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A Stat Geek's Guide to the Perfect NBA Offense

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni addresses the media prior to the start of the game against the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on November 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterNovember 20, 2012

The Basketball Analytics blog came out with a fascinating take on how to run an offense. I'd recommend that everybody read it in its entirety. Here are two hard and fast rules, as outlined by the piece: 

"(1) teams should take more threes and evenly distribute them among the players in each lineup (e.g. teams should spread the floor with multiple shooters) and (2) the role of initiating the offense should be narrowly defined, limited to few players"


I am in complete agreement with these rules, but there are limits to the application of these edicts. The Houston Rockets are attempting to apply this strategy, but to limited success. Currently, the Rockets rank out first in the NBA for three point attempts (via HoopData), averaging a whole two of them more than the second-ranked New York Knicks

So what's the problem? Well, Houston isn't making many of these threes. They're twenty-third in the NBA on three point percentage, probably because the greenlit players are just chucking. It's easy to tell your team, "Shoot many, many threes" and harder to rein that impulse in to only include open shots. 

James Harden used to be a deadly three-point shooter. With Houston's blessing, he's chucking a massive 5.7 per game (the number would be higher had he not gotten hurt in the last meeting), while only hitting .286 from deep. Jeremy Lin, never a great three-point shooter, is taking three deep shots a game, while only hitting .242 of the tries. 

The research speaks to a lot of information that should be intuitive. I emphasize the "should" because many basketball teams stray from such principles as "narrowly defined distribution" and "avoid midrange shots." 

As stated in the piece, there are some players who can take the midrange shot without sacrificing efficiency. Guys like Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Stephen Curry are rare, though. For the most part, the long two is a "don't try this at home, kids" shot. 

In conclusion, the piece advocates for the minimalist "dribble drive motion" offense: 

Ultimately, I feel the motion offense, particularly the dribble drive motion offense[9], is the type of offense most resembling that described by the findings of the research, with great emphasis on shots coming at the rim, line and from three[10], and a narrowed focus on where the ball starts.


The DDM offense is a staple of John Calipari simplicity, an attack so easy to explain that John can do it with a mere two example players:

The lesson should be for coaches not to outsmart themselves. Rely on your best play maker, keep your offense moving, have your peripheral guys take--rather than create--shots. This is all easier said than done, but it's important to say the right thing as a building block.

We're seeing coaches let go of the reins somewhat as minimalist Mike D'Antoni spread pick-and-roll reigns. Perhaps there's a new, complicated innovation around the corner, but a well-spaced PnR seems to be the best offensive approach for now.

As Warriors commentator Jim Barnett often laments, "It's a simple game, really." The hard part is getting the talent. 

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