NBA Shot Charts for Every Team Pre-COVID-19
Using ggplot2 to figure out where teams were taking shots during the 2020 season before the pandemic
The NBA is coming back.
At least, for a little while. We’ll see how well they hold up in the Orlando bubble surrounded by a pandemic hot zone.
But enough of the sadness. Let’s talk actual basketball. It feels like forever since live NBA action. The last games were played on March 11, but that might as well have been a year ago. I’m not even sure I remember how sweet a Luka step-back looks.
To re-familiarize yourself with the NBA before play restarts, you should probably rewatch games on League Pass. But if you’re more of a nerdy fan like me, you can also dig into the data.
That’s what I did here. Using the nbastatr and ggplot2 packages in R, I made charts that describe where NBA teams were taking shots. Light blue indicates a team took fewer shots in that area. Deep purple means they took a high percentage of their shots from that area.
Let’s skip the repartee and dive straight into the charts, shall we?
NBA Team Shot Charts Pre-COVID-19
Aren’t these interesting?
What are your impressions of each team after viewing these charts? I have three main takeaways:
Most shots come at the rim or the three-point line.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Teams are trying to be efficient with their shooting and shots at the rim typically yield the highest shooting percentage while three-point shots usually yield higher points per possession. However…
There is still a lot of variety in where teams take their shots.
Some people say that NBA play has gotten boring because all they see are dunks and threes. But if you look at these charts you’ll notice that where those shots come from still varies quite a bit. You might notice a left side bias on a lot of these charts (probably because most shooters are right handed), but that favouritism doesn’t hold true for every team.
Some teams — like the Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, and Houston Rockets, let it rip from all over the the three point line. Others — like the Portland Trail Blazers — shoot from very specific areas. The left corner is a very prominent spot for most teams, but the right corner is very team specific — the Orlando Magic and Golden State Warriors rarely seem to shoot there at all! Also…
The midrange isn’t completely extinct.
Teams still make use of the midrange, although its use is far less common than it used to be. The Oklahoma City Thunder use it quite a bit — they do have Chris Paul after all. The Denver Nuggets also indulge quite often, which I’d hypothesize can be attributed to the brilliant Nikola Jokic controlling the passing. The San Antonio Spurs also jack shots from the midrange, but that’s far less fortunate for them since that means DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are shooting way too frequently.
Shooting Varies, And I Like It
I’ve been meaning to get more into NBA datasets. Building charts like these were a simple — but not easy — way of entering into this realm in a visual manner. I was kind of expecting charts to look too similar to be of interest but I was pleasantly surprised by their singularities.
By looking at these shot charts, we get a better idea of where teams like to shoot the basketball. And ultimately, basketball is about “gettin’ them buckets”. It will be fascinating to see if teams continue with these same trends or change up their styles after this long layoff.
This was a super fun exercise and I’ll be diving more into NBA and WNBA data in future posts. Let me know if you have any questions about anything specific to sports analytics!