Move it or Die: The NBA’s Ball Movement Revolution


“Move It or Die”
-Gregg Popovich after Game 2 of the 2014 NBA Finals (the Spurs only loss of the series)

Terrific article posted on ESPN’s Grantland by Kirk Goldsberry explaining how the NBA has gone through a revolution in how their game is played. Gone are the days of hero-ball, 15-second isolations and teams living and dying with their stars taking contested jumpers. Partly due to the NBA cleaning up contact, the analytics movement and some influential and innovative coaches (Pop and Mike D’Antoni to name two), the league has seen an influx of ball movement and an embrace of the 3-pointer.

I must note that I think the article misses a fairly glaring point: a large chunk of the efficiency margin between the 3 and the mid-range 2 can be attributed to the fact that only one of those shots (mid-range 2’s) is frequently taken when contested. A much higher percentage of mid-range 2’s/unassisted baskets are contested than 3’s/assisted baskets. That statement alone explains much of the efficiency gap (now to Goldsberry’s point: these such shots – contested midrange J’s – are now being understood as the inefficient shots that they are).
Along these same lines, I believe the high efficiency of the “corner 3” has often been mislabeled. Many point to the the break of the NBA 3-point line and label the shortened distance as the main culprit of the efficiency disparity, a claim that goes out the window when data shows that the shooting % between the corners and other parts of the floor is larger in college (with no line-break) than in the NBA. Others will point that the value lies in defensive rotations, a statement that is correct, but still misses a crucial aspect of the situation. The true answer, in my opinion, has to do with my point above: the amount of these shots (corner 3’s) that are contested is far lower than shots taken at other spots on the floor.

Thanks to Matt Henry (St. Peter’s) for passing this article along.


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