Analytics in NBA: no longer a secret weapon, but still a very powerful one.

19.4 seconds to play, Miami Heat is down by three points. If they loose the game, San Antonio Spurs will make it 4-2 and will be 2013 NBA’s world champions. Chalmers, Heat’s guard, takes the ball across the field, he’s under pressure and passes the ball to LeBron James, the Heat’s star is behind the arc and he’s going for the final shot… but he misses! Bosh gets the rebound with still eight seconds left, that ball must go to someone behind the three point line no matter what, Ray Allen is the corner and receives the pass, he shoots… and it’s in! Miami Heat managed to tie the game and prevented the Spurs from celebrating the world title in Florida.

Some of the most memorable moments in NBA’s history are made of  long shots. But besides these games when the final second is decisive, there are also 3 pointers changing NBA’s way of playing; teams embraced analytics as a way to choose which players to sign and how to be more efficient when shooting.

In 2018, Klay Thompson from Golden State Warriors set an NBA record of 3 pointers in a single game (14), beating the previous record from his own teammate Stephen Curry (13). Recently, Houston Rockets set an NBA record of 3 pointers by a team in a single game (26).

This is evidence that the best teams are putting in practice a strategy which consists in shooting behind the arc or within the painted area. Difficult shoots that are worth only 2 points are not welcome!

In 13/14 season only 10 teams finished the competition with over 30% of attacks concluded with a 3 pointer attempt. In the current season, five years later, only 4 teams are below those 30%! This fact clearly shows that, in general, NBA teams have evolved in a way that long bombs are their favorite method to overcome opponent defense, and Houston Rockets live up to its name because they are the ultimate exponent of this strategy.

So how come the Indiana Pacers are one of the teams that shoots less behind the arc but is still well above in Eastern Conference? The reason lies on the fact that Pacers are the team that concedes the least points. If you are an NBA fan and do not appreciate the way the game is heading to don’t worry, you see now that not every team is adopting the 3 pointer strategy and they are proving that it is possible to do well in many ways.

No need to hide the secret anymore; analytics are here to stay and can put you ahead of the game! Every team must know how to get the most from the available data and turn knowledge into better decisions in the court.

Pedro Marques & João Cunha
Polarising Consultants

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