves doesn't magically turn Iguodala into even a league-average three-point shooter on what I'll call routine three-point attempts, which I guess was my hope going in.

The beauty of this exercise, though, is that I watched a ton of tape, a ton of plays beginning to end, and I noticed a couple of things. First, Willie Green brought the ball up the floor way too much. Second, the vast majority of Iguodala's routine threes came out of Princeton Offense sets, with those insipid dribble handoffs starting the play. Third, Iguodala rarely, and I mean very rarely took transition threes. He only attempted 23 total on the season, 12 of those were heaves. The other guys on this list were all right around 50 attempts, with Mayo leading the pack with 69.

I'd say I'm one for two so far in testing my theories using the video provided by Synergy. Up next, I'm going to compare who Lou Williams was guarding on isolation plays vs. who Jrue Holiday was guarding, and the results.