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Post-Aldridge Shot Selection: What Has Changed?

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Former Trail Blazer and four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs this past offseason as a free agent, after averaging almost 20 field goal attempts per game last year in Portland. How have the Blazers re-distributed their shot selection post-Aldridge?

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, LaMarcus Aldridge led the Portland Trail Blazers in field goal attempts and points per game. He was one of the most prolific offensive big men in the entire league, and the undisputed focal point of Portland's scoring attack. With Aldridge and several others gone, Portland coach Terry Stotts has had to alter the offense. Damian Lillard has become the focal point and isolation sets for big men have disappeared.

With the season 10 percent completed, trends are beginning to emerge and it is possible to assess how the Blazers' shot selection has changed post-Aldridge.

Where on the floor are the shots coming from?

To begin to assess how the Blazers have changed their shooting locations consider these heat charts from last season and this season (generated by www.nbasavant.com):

Aldridge had a unique offensive style by modern NBA standards. His go-to move was a mid-range jumper - a shot scorned by advanced stats gurus. Accordingly, the heat charts show that Portland has limited its mid-range shots this season compared to last season (i.e. the area covered by the mid-range "blobs" last season was more expansive than this season). These illustrations confirm that Aldridge's departure has likely led to a decrease in mid-range baskets for the Blazers.

Portland, however, has not decreased their total made field goals per game (39.3 this season vs. 38.7 last season). Thus the mid-range shots must have been redistributed elsewhere on the court - and the heat chart suggests that Portland is more reliant on three-pointers and that their effective range around the basket has increased by several feet.

To more exactly quantify these differences consider this table of field goal attempts broken down by general zone (numbers aggregated by www.nbasavant.com from stats.nba.com):

Corner 3

FG

FGA

FG%

% of FGAs

14-15

221

568

38.91%

8.08%

15-16

15

54

27.78%

8.07%






Above the break 3

FG

FGA

FG%

% of FGAs

14-15

583

1646

35.42%

23.41%

15-16

68

171

39.77%

25.56%






Mid-range

FG

FGA

FG%

% of FGAs

14-15

815

2044

39.87%

29.07%

15-16

68

142

47.89%

21.23%






Paint

FG

FGA

FG%

% of FGAs

14-15

1553

2774

55.98%

39.45%

15-16

162

302

53.64%

45.14%

Notably, the Blazers have not significantly changed the percent of shots coming from beyond the 3-point line, despite pre-season expectations to the contrary. The increased effectiveness visible in the heat chart can be attributed to a 4.3 percent jump in field goal percentage from "above the break." Damian Lillard, specifically, has increased his accuracy by about ten percent in that zone, and C.J. McCollum has been shooting at a better clip than Wes Matthews did last season.

The chart also verifies that the Blazers have overhauled their midrange game. This season midrange shots only account for about 21 percent of total field goal attempts, compared to 29 percent last season, but accuracy has improved by over eight percent! This season Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe, Damian Lillard, and C.J. McCollum have taken the bulk of the mid-range shots and all of those players, except McCollum, are shooting 46 percent or better. Leonard is at 68 percent.

It would be easy to blame Aldridge's 41.5 percent accuracy for the jump in mid-range effectiveness this season, but of the four players (Aldridge, Lillard, Chris Kaman, and Nicolas Batum) who attempted 125 or more mid-range shots last season, only Kaman shot at a better rate than Aldridge. This suggests that a bigger picture change to the entire offense has increased mid-range shooting accuracy.

Many of the shots previously taken in the mid-range have been re-distributed to the paint. Shooting percentage in the key is very similar between the two seasons, and higher than the mid-range for both seasons, so overall this is probably a positive change. Interestingly, Aldridge also led the Blazers in field goal attempts in the paint last season and shot 56.5 percent - above the team average. Lillard leads this season but is only shooting 49.2 percent.

How open are the Blazers' shooters?

The NBA has made player tracking data available at stats.nba.com. Included in the tracking data is information about the vicinity of the nearest defender to a shooter for every field goal attempt. Here is Portland's shooting data from the last two seasons broken down by the NBA's definition of wide open (nearest defender 6+ feet away), open (defender 4-6 feet away), covered (defender 2-4 feet away), and tightly covered (defender 2-4 feet away).

Overall

% of FGA

FG%

eFG%

14-15

100%

45.1

50.9

15-16

100%

46.7

52.8





0-2 feet




14-15

16.40%

46.5

47

15-16

19.50%

42

42.7





2-4 ft




14-15

33.70%

46.9

49.4

15-16

31.60%

46

48.8





4-6 feet




14-15

29.60%

41.5

49

15-16

30.50%

50.7

59





6+ feet




14-15

20.30%

46.3

59.3

15-16

18.40%

46

60.1

The good news in this table is that despite losing their star forward the Blazers are getting open shots at an almost identical rate to last season: 49.9 percent of shots last season had no defender within four feet, compared to 48.9 percent this season. Aldridge's importance to Portland's offense was often suggested to be not only in his ability to get his own shot, but also in his ability to create open shots for other players by drawing defensive pressure. Thus far, Stotts has succeeded in creating open looks for his shooters even without Aldridge. Those open looks have had noticeable "empowering" effects; consequently, Aminu and Harkless are both shooting career bests from 3-point land.

The Blazers are also doing a much better job of hitting open shots this season - both FG% and eFG% have risen significantly for shots taken with a defender 4-6 feet away. The season is only eight games old, so that effect could be noise, or it could be indicative of an improvement to Portland's system. Perhaps players are getting crisper passes, or Stotts has placed an emphasis on distributing shots more heavily to proven shooters?

What is the overall effect?

Perhaps surprisingly, the re-distribution of shooting has not led to a significant decline in Portland's effectiveness. Both advanced and traditional statistics suggest that this year's team is as effective at hitting shots as last year's team (stats aggregated from www.basketball-reference.com and stats.nba.com):


FG

FGA

FG%

3P

3PA

3P%

Pts

eFG%

TS%

Pace

ORTG

2014-15

38.7

86

0.45

9.8

27.2

0.362

102.8

50.8

54.4

96.46

108.2

Lg Rank

8

5

17

6

3

8

9

8

9

13

9

2015-16

39.3

84.1

0.467

10.4

28.1

0.369

103.8

52.80%

55.20%

99.9

106.2

Lg Rank

7

18

6

2

5

4

7

3

6

18

5

Given that pre-season predictions pegged Portland as team that would be heavily reliant on inside scoring and transition baskets, it is surprising to see that the Blazers have maintained their shooting prowess. The team has actually jumped from No. 8 to No. 4 for 3-point percentage, and also improved its relative position for FG%, eFG%, TS%, points per game, and offensive rating.

In short, the Blazers have looked far more offensively coherent than anyone would have expected given the offseason overhaul. Terry Stotts and his staff deserve a ton of credit for identifying the skills of every player on the team and then integrating those skills into the Blazers' offense.

Conclusions

Eight games into the 2015-16 season the Blazers have avoided a significant shooting dropoff, despite losing Aldridge. They are shooting roughly the same number of shots per game, but have re-distributed those attempts away from the mid-range toward the paint. Portland is also shooting open shots, mid-range shots and above the break 3-pointers more accurately than last season. The overall result is an offense that has been, from a statistical perspective, on par with last year's team.