Sprinkling in Some Long 2’s

Wednesday night in Memphis, the Pelicans looked good in the first quarter, and things unraveled to start the second. The game was about even until a Memphis run in the third, and the Pelicans were really never close again. There were several things going well for New Orleans throughout the game: Rebounding, getting to the line, putting Gasol in foul trouble. So, why did the offense go flat?

The Data

The Pelicans only took 7 shots outside the paint in Memphis, 1 in the first, 6 the rest of the way (1, 4, 1, 1 by quarter). Overall, they were 4/6 for 1, 6/13 for 2, 6/9 for 3 in 1Q, then 20/23, 17/41, 1/16 the rest of the way.

Making here the early threes amounted directly to just about 3 extra points over long 2’s that might have replaced them, but making the shots period was part of the success in that it created something to change the defense. You can see this in the turnovers. The Grizzlies started trying to stop the set up of the shot rather than going after the shot at the point of the attempt, and the turnovers resulted. If you are taking shots you can’t make at a high rate, or at least aren’t making, then you are enabling this because you are essentially telling them: keep it up, we can’t score (enough) now. So, you have to score, not just as the goal for the overall strategy to win the game (duh), but as a tactic.

The Tactical Importance of Long 2’s

Shots in the paint, are good, but shots in the non-restricted area paint are bad in terms of expected rate of return. At some point, you need to take long 2’s if you have both the ability to hit them at a decent rate (say, at least 35% overall) and the defense is going to give you those shots (long time fans should be thinking: Jason Smith). Here’s why.

The defense will often give you those shots not so much because they are bad (that’d be non-restricted area paint) so much as they are improvable with quick changes in position, if allowed. By moving significantly towards or away from the basket, you can increase the return dramatically on a made shot, and that threat shapes the defense’s choices. The large amount of real estate where this is true is also in favor of the offense since open looks are often available to those who seek them. The opponents need to defend the paint to inhibit entry into the restricted area (which is why the rest of the paint is so hard to score in . . . it is a reaction to the eponymous restrictions of the restricted area) and the arc. The incentives in fact suggest that this broad area is the place to go to get some offense when you are cold. When you start making shots, the defense will react.

Long 2’s should not be a habit, but they have to be one of many tactical tools available to pry open a defense . . . try a few, try the game plan . . . try a few, try the game plan . . . . The surface “analytics” tell you the 3 best places to shoot: restricted area paint, the line, and from 3. The actual “analytics” point you to strategies that take into account the reactions to moves, counter-reactions, etc., highlighting equilibria. These tell you the best strategies, but the best strategy overall in a game like basketball is never a pure strategy. You have to mix things up to keep the defense from optimizing against you, and that is where you see just why long 2’s are good in certain situations.

Against Golden State, they need efficiency. Again, they can not get their shot efficiency above Golden State’s. They will have to take the broader view of possession efficiency and get it done all over the box score. They will likely need to go to this long 2 well to keep their points per possession up with the shooting they have. Oh, and some luck.

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