Improving Your Basketball Program with Advanced Stats
Improve Your Offense: Understanding Shot Selection vs. Shot Generation
During my 14+ years as a basketball coach, one thing is for certain. I have become convinced that shot selection is the #1 factor in deciding wins and losses in games between two similarly matched teams. And nowhere is that more important than during the basketball playoffs!
Every coaching staff is going to have their favorite offensive sets and go-to defensive schemes, but in the end, what it really comes down to is this ... do your players take the highest percentage shots possible (we're taking eFG%, but more on that later) on a possession-by-possession basis, compared to the players on the opposing team?
I'm a true stat geek/basketball nerd, and during my first year coaching I looked at the results on MaxPreps of every high school boys’ basketball game played in the state of Texas. Once I eliminated the “blowouts” of 20 points or more, I learned that that average margin of victory was between 8-10 points per game. Simply put, the team that made one more shot per quarter than their opponent would win the game. Shot selection matters.
And as much as shot selection matters, great coaches know that in order to have the most efficient offense, shot selection must go hand in hand with shot generation. Or you can think about it this way, shot selection is the baseline layer for any great offense, with shot generation being the necessary piece that will put you over the top.
I'm sure many of us have our own definition for both shots selection and shot generation, but for the purpose of this email, I'm going to use two very specific definition for each.
Shot Selection: How to eliminate the worst shots taken by your team.
Shot Generation: How to create the best shots for your team.
Think about shot selection this way. What if you could immediately eliminate the two worst shots your team takes every quarter during the course of a game. Those off-balance, rushed, highly contested shots that have no better than a 20% chance of going in. At best, your team is scoring on two of those possessions, generating a total of 4-5 points over eight possessions, or about 0.5 points per possession (PPP). See, I told you I was a stat nerd. 😂
What if on those same eight possessions, you replaced the 20% shots with 60% shots? You’ve immediately increased your scoring to about 10 points in those same possessions, or 1.25 PPP. Without forcing one additional turnover, or grabbing one more offensive rebound, or eliminating a single turnover by your own team, you’ve just increased your scoring by six points per game. Shot selection matters.
Now the next question is this … how do we actually define shot selection for our teams? Great question.
My favorite way to define shot selection comes from PGC Basketball founder, Dick DeVenzio. He defined it using the Shot Selection Scale. Using what Dick wrote in his book Running The Show on the Shot Selection Scale (you can read an excerpt of that here) as a starting point, here’s how I’ve used a numbered system to develop a sliding scale help my teams define the shots we most and least value as a team.
Side Note: In our program, an example of a seven (“your shot”) is a shot that you would make at least 7 out of 10 times in training at game speed. We would track and measure in practice to define these shots from different distances on the floor. If you’d like to learn more about how we did this and created a culture of player development, I’d love to connect with you on it. Click here to schedule a free 20-minute consult together.
This scale allows me, our other coaches, and the players on our team to communicate with each other quickly and easily when it comes to the shots we are taking or want to take during a game.
“Great 9, Johnny! Keep it up!”
“Hey, Jenn. Stop settling for 3s and let’s get a 7 on the next possession!”
“Tommy, I can’t keep playing you if you’re taking 5s and Ben is wide open for a 7 at the same time.”
Now each coach may adjust their definitions of shot value based upon team strategy, team ability, desired number of possessions per game, etc., but regardless of detailed definition, this scale brings simplicity to your team’s shot selection and simplicity wins games.
Let’s take a quick self-evaluation of your team’s shot selection so far this season.
#1 – Watch 5-7 minutes of film of your team’s offensive possessions from this season. Rate your team’s shot attempts on those possessions according to the Shot Selection Scale. What number were most of them?
#2 – What’s your plan for generating better shots the rest of this year?
Next up, shot generation. If shot generation is how to create the best shots for your team, we must first be able to define two things: the best shooters on your team and which shots generate the most points for your offense. The best way to do that? Ditch evaluating your team’s shots with field goal percentage (FG%), and instead use effective field goal percentage (eFG%).
If you’re unfamiliar with eFG%, no worries. I’ve got your back! Take a moment and CLICK HERE to read wrote I recently wrote about eFG% in great detail.
As not every shot is created equal, one of the most important aspects to understand about shot generation is which shots are the most valuable (‘best”) in games. And when all variables are considered equal (contested vs. uncontested, etc.), it’s a simple answer – rim shots, 3s and free throws.
At the NBA level (i.e. some of the best defenders in the world), data tells us that free throws are valued at 1.5 points per shot (PPS), rim shots are typically worth between 1.2 - 1.4 PPS, and 3s are valued anywhere from 1.05 – 1.20 PPS (depending upon location). Compare that to just 0.85 PPS (or lower) on mid-range 2s.
And if that’s that difference at the highest level, just imagine how much more the gap would be at the high school and middle school levels! As an example, take a look at this shot chart in points per shot from one of the players on our team at Casady last season.
Jackson was our 2nd leading scorer for most of the season, and as you look at his shot chart, you see that there are only two areas inside the 3-point line where he generated more points per shot than from anywhere on the 3-point line - at the rim on the right side and at the wing on the right side.
As a coaching staff, we could have helped Jackson be an even more efficient scorer if we had help find ways to eliminate some of those mid-range 2s attempts and replaced those shots with finding ways to generate additional 3s for him either in the right corner (1.8 PPS) or from the left wing (1.33 PPS).
Leaving rim shots aside for now, let’s talk about a couple ways your team can immediately generate more effective 3s and free throws.
1. Corner 3s
Across all levels of play, corner 3s go in at a high rate than any other 3s. It’s a direct field of vision for the shooter (fewer variables), they’re more consistently uncontested (more on that later), and at the highest levels (college and pro), it’s closer to the rim than any other point on the 3-point line.
2. Catch & Shoot 3s
This is the most important rule of generating more 3s and better 3s for your team. There’s a MASSIVE difference between a catch and shoot 3-pointer and one that’s taken off the dribble.
Take the NBA for example. In our previous points per shot graph, it showed that catch and shoot 3s generate 1.12 PPS compared with 0.97 PPS on off the dribble 3s. That creates a significant difference in points created over the course of the season.
The difference is most often going to be even greater in high school. As an example, one of my closest friends coaches at a 5A school in Texas that made it all the way to the state championship game last season. In their playoff games (arguably the better and/or most prepared defenses they faced all year), his team earned 1.21 PPS on catch and shoot 3s (25-62) compared to just 0.89 PPS on 3s off the dribble (8-27).
3. In Range
World class shooters like Steph Curry, Trey Young, Sue Bird, and Diana Taurasi are not only dangerous because the make so many 3s, but also because of the depth of their range. They’re a threat to shoot (and make!) a shot from the moment they cross mid-court.
This doesn’t mean that any player on your team should start jacking shots as they cross the timeline, but it does mean that the players who can shoot from a step or two back from the 3-point line should be encouraged to do so. The further out they are, the less likely the defense is to be closely guarding them. And if the defense does extend out, that’s going to create more space for driving lanes and cutting lanes for your team.
Along with catch and shoot 3s, this is the most important concept for coaches to impart to their team. There’s a direct correlation between defender distance and FG%/eFG%. The closer a defender is to the shooter, the less likely that shot is to go in.
The easiest data to locate on this concept again comes to us from the NBA. Averaged across all 3-point field goals attempted, the standard NBA eFG% is 41.8% on 3’s when the closest defender is 2-3 feet, compared to 50.8% when that defender Is 4-5 feet away. The NBA eFG% balloons to 63.6% when the closest defender is 8-9 feet away.
Want to generate more effective 3s for your team? Focus on making them uncontested!
This is another word/concept that I learned from PGC/Dick DeVenzio. Arrums stands for “air ‘em”, as in get the defender in the air – especially when you’re attacking at the rim. Dick put it this way:
“Anytime you get into the lane and you have doubts about your ability to get your shot off, add an ARRUM and get a defender to leave his feet. If you stay low and on-balance, peek at the rim, and give one good pump fake, defenders will leave their feet again and again. That’s because most fans love shot blockers who can slap a shot into the ninth row. You should be on a mission to make these big, athletic players look foolish. Add an ARRUM and get them to leave their feet. If you can get a defender up in the air, it’s easy to create all kinds of passing angles, draw a foul, or even get an ‘and-one’.”
2. Power Finish
If an Arrum isn’t working, power finishes surely will. Anytime a player is near the basket with a defender walled up in their way, he/she should attack the rim and finish with both elbows extended and take their lead elbow (closest to defender) straight up through the defender’s nose towards the rim. As long as the offensive player is moving their body as a unit, it shouldn’t be an offensive foul; and regardless, it’s always going to be a defender’s immediate reflex to move away from contact, especially when there’s an elbow coming directly for his/her nose.
3. Foul Stations
This is an idea that I stole from former Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy. A friend of mine visited their training camp one fall, and each day in practice, the Pistons would have their players go through foul stations just like any other piece of their skill development. They worked on drawing fouls at the rim, on the drive, on 3s, etc. Teaching your players HOW to draw fouls at the rim and working on that in practice will immediately lead to more free throw attempts in games.
Let’s wrap up with one more self-evaluation for you and your team.
#1 – Look at your team’s current points per shot from the rim, mid-range 2s, and all 3s (If you have HUDL, it does this for you) and decide what areas you need to 1) eliminate shots from and 2) take more shots from moving forward.
#2 – From the list of four, what is the one (no more than two) ways that your team is going to FOCUS on generating more effective 3s this season?
#2 – Can you develop and implement a plan for your team to generate two more free throws per quarter in games?