Omer Asik and Defending the 2-Point Shot

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.


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