Commentary

Using shot location data

Updated: January 4, 2010, 7:11 PM ET
By Brian McKitish | Special to ESPN.com

Can we just take a second to marvel at Sacramento Kings rookie Tyreke Evans? Despite missing a few games at the end of the month with a sprained ankle, the 20-year-old just capped off a phenomenal December in which he posted 22.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.4 3-pointers per game. For the season, he's two assists shy of averaging 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. To help put those numbers in perspective, consider that there are only two players in the NBA averaging 20/5/5 for the season. Their names? LeBron James and Joe Johnson. Dwyane Wade and Brandon Roy are also very close, and Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are within shouting distance, but come up short. That's not bad company, kid. Not bad at all.

Now I know that he's doing all this on a team that is void of true offensive weapons and without its top scorer in Kevin Martin, but a deeper look at the statistics reveals that Evans is a lot closer to stardom than we might think. One of the qualities I typically like to look for in a player like Evans (i.e., explosive combo guard) is his ability to attack the rim and finish. And Tyreke does it with the best of them. In fact, according to statistics from Hoopdata.com, Evans leads the league in shots taken at the rim (dunks, layups and tip-ins) with 8.5 attempts per game (making 4.9 of those shots). Even more impressive is the fact that only 27.5 percent of those makes came off of assists. That means he's getting in the lane and creating his own shot more often than not. And guess what? His opponents know what he's trying to do, and they still can't stop him from getting to the rack.

Let's put those numbers in perspective, shall we? Below is a list of the league leaders in shot attempts at the rim. You'll notice two things about this list. First, these are some of the best players in the game, and no, I don't think that is just a coincidence. Second, these are players who are well known for creating their own shots, getting to the basket and finishing once they get there.

Carmelo Anthony -- 8.3 attempts, 48.8 percent assisted
Gerald Wallace -- 7.5 attempts, 48.8 percent assisted
Monta Ellis -- 7.4 attempts, 34.8 percent assisted
Dwyane Wade -- 7.0 attempts, 36.7 percent assisted
LeBron James -- 6.8 attempts, 50.9 percent assisted

Note that Zach Randolph (7.4 attempts) and Brook Lopez (7.3) also make the list of league leaders, but are excluded from the above discussion because big men are expected to take most of their shots close to the basket and I wanted to isolate explosive players to illustrate Evans' long-term upside. The fact that Evans gets to the rim at a higher clip than the superstars listed above is very, very impressive.

Shot location data is still a relatively new statistic to analyze, so I want to be careful about the conclusions I draw. I don't want to say definitively, for instance, that those who attack the rim are among the best players in the league (I do think there is a correlation, but I haven't done sufficient research to support that claim yet). I will say, however, that these numbers make me think twice about dropping Evans in the rankings once Martin returns. In fact, I think Evans' emergence will hurt Martin's value much more than Martin's return will hurt Evans. Given how dominant Tyreke has been at getting in the lane and creating (both his own shots and shots for others), it's hard to imagine the Kings' taking the ball out of his hands. Of course, we can expect a slight dip in his numbers when Martin returns, but probably not as much of one as most people think.

The Top 130

Note:Brian McKitish's Top 130 are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

RK. Name, POS (RK)
1. LeBron James, SF, CLE (1)
2. Chris Paul, PG, NO (2)
3. Kobe Bryant, SG, LAL (3)
4. Kevin Durant, SG/SF, OKC (4)
5. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, DAL (5)
6. Carmelo Anthony, SF, DEN (6)
7. Dwyane Wade, SG, MIA (7)
8. Dwight Howard, C, ORL (8)
9. Pau Gasol, PF/C, LAL (9)
10. Steve Nash, PG, PHO (10)
11. Monta Ellis, PG/SG, GS (11)
12. Brandon Roy, SG/SF, POR (13)
13. Chris Bosh, PF/C, TOR (12)
14. Deron Williams, PG, UTA (14)
15. Brook Lopez, C, NJ (15)
16. Amar'e Stoudemire, C/PF, PHO (17)
17. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, PHI (16)
18. Joe Johnson, SG/SF, ATL (18)
19. Danny Granger, SF, IND (22)
20. Jason Kidd, PG, DAL (20)
21. Rajon Rondo, PG, BOS (21)
22. Gerald Wallace, SF/PF, CHA (23)
23. Josh Smith, PF/SF, ATL (19)
24. Al Jefferson, C, MIN (24)
25. Tim Duncan, C/PF, SA (25)
26. Paul Pierce, SF/SG, BOS (28)
27. Chauncey Billups, PG, DEN (27)
28. Mo Williams, PG, CLE (26)
29. David Lee, PF/C, NY (33)
30. Baron Davis, PG, LAC (30)
31. Devin Harris, PG, NJ (31)
32. Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC (36)
33. Carlos Boozer, PF, UTA (32)
34. Andrea Bargnani, PF/C, TOR (34)
35. Tyreke Evans, PG/SG, SAC (38)
36. Nene, C/PF, DEN (35)
37. Antawn Jamison, PF, WAS (40)
38. Al Horford, C/PF, ATL (42)
39. Troy Murphy, PF/C, IND (37)
40. Zach Randolph, PF, MEM (52)
41. Caron Butler, SF, WAS (46)
42. Luol Deng, SF, CHI (45)
43. Vince Carter, SG/SF, ORL (39)
44. Kevin Love, PF, MIN (49)
45. Rashard Lewis, SF/PF, ORL (41)
46. Rudy Gay, SF, MEM (48)
47. Marcus Camby, C/PF, LAC (51)
48. Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, HOU (44)
49. Gilbert Arenas, PG, WAS (29)
50. Kevin Garnett, PF, BOS (43)
51. Marc Gasol, C, MEM (50)
52. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, NY (54)
53. Jeff Green, SF/PF, OKC (55)
54. Ben Gordon, SG, DET (53)
55. Joakim Noah, C/PF, CHI (57)
56. Chris Kaman, C, LAC (58)
57. Stephen Jackson, SG/SF, CHA (59)
58. Jason Richardson, SG/SF, PHO (47)
59. Hedo Turkoglu, SF, TOR (56)
60. Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL (60)
61. Jason Thompson, PF, SAC (61)
62. Eric Gordon, SG, LAC (62)
63. Derrick Rose, PG, CHI (63)
64. Kevin Martin, SG, SAC (67)
65. Raymond Felton, PG, CHA (66)
66. Stephen Curry, PG/SG, GS (64)
67. Tyrus Thomas, PF, CHI (77)
68. Al Harrington, PF, NY (65)
69. David West, PF, NO (68)
70. Lou Williams, PG/SG, PHI (87)
71. Carl Landry, PF, HOU (69)
72. Emeka Okafor, C, NO (74)
73. O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM (70)
74. Aaron Brooks, PG, HOU (71)
75. Luis Scola, PF/C, HOU (72)
76. Tony Parker, PG, SA (73)
77. Ray Allen, SG, BOS (76)
78. Michael Beasley, PF/SF, MIA (79)
79. Channing Frye, PF/C, PHO (80)
80. Andrew Bogut, C, MIL (81)
81. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, POR (82)
82. Jason Terry, SG/PG, DAL (75)
83. J.R. Smith, SG, DEN (78)
84. Thaddeus Young, SF, PHI (83)
85. Rodney Stuckey, PG, DET (84)
86. Andris Biedrins, C, GS (93)
87. Mehmet Okur, C, UTA (88)
88. Andrew Bynum, C, LAL (85)
89. Jamal Crawford, SG/PG, ATL (86)
90. Jameer Nelson, PG, ORL (95)
91. Jose Calderon, PG, TOR (90)
92. Brendan Haywood, C, WAS (89)
93. Allen Iverson, SG/PG, PHI (91)
94. Yi Jianlian, PF/SF, NJ (121)
95. Manu Ginobili, SG, SA (104)
96. Corey Maggette, SF, GS (94)
97. Wilson Chandler, SF/SG, NY (97)
98. Chris Duhon, PG, NY (96)
99. Roy Hibbert, C, IND (105)
100. Courtney Lee, SG, NJ (98)
101. Richard Hamilton, SG, DET (99)
102. C. Douglas-Roberts, SG, NJ (100)
103. Kendrick Perkins, C, BOS (102)
104. Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, MIL (103)
105. A. Randolph, PF/SF, GS (113)
106. Spencer Hawes, C, SAC (110)
107. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, UTA (106)
108. Shawn Marion, SF/PF, DAL (107)
109. Larry Hughes, SG, NY (108)
110. Elton Brand, PF, PHI (92)
111. C. Villanueva, PF/SF, DET (109)
112. Ron Artest, SF, LAL (101)
113. Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN (111)
114. Kenyon Martin, PF, DEN (115)
115. Andre Miller, PG, POR (119)
116. Michael Redd, SG, MIL (122)
117. Mike Conley, PG, MEM (125)
118. Lamar Odom, PF/SF, LAL (120)
119. Josh Howard, SG/SF, DAL (127)
120. Corey Brewer, SF/SG, MIN (123)
121. Mike Bibby, PG, ATL (126)
122. John Salmons, SG/SF, CHI (117)
123. Jermaine O'Neal, C, MIA (112)
124. Blake Griffin, PF, LAC (128)
125. Ben Wallace, C/PF, DET (116)
126. Nate Robinson, PG/SG, NY (NR)
127. Samuel Dalembert, C, PHI (NR)
128. Beno Udrih, PG/SG, SAC (129)
129. Earl Watson, PG, IND (NR)
130. Ronnie Brewer, SG, UTA (NR)

Shot location data

As mentioned before, I don't want to get too crazy with drawing conclusions based on shot location data, but I do feel comfortable in saying that getting to the rim (especially for guards and forwards) has a profound effect on field goal percentage and free throw attempts.

It's a simple premise, really. The more high-percentage shots a player takes, the better his field goal percentage should be. Take a look at the league average field goal percentages for the following shot location areas:

At rim -- 60.4 percent
Within 10 feet -- 44.2 percent
10-15 feet -- 40.2 percent
16-22 feet -- 39.5 percent
3-pointers -- 36.8 percent

Players such as Evans (and anyone else who gets to the rack), therefore, are likely to keep their field goal percentages respectable, even if they also extend their game farther from the basket. Evans, for example, shoots 58.2 percent at the rim, but just 26.0 percent from inside of 10 feet, 12.5 percent from 10-15 feet, 43.0 percent from 16-23 feet and 23.8 percent from downtown. But because he takes so many high-percentage shots around the rim, his overall field goal percentage stands at a respectable 45.6 percent.

The other correlation I would make looking at shots at the rim (and other shots inside of 10 feet) is a player's ability to draw fouls. Again, I don't think it's a coincidence -- particularly for guards and forwards -- that most of the players who excel at getting to the basket also show up high on the list of free throw attempts per game (FTA). There is a reason most of the league leaders in personal fouls are big men. Most fouls occur around the basket, so it is reasonable to think that those who are taking the ball to the hoop are going to be fouled at a higher clip than those who rely on jump shots from farther away. It's not surprising, therefore, that Carmelo Anthony (9.9 FTA), Dwyane Wade (9.6 FTA), LeBron James (9.2 FTA), Gerald Wallace (7.8 FTA), Monta Ellis (6.2 FTA) and Evans (5.9 FTA) are among the league leaders at getting to the line.

Savvy fantasy owners will start paying more attention to some of these underlying statistics when it comes to player evaluation. It helps to know how a player is getting his numbers. As an example, a few weeks ago, I was asked on Twitter (@bmckitish) whether I thought Monta Ellis' field goal percentage would suffer with Stephen Jackson gone. Without thinking, I immediately answered yes, figuring that more defensive attention plus more shot attempts would lead to a lower field goal percentage. Well, after looking at some of this data, I'm changing my tune. What I didn't consider was that Ellis gets a lot of his points via high-percentage shots. He doesn't take many 3-pointers, and he's one of the best in the league at getting into the lane and to the basket. This is exactly why he was able to maintain a solid percentage at 46.3 percent through the month of December despite being the focal point of opposing defenses and taking a ridiculous 22.6 shots from the floor. Fantasy owners should learn from my mistakes and start paying more attention to these types of statistics.

Fun with numbers

I'm having so much fun with all these numbers over at Hoopdata.com (I know, I'm a dork) that I thought we'd finish up by having some fun with numbers.

66: Percentage of Gerald Wallace's total shot attempts that are taken within 10 feet of the basket. Among guards and swingmen, only Josh Smith has a higher percentage (74 percent) of his shots that come that close to the basket. This aggressiveness is a big part of the reason Crash is getting to the line a career-high 7.8 times per game this season.

1.11: Average and-1 plays per game for LeBron James, which leads the league. This is a testament not only to his ability to get to the basket but also to his strength to finish when getting fouled on the way to the hoop. Carmelo, by the way, is second at 0.96 and-1 plays per game.

40: Percentage of Al Jefferson's buckets that are of the unassisted variety, the lowest percentage among relevant big men. I've contended for years that Big Al has some of the best post moves in the game (his pump fake is unreal). This stat seems to support my theory, as Jefferson is getting most of his buckets by doing his own work in the paint. Of course, maybe his field goal percentage would be a little higher if he got some more setups for easy baskets from his teammates.

8.3: Shots per game inside of 10 feet for Rudy Gay, up from 6.6 attempts last season. Since the arrival of O.J. Mayo in Memphis, Gay has slowly but surely moved his offensive game closer to the basket and away from the 3-point line. That negatively affects his 3-point shooting (0.8 per game) but is a major boon to his field goal percentage.

4.7: Offensive rebounds per game for Zach Randolph, by far the best in the league, and by far the best he has posted in his career. Z-Bo's newfound dedication to working the offensive glass is one of the main reasons he posted 23.6 points and 14.2 rebounds per game in the month of December. I should also note that with many of his points coming via offensive putbacks and tip-ins, his field goal percentage stands at a stout 51.0 percent.

4.2: Assist-to-turnover ratio for Miami Heat point guard Carlos Arroyo. That would put him second only to Chris Paul's 4.4 if he had enough minutes to qualify for the league leaders. Unfortunately, Arroyo is averaging just 5.9 points, 4.2 assists and a steal in nine starts for the Heat, which is useful only for those in deeper leagues desperate for assists. That brilliant assist-to-turnover ratio, however, should help him fend off Mario Chalmers for the time being.

96: Percentage of Dwight Howard's shots that are taken within 10 feet of the basket (including dunks, tip-ins and layups). No wonder he's shooting 61.3 percent from the floor.

One last thought for today. I'm moving Gilbert Arenas down about 20 spots in the rankings on fears that he will be suspended for the recent gun incident in the Wizards' locker room. Without knowing the length of the suspension (if he is suspended at all), it's hard to move him down much further, given the way he's playing. Stay tuned, though, because a lengthy suspension is possible, and that would bump up the values of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and most likely Randy Foye.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. He can be reached at bmckitish@yahoo.com.

Brian McKitish is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com and is a two-time Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year, as named by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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