Inkblot tests: Fun with NBA shot charts
The shot charts of individual NBA players share valuable information about offensive tendencies and general scheme, visualized in the most straightforward manner possible. But within those heat-spectrum colors and zoned shapes are a Rorschach test of sorts, perfect for peering into the mind of excited basketball fans and weary-eyed analysts alike. Below are 15 such charts, ripe not only for parsing in the way that all shot charts are, but picked out specifically for visual interpretation. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream — what do you see in the blobs of greens, yellows, and reds that make up the following charts?
Warning: Things are gonna get a little weird in here. You can find my take below each chart, but please feel free to use this as your own personal shot chart Rorschach test in the comments below. Or, if you’re a bit too stuffy to play along, take your turn at merely guessing the charts outright. There’s Friday fun for everyone.
Note: The red, yellow, and green charts display shooting performance. Green signifies that a player converted shots from that specific zone at higher than the league average, yellow conveys roughly league-average performance, and red marks below league-average shooting.
The blue and white charts display shooting distribution. Blue signifies that a higher percentage of a player’s shots are taken from that specific zone than the league average, bluish white notes a roughly league average share, and plain white conveys a below average portion of a player’s shot distribution.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets: A bird’s-eye view of a Christmas tree. ‘Tis the season, and Lopez’s shooting breakdown is appropriately festive. It’s largely been a dour season for Brooklyn thus far, but Lopez’s efficiency from deep in the paint, the right block, and the wings provided one of very few bright spots. As noted by Matt Dollinger on Thursday, Lopez leads the league in points per touch; he makes the most of every opportunity, with each shot bringing a heavy dose of yuletide cheer. O’ shooting chart, O’ shooting chart, your branches green delight us.
Nazr Mohammed, Chicago Bulls: A red dahlia. Because calling it a rose just seemed cruel.
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks: A Banana in Pajamas, fleeing from a burning building. Trust me — it’s there.
By and large, Teague has done a far better job of maneuvering through opposing defenses off the dribble and picking out open teammates with his passes, but he has yet to figure out all the tricks of the trade in terms of scoring over and around imposing shot blockers. Hence the 49.5-percent shooting deep in the paint, and much of the flames scalding that poor banana.
Metta World Peace, New York Knicks: A dilapidated, melting snowman. Sometimes the metaphors just write themselves.
Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic: Sectionalism, incarnate. I can respect a man of order, and Afflalo has gone to great lengths to keep his shot chart proper. There’s a place for everything, and everything is in it’s place; his lowest-percentage zones are sectioned off along the right sideline, defining a clear perimeter; the middle swath is a pure yellow of iffy, contested looks; and the left side of the floor is green as far as the eye can see. It’s as tidy a shot chart as you’re looking to find, empty of caveat or complication. A straight-shooter, that Arron Afflalo.
Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers: A man with one extremely smelly armpit. Gross imagery, beautiful shot chart. It’s been a banner season for both Matthews and the Blazers, B.O. be damned.
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves: A fire flower. There’s really nothing more terrifying than the thought of this man being able to shoot fireballs at will, but we should rightly expect a bit more from Pekovic all the same. Those areas just to the left and right of the lane should yield better than 6-of-26 shooting overall, especially for a player with Pek’s strength in the post.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: A big ol’ crab claw. Most of those red zones are fairly irrelevant for Randolph and the Grizz, as he isn’t much expected to operate beyond the three-point line or from the top of the key. Yet one zone in particular — that 6-of-23 spot on the right side of the claw — has been brutal for a player who usually does his best work from the right block. Randolph has been reasonably effective with his jumper from a few steps further back, but has characteristically been far better than this when establishing himself in the right post.
Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons: A fenced-in backyard. The man knows his limits. Monroe isn’t messing around with a corner three, nor is he all that interested — or effective — in shooting from the top of the floor. Instead, he tends to those patches of green and yellow closer in, putting in work where he’s most comfortable.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz: Blue moon. Even with a slowly broadening game, there’s no mistaking the fact that almost all of Favors’ offensive contributions come tethered within a few feet of the rim. He is looking much, much more comfortable with the ball in his hands, though, which bodes well for his ability to broaden his game in time.
Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns: A person, viewed from the chest up, celebrating. Three cheers for Gerald Green, who for the third time looks to have resurrected his NBA career. Green’s stint with the Pacers last season was absolutely brutal; his shooting became so bad (36.6 percent from the field for the season, 31.4 percent from three-point range) that Frank Vogel could no longer afford to play him regularly, even when saddled with one of the worst benches in the league. He couldn’t defend, didn’t share the ball as Indiana’s offense demanded, and couldn’t convert shots with regularity. With that, the Pacers packaged Green with Miles Plumlee and a first round pick and sent the lot to Phoenix, where they fetched Luis Scola in return.
Since, Green has looked the part of a slightly more stable NBA scorer while producing well for the Suns. You can see that he still gets a bit trigger-happy from beyond the arc, where he takes — and misses — shots in volumes. But Green has been money when ducked into the corners, and is making good on his other jumpers while offering a dose of needed scoring. Green might still be overwhelmed if ever again put in a position to play for a contender, but for the moment his shot chart celebrates some 21 games of competent play.
Lou Amundson, New Orleans Pelicans: A generic avatar icon. How fitting that one of the NBA’s interchangeable role player parts would be represented by the most nondescript image possible.
Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks: The casual beginnings of a brushfire. In this field of green lies but a few faint embers. Korver has the luxury of being incredibly choosy with his shots, as he’s not looked on to create off the dribble or create something out of nothing. Still, it’s uncanny how good he is from so many different zones — save those two problem spots on the right side of the floor. A theory: Perhaps Korver is left-eye dominant, making it slightly easier for him to locate the rim in his peripheral vision when curling from the baseline on the left wing than the right. He does have a history of shooting lower percentages from similar zones, though that could well be a result of some quirk in the Hawks’ (and previously, the Bulls’) offense.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets: A crashing wave. As Williams has fought through a series of ankle injuries, it’s understandable that his chart would tilt toward the perimeter a bit. Yet Williams has attempted an above-league-average rate of threes from each of the above-the-break zones — a rare feat even among strong perimeter shooters. Better health could bring that wave inward a bit, or at least allow it to dissipate further into the paint and the mid-range zones between. Brooklyn’s offense is better off with every bit of dribble penetration that Williams is able to provide, if only because that particular skill is in such scarcity within the Nets’ roster.
Reggie Evans, Brooklyn Nets: ??? Hell if I know.
All shot charts courtesy of NBA.com.