doing it alone

on self-creation, aggregators, and stepping up

These playoffs have emphasized the value of being able to create a shot for yourself. The improbable shot making by guys like Donovan Mitchell and others have often been enough to keep teams afloat when nothing else is working.

So far this postseason, 30.7 percent of all 3s taken have been self-created1. That’s up from 25.3 percent in the regular season among the same group of players. As defenses lock in and tighten up their rotations, there are fewer opportunities to get off routine catch and shoot 3s.

And even when players do get off a catch and shoot three, those shots have been harder to make because defenders are closing out harder and faster. As of this writing, players are shooting 36.8 percent on assisted three point attempts. That’s down from 37.9 percent in the regular season among the same group of of players. So it’s no wonder why teams are increasingly turning to their star shot makers to create something out of nothing.

The table below shows the top 40 players in three point attempts this postseason and the percent of their shots that have been self-created. Most of the names on the table make sense, except for the one at the top.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is by all objective measures a bad three point shooter. Only he doesn’t seem to know it or he just doesn’t care. In these playoffs, Antetokounmpo is shooting 13.5 percent on 3s overall. But it’s the fact that he’s taken a higher share of self-created 3s than anyone else that’s concerning. He’s shooting just 11.8 percent on self-created shots from beyond the arc and it’s exactly what the defense wants him to do.

With the help of tracking.pbpstats.com, we can actually break down Antetokounmpo’s self-created three point attempts into those that have been contested or uncontested2. Normally, players resort to self-created shots because they’re being closely guarded. But Antetokounmpo stands out for the fact that that many of his self-created 3s are taken when the defense isn’t anywhere near him. During the regular season, 81 percent of his self-created 3s were uncontested, by far the highest rate in the league among high volume shot creators.

For example, in the clip below, Jeff Green doesn’t even pretend to try to contest Antetokounmpo’s self-created shot.

That’s been par for the course in this year’s playoffs. 22 of Antetokounmpo’s 34 self-created 3s in the postseason have been taken when the nearest defender was more than six feet away.

What’s worse is that a lot of these attempts are also coming early in the shot clock, meaning he isn’t even trying to find a better shot first. I think a lot of these attempts would be more palatable (honorable even) if they were coming at the end of the shot clock once the Bucks had exhausted all other options. But the fact that they’re being taken early and often makes them feel more like a turnover than a shot attempt.

Maybe there’s some proprietary tracking data out there that says, “actually, these shots are good.” Maybe by taking these 3s the defense sags off Antetokounmpo five percent less than they would otherwise. Maybe that extra five percent of space creates cutting lanes for teammates that wouldn’t be there if Antetokounmpo passed up those shots. Maybe.

The only thing I know for sure is that Antetokounmpo feels it’s important for him to take these shots. But if you’re a Bucks fan, you should be praying he misses his first few attempts because the worst thing that could happen is that he makes a couple and tricks himself into thinking he can do it again.


Who Aggregates the Aggregators

The NBA subbredit is one of the largest online clearing house for news, rumors, and quotes from NBA reporters, analysts, and talking heads. For better or worse, it’s one of my most frequently visited websites because anything that’s anything eventually ends up there. Every time someone of note breaks news, dishes a hot take, or spreads gossip on a podcast, they inevitably get aggregated and it gets posed to r/nba.

On r/nba, posts that feature a quote or tidbit from a specific person are required to specify the name of the source in the title of the post. So I gathered every post from this season to identify the sources that appeared most often in the title’s of r/nba submissions. The following chart shows the names and counts of every source that appeared in at least ten submissions this season.

The most obvious takeaway here is how much of the board is controlled by news breakers like Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania, and to a lesser extent Marc Stein and Chris Haynes. Looking at this chart, you’d be forgiven for thinking the clearest path to becoming an influential NBA media member is access.

They’re followed by beat reporters like Malika Andrews, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, and Anthony Slater, all of whom cover teams in some of the largest media markets for places like ESPN and The Athletic. Scattered throughout are the names of analysts like Zach Lowe, Kevin O’Conner (KOC), and John Hollinger.

It’s kind of fun to look through the chart, which I think serves as a rough hierarchy of information brokers in today’s NBA. It’s also amusing to see that guys like Brian Windhorst and Bill Simmons, both of whom live in low-level fear of being aggregated on every podcast appearance, are in the grand scheme of things bit-players at best.


Stepping Up

Let’s end on a .gif. Here’s a chart showing the change in a player’s usage and scoring efficiency between the regular season and the playoffs.

Damn Jrue! What happened to you!

1

Here, I’m defining “self-created” as any shot that is taken after two or more seconds of touching the ball. This is meant to serve as a proxy for unassisted attempts, something we don’t have public data on.

2

Here, I’m defining “uncontested” as any shot taken when the nearest defense is at least six feet away.