Omer Asik and Defending the 2-Point Shot

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Published: October 26, 2014

I get it. I get the three-point thing. I get why teams do it (it’s efficient, adds entropy to the offense). I get why analysts grab onto it with a white-knuckled grip (it’s efficient, it’s pretty, and it’s a very, very easy analysis).

The truth of the matter, however, is that if all a team did was shoot 3-point shots as opposed to 2-point shots (more 3’s, more 3’s, more 3’s goes the banging of the inane drums), the defense would adjust to the team that refuses to shoot a 2-point shot, and the percentage of makes would decrease to the point where certain 2’s would be more efficient. Since we can assume a certain continuity of results as we dial up the rate of 3-pointers, and we certainly agree that 0% 3-pointers is bad, just as we agree 100% 3-points is bad (in terms of shots taken), then there should be some equilibrium points in between where there is a mix of shots that gives the most efficient overall offense.

Ah, the joys of a non-linear world.

Enter: Omer Asik.

A good-looking NBA specimen being paid the max for the only year left on his contract, but not completely on the books due to an arcane contract, Asik is known as a defender, and his reputation and performance speak for themselves. I’ll take them for granted here.

I claim he will have a ripple effect on the New Orleans Pelicans’ defense, allowing it to improve, in nominal circumstances, from near the bottom of the NBA (27th last season at 110.1 Drtg compared to NBA-average of 106.7 and the Bucks’ NBA-worst 111.8) to above average.

Field Goal Defense

Breaking down the Pelicans’ shooting performance by distance along with make rate and value of the shots, we can get a damage assessment. Here is a summary of data from the 2013-2014 NBA season. It is data on the Pelicans and the NBA average. The basic data is the percentage of shots attempted by opposing teams from various distance groups and the percentage of shots made by those opponents from those same distance groups. By multiplying these factors and the value of the corresponding shots, an expected point increase per field goal attempt (due to made shots, ignoring free throws awarded) can be determined for each distance. I’m just calling this “Damage” below since it sounds better than expected points for opponents per field goal attempt by opponents.

The damage is then totaled, and the damage by distance is recast as a percentage of the total damage.

This is done for the Pelicans, and similar statistics are gathered from NBA averages to give a baseline for comparison. Lastly, these comparisons are tabulated. Note, rounding may cause apparent slight errors.

Pelicans 0 ft – 3 ft 3 ft – 10 ft 10 ft – 16 ft 16 ft – 3pt 3 pt
Attempt % Allowed 0.310 0.161 0.103 0.147 0.278
Make % Allowed 0.663 0.376 0.420 0.384 0.357
Value 2 2 2 2 3
Damage (1.029 Total) 0.411 0.121 0.087 0.113 0.298
Proportional Damage 0.399 0.118 0.084 0.110 0.289
NBA Average 0 ft – 3 ft 3 ft – 10 ft 10 ft – 16 ft 16 ft – 3pt 3 pt
Attempt % Allowed 0.286 0.169 0.105 0.180 0.259
Make % Allowed 0.636 0.390 0.401 0.395 0.360
Value 2 2 2 2 3
Damage (1.002 Total) 0.364 0.132 0.084 0.142 0.280
Proportional Damage 0.363 0.132 0.084 0.142 0.279
0 ft – 3 ft 3 ft – 10 ft 10 ft – 16 ft 16 ft – 3pt 3 pt
Differential (0.028 Total) 0.047 -0.011 0.002 -0.029 0.018
Relative Differential 13.0% -8.2% 2.7% -20.6% 6.4%

 

As you can see, the data is very telling. The long 2-point shots by Pelicans’ opponents does far less damage than for an NBA-average team, and there is a decent reduction for shots that are 3 ft – 10 ft, too. The damage from 3-point shots is slightly higher than average, but the shots at the rim or very close are the ones that are really hurting the Pelicans.

Again, the 2-point shots at the rim . . . not all 2-point shots . . . are what really hurt the Pelicans last season, in terms of field goals. While 3-point shots did have some efficiency (28.9% of damage compared to 27.8% of shot attempts), this is about half the benefit the NBA-average gets from these shots (27.9% of damage compared to 25.9% of shot attempts). This is because the far more effective close 2-pointers were so much more damaging to the Pelicans than to a typical NBA team.

Moreover, the overall picture is that teams were able to shift longer 2-point shots to a few more 3-point shots and many more close 2-point shots.

This differential (0.028) when multiplied over the average number of shots per game by Pelicans opponents (about 80) and taking into account the Pelicans’ pace last season (92.2), this accounts for about 70% of the DRtg deficit.

Free Throw Defense

Having addressed the shots that score 2 points and 3 points, the 1-point shots remain. While the idea of free throw defense sounds funny (which is why it was chosen), the concept is the basis for “hack-a-whoever” stratagems and substitutions in certain game situations. There are 4 basic aspects: When to foul, who to foul, how of often to foul, how effective the foul is. If you foul a better free throw shooter, this is a worse idea than fouling a poorer free throw shooter, all other things being equal. When a foul does not stop a shot attempt dropping, this is less effective. Fouling before a shot is less likely to result in free throws (overall) than during a shot. Also, fouling more often (generally) increases the number of free throw attempts and, thus, free throw makes.

One can pick on each of those factors given the relative lack of NBA experience on the court last season, but lack of experience is hard to point to in data. This does not mean that is factor is unimportant, of course. What we can do, however, is to look at statistics that should reflect this lack of experience. As it turns out, the Pelicans were dead last in the NBA in FT/FGA (0.249 compared to an NBA average of 0.215). This statistic is very much affected by lack of experience (e.g. decision-making, tactics) and defensive talent.

Asik, again, is known for his defense and is experienced. Below are some key defensive statistics per 36 minutes (I included offensive rebounding here, but someone can ignore the stat if they choose) for Asik and the players who saw time at Center for the New Orleans Pelicans last season apart from Davis, as this mixture is what Asik is replacing in part. This table did not include Amundson, Ely, and Onuaku, who all had under 300 minutes who fouled, as a mixture, at a high rate.

Player Fouls O. Rebounds D. Rebounds Rebounds Steals Blocks
Asik 3.4 3.8 10.3 14.1 0.5 1.4
Ajinca 7.1 3.6 6.9 10.5 0.9 1.7
Smith 4.3 2.2 5.6 7.9 0.5 1.3
Stiemsma 6.0 2.6 5.5 8.1 1.3 2.0
Withey 3.8 2.6 5.3 7.9 0.8 2.6

 

Asik gives more rebounding and fewer fouls, but the gaggle did produce more steals and blocks, it should be noted.

Asik and the Ripple Effect

Omer Asik addresses the significant issues in each of the areas identified above.

First, he’s a good defender and should lower the number of attempts by opponents at the rim, the percentage of such shots, and the make rate of these shots. These shots should be replaced by less efficient longer 2-point shots.

Second, when he’s defending, he should foul less than the Pelicans have been used to from their big men in the paint (other than Davis). This will lower the contribution of free throws to the final point differential. He’ll also be able to do this for longer since he will not be in danger of fouling out in most (or all) games.

Third, his defensive and rebounding presence should allow others to focus more on their own assignment rather than, for instance, their assignment and relevant cutters. This additional focus should help other players, particularly in two areas. One area is on the perimeter. Players can take more chances and give less cushion to opposing players if they know that there is an effective second line of defense at the rim in Asik. an effect of this should be more running of players off of the arc, so fewer 3-point attempts and makes, and more mid-range 2-point shots. The other area is simply Anthony Davis. The more area Davis has to impose his will, the better off the Pelicans are. Period.

Fourth, he is a better rebounder than those players he’s replacing, at least as a starter. His rebounding, from a defensive perspective, will extend Pelicans possessions that would have ended with no points and lead to an occasional fast break while also ending those of opponents who may end up with an easy putback, given his likely location on the court.

In short, Asik may be exactly what the Pelicans needed. His contributions should extend far beyond his stat line due to the needs and strengths of this team at this time.

As a final thought: Monty Williams may as well have been asking for Asik by name for years, and now Monty has him . . . along with Anthony Davis and rest of this team of players with large salary and no small esteem around the NBA. Next season, if this one fails, would be a wonderful time to make sweeping changes in the organization and roster. The Pelicans getting just what they need on defense may be at the cost of Monty Williams losing his personal defense. If the team works the way I think it should, this will not be a problem for Coach Williams. If, however, the team struggles, Monty Williams may find himself exposed with the clock tick-tick-tick-ing.

11 Comments

  1. Pelican Poster

    October 26, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Time will tell on Asik’s effect…I’ve got to think that if he can at least rebound at his career average we will be better off, or at least have an offset to the loss of Aminu’s rebounding…the biggest effect I think Asik will provide will be Davis’ ability to more freely roam defensively to cause havoc and for that reason I am excited for our chances. Not really an above average shot blocker, but the little I’ve seen him play he does seem to be a shot “affector” and that may be just as valuable.

  2. callmened

    October 27, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Excellent and well thought out post!

  3. thouse

    October 27, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Not sure about the point of the first 2 paragraphs. No one seriously argues they should only take 3s. Or that they should abandon drives and FTs at the expense of 3PA. Plenty of evidence that taking more 3s actually leads to winning. http://www.boxscoregeeks.com/articles/changing-strategies-in-basketball-and-the-search-for-floor-stretch
    If anything your own weariness with the people asking for more 3s defeats your premise. The Pelicans offense would likely be better if they simply took more 3s. Since they restrict themselves to mainly 18 feet and in, they are easier to defend. As pointed out in a recent ESPN article about Gravity- simply taking, regardless of efficiency, more 3s causes defenses to bend and spread out, opening driving lanes and creating better mid range looks. 
    As for Asik, he will be a difference maker. All the things that are just so hard to calculate on defense, he does. My fear is that they will continue to run an aggressive hedging scheme leaving him playing 3 on 2. He’s more capable than anyone they’ve had since Okafor at doing that, but it’s a dangerous place to live. I expect a dramatic jump in defensive efficiency as long as he is healthy.

  4. callmened

    October 27, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    as an objective fan that watches ALL nba teams, heres my opinion of asik and this team
    – nice defensive player who will alter shots
    – slow in PNR
    – absolutely horrible on offense due to stone mitten hands
    – bad free throw shooter
    -overall, his value improving interior defense and preventing unibrow davis from getting beat up. I can see a 10ppg 12rebs type of yr
    Pelicans
    – everyone keeps saying that Unibrow davis will be an MVP candidate but unfortunately you need a good team. I think his offense is still raw BUT improving by the minute. He has NO post up game – do they even call plays for him yet? hes a nice offensive rebounder but once he consistently nails that jumper he will be SCARY
    – in regards to the team, i listened to the podcasts (excellent) and some folks are saying this is a 50 win team. !?!?!?!? This team needs to prove it can stay healthy. Gordon is an ingrate who is ruining the team. I dont think he wants to be there (i think he wanted to go to phoenix a few yrs ago), so he pouts and fakes injuries (my opnion). At 16mill, hes hurting this teams chances of getting better. Tyreke the philly prodigy cant shoot! Even though his IQ has improved, im not sure you can depend on him as a team leader. Speaking of philly, Holiday is solid but is he healthy?same with the underrated Ryan anderson (please dont move homey to the 3, he has no foot speed). The above mentioned are the GOOD players. LOL. The main problem with this team is NO DEPTH. Rivers (bust, i still believe in him but he shouldve stayed in school – he ight realize his potential with his daddy in LA), the Jimmer (really. lol. awful defense), Salmons is 100 yrs old but might be their best SF, Babbit, Withey – you cant keep striking out with draft picks in the NBA
    Overall – 42 wins, miss playoffs. The real question is – is it time to let go of Monty? how any excuses does he have? I think his experience with the Spurs boosted his stock – but what has he done lately? I think they need a vet coach to take them to the next level
    just my 2 cents…thoughts? 
    DISCLAIMER – i speak primarily as a disgruntled knicks fan who can recognize bad contracts and overrate players

  5. Jason Calmes

    October 27, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    The point is to set up that there are various equilibria, and not all of them involve more 3’s and defendng them. In this case, the other teams are incentivized to shoot more close 2’s, which the data shows.
    By only focusing on 3’s because of expected values, the point that each team has its own circunstances with which to deal is lost. This post attempts toshow that for this team’s defense.
    Also, I state the very points you make about taking threes making the offense better… “Entropy.”
    Sorry, but yammering about 3’s on offense, ignoring 2’s on defense (the title of the article references this), then agreeing with the article after panning it. Very confusing.

  6. thouse

    October 27, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Never panned your article. I just felt that the first two paragraphs were not well connected to the premise which is Asik will be a significant help with the 2 biggest problems fracing the pelicans defense: rim protection and avoiding fouls.
    You certainly hear more from other fans than I, so maybe you’re hearing people blame that for the defensive woes. Just seemed incongruous to me.

  7. Jason Calmes

    October 27, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    Just confused me.
    Let me try to lay out the start.
    1) 3’s are a necessary, efficient, and at least perceived to be under-utilized part of a modern NBA offense
    2) The Pelicans’ opponents’ offense is one of the best
    3) To improve their defense most quickly, it could be concluded that the Pelicans should shore up 3 point defense
    4) The Pelicans’ opponents, however, have had great success pushing for short 2’s, much more than normal
    5) Rather than addressing the 3’s, as may be expected given the greater than NBA-average damage from 3’s, the Pelicans are in a psotion to rather focus on the short 2’s first, which is atypical and contrary to current analytic trends
    6) Asik seems a fit to address this and not 3’s defense.
    7) This with other defensive improvements tied to Asik should lead to greater than expected defensive improvement.

  8. thouse

    November 2, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Jason Calmes Results aren’t great at limiting shots within 5 feet. They lead the league with 39.5 FGA/G allowed and opponents are hitting them at a 61% clip. Still VERY VERY early, and Dallas has an elite offense, but not too promising so far. 
    3PA/G are good (5/G from the corners, 12.5 above the break), but part of that is teams haven’t needed to shoot 3s. They are taking 50 shots in the RA or Paint per game. Only 18.5 from mid range.
    Forcing teams into the paint towards Asik/Davis isn’t necessarily a bad thing (see Hibbert, Roy and the Pacers historically great defenses the past few years)- they are the strength of the defense. Just not sure that’s what they are trying to do.
    Like I said, very early and defense takes trust which requires time. But the talent is there to be much, much better.

  9. Jason Calmes

    November 2, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    thouse Jason Calmes As you can see, the diagnosis stands. The cure isn’t working yet. We’ll see if it will. However, I think there are positive indications, even in the Dallas game.  
    Your point about not “needing” to take 3’s is the point. Why take them when a better option is available for your guards? Exactly.

  10. thouse

    November 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Yes. Just revisiting what will be the single biggest issue the team needs to overcome to be in the playoffs. Its only 2 data points, so the book is far from written.
    I wasn’t as excited about how they played v Dallas, even in the 2nd half. But Dallas is very good and presents unique problems. The ingredients are there to fix the problem on this team

  11. Jason Calmes

    November 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    thouse Oh, I plan on tracking this all season. I’m particular encouraged by the fact that the defense spiked when Dirk sat and Asik remained in. Yeah, Dirk sitting is going to lower the offense, but the character changed. Asik was tracking him, and the fact that the defense was that good in Game 2 when Dirk isn’t out there is a step up from last year. 
    Growth is the key here. Been tempted to say more, but will hold off until we have more data. Still, this is what I’m thinking. 
    Regardless, I think we are talking about a key issue here (one of a few), and the one that is the least discussed.

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