The guys over at Nylon Calculus have been rolling out a bunch of cool features based on NBA player shot charts, and the most recent has been the TeamSPACE series that focuses on the ecology of different five-man lineups. Details can be read in the introduction post by Matt D’Anna here, but here’s the basic understanding of the graphic you see above.
Applying notions of unique decision-making processes and rational choice theory, the concept of a Hunting Ground directly applies to the way a basketball player “hunts” for scoring opportunities. The areas on the court an individual regularly visits (either by personal choice, coaching discretion, or the guidance of teammates) are typically driven by the likelihood of success. The extremes are easy to identify: Andre Drummond scores exclusively in the paint, James Harden attacks from the top of the arc, and Al Jefferson is deadly from the left block. The point is this — all players have preferred areas they will consistently (and predictably) attempt shots from; the clusters of continued successes over the course of a game, season, and career become their Hunting Grounds.
How can we better understand individual shot selection within team dynamics? My answer is TeamSPACE, based on Hunting Grounds.
As you can see above on the Phoenix Suns’ TeamSPACE chart, Channing Frye and Gerald Green accounted for a large chunk of the three-point opportunities for the most-used lineup last season. It allowed for a money-ball approach of open threes and driving lanes for the likes of Goran Dragic. Relative to other NBA squads, there were few mid-range attempts. Frye’s decision to head to Orlando leaves a void on the Suns’ roster, and the likelihood that Green could be pushed out of at least some minutes, whether Eric Bledsoe returns or not, is high.
Frye and Green were also two of the most frequent mid-range scorers, and now how the offense operations becomes a huge question-mark. Between Green’s team-leading 510 three-pointers and Frye’s 432 that account for 21 percent of the team’s total threes alone, the Suns will need others to step in. The two provided 46 percent of the total long-range attempts in 2013-14.
It’s expected Anthony Tolliver will step into carry some of the weight, and Marcus Morris showed signs that his shooting stroke has the potential to become dangerous. In place of Green, Isaiah Thomas isn’t a bad shooter from deep, though he’s not the catch-and-shoot threat that the long and tall Green might be.
D’Anna’s TeamSPACE displays how reliant the Suns were on Frye and Green shooting the long-ball.
The Suns will have to adjust to a new roster — looking to the San Antonio Spurs for ball movement lessens wouldn’t be bad — or find themselves taking more contested, mid-range attempts.