In today’s media-savvy basketball world, there are a number of methods available to analysts like myself to evaluate players, teams, lineups and everything in between. As part of our natural human tendency, in many cases we gravitate toward more comprehensive measures, particularly in terms of individual player analysis; metrics like PER or Win Shares were created in this vein, an attempt to quantify an all-encompassing view of a player’s statistical contributions within a single number.
Frequently, though, we require more context.
With this in mind, let’s take a small bite from the proverbial Jazz analytics pie. Last week, the recently-launched Nylon Calculus (the new analytics arm of Hardwood Paroxysm under the Sports Illustrated banner, for which I am also a contributor) debuted a remarkable advancement in shot chart data from my colleague Austin Clemens[ref]If you enjoy my writing and haven’t yet checked out Nylon Calculus or Austin’s work in particular, do so immediately.[/ref]. Those who enjoy pieces from Kirk Goldsberry on Grantland are in heaven, as NC now hosts the capability for anyone and everyone to create very similarly-styled shot charts for any player in the league, dating all the way back to the 1996-97 season. Let’s look at Gordon Hayward’s chart from last season as an example:
As the legend at the bottom explains, colors by area reflect the player’s field-goal percentage from that area compared to league average for the given year – red is better, blue is worse. The size of the cubes reflect the frequency of shots from each location, and printed numbers inside certain cubes reflect actual field-goal percentage from that area rather than percentage compared to league average.
Got it? Good. Now let’s apply it to our Jazz. What follows is a look at several of Utah’s more important pieces through the lens of Austin’s charts, with bits of relevant context to further paint the picture. Because I already took a detailed look at Hayward for NC last week, he’ll be left out.
This particular set of glasses isn’t too rosy as far as Trey was concerned in his rookie season. Of particular worry to me isn’t necessarily the amount of blue in his chart, but rather how spread out it all is. Burke was chucking from everywhere, despite being efficient compared with his peers in only a few areas of the court – as he develops, Jazz fans will hope he identifies his strongest areas and works to generate higher volume from them while eliminating some of the fluff from his selection. His work from midrange was scattered, though he was solid from both the left and right elbow, a promising sign going forward for his off-the-bounce game coming out of the pick-and-roll. His strange side-to-side disparity, particularly from the baseline midrange and corner 3’s, is likely a result of variance within a small sample – he attempted just 24 corner 3’s from the left and 15 from the right, per NBA.com, so just a few makes or misses would swing his percentages here in a large way.
Most worrying were his percentages from the high-emphasis areas in today’s NBA, at the rim and from deep. Trey hoisted 293 non-corner 3’s last year, shooting just 32.8 percent on them, and apart from a couple small clusters had virtually no reliable areas as a distance threat. Utah’s generally poor spacing certainly contributed to a degree, but it’s also not as though he was forced to take high-volume stepbacks or off-the-bounce triples – over 82 percent of his non-corner makes were assisted. Things were equally grim at the basket, where Burke simply wasn’t efficient finishing against NBA length. This isn’t uncommon for young guards, but given his general lack of explosiveness it may be a concern for Trey throughout his career, and he’ll surely be spending time this offseason working on angles and shielding the ball more effectively. As he moves forward with his career, much like many of his young teammates, expect his selectivity and accuracy to improve as he becomes more comfortable with the pro game in all aspects.
Like his similarly-named backcourt counterpart, Burks needs to improve his selection a bit, though not to nearly the same degree. Part of this is his time in the league already, as he’s developed in this area significantly from his first couple years. I wrote back in February about, among other things, his divisive splits from the left and right sides, and Austin’s chart only reinforces this idea[ref]With the exception of corner 3’s (like Burke, a 38-shot sample is too small to judge) and shots around the basket, which are obviously a different animal.[/ref] – he’s significantly better going to his right than his left. This is an exploitable tendency for smart defenses until he can smooth it out somewhat, but credit to Alec for emphasizing his right more often, as shown by the larger clusters there.
The reversal of this trend around the basket is likely representative of his strong athleticism and cutting, as well as an ability to finish through contact even on his weaker side:
He’ll want to improve on his stronger hand here, but on the surface this seems far easier for a player with his kind of physical ability than rapidly improving his weaker side. But overall, especially given Utah’s numerous offensive issues last year, fans should be quite encouraged with Burks’ chart, particularly if he continues to improve from deep.
Favors has the easiest chart to dissect, by a decent amount. Like Burks, he reined in some of his lesser efficiency shots from the previous year, in particular basically eliminating shots outside 16 feet (he took just 57 all year). I’ve discussed his jump-shooting in this space before, and while it continues to make small strides over previous years, it’s likely Derrick’s largest obstacle as a player going forward. He’s a strong finisher around the rim and will continue to be given his athleticism, but a leap in his midrange efficiency, and particularly an evening out of both his attempts and accuracy from each side of the block, could be the element that really pushes him into borderline star territory at his position. The upcoming couple years will be huge in this regard for Favors, who can well exceed the value of his recent contract extension and put himself in position for a big raise down the line if he can reach average or above average.
Kanter’s eye test is reflected almost exactly in his jump-shooting clusters on the chart – lethal from the left baseline and slightly closer in on the right baseline, mostly lukewarm from “floater”-type range. His selection is likely the best of Utah’s young core; his highest efficiency areas, for the most part, are his highest volume as well. He shot nearly 39 percent from all midrange shots, and was Utah’s most consistent threat from here all year long. He could do to improve from those little in-between areas outside the restricted area, but to my eye much of this is mental – he rushes shots in these areas, particularly after offensive rebounds, and doesn’t collect his balance enough, areas he can easily improve with age.
Slightly surprising when compared with the eye test are his figures around the hoop. Stuck in my mind are frequent examples of Kanter hesitating on close looks and making life around the basket more difficult for himself, but the numbers bear him out as closer to average than I’d have guessed. Of 67 centers attempting at least 100 shots in the restricted area last season, Kanter’s 62.4 percent puts him 41st, nowhere close to elite but certainly higher than I’d have pegged him on a raw guess[ref]Favors, by comparison, shot 66.8 percent on such shots and ranked 19th of this same group.[/ref]. As he improves his confidence and strength while retaining his superb footwork and post game, expect these numbers to continue to rise.
Despite being a fan favorite and by all accounts one of the nicest guys in the game, Evans’ chart goes a long way toward showing why he’s been unable to find a consistent place in Utah’s rotation. He just hasn’t fully figured out who he is as an NBA player yet, as evidenced by his largely spread out shot locations and his only real clustering taking place around the basket. He expanded his range extensively last year in a more untethered role for the first time in his career, but just didn’t prove effective enough in any of these new areas to warrant real attention from defenses. He remains a beast around the hoop given his ridiculous hops, but his lack of another reliable shot and inability to hold his own down low against bulkier bigs[ref]Along with Utah’s acquisition of more depth at the backup big positions this offseason.[/ref] may see the upcoming year as his last in a Jazz uniform.