Kevin Garnett has always been a jump-shooter. Even during his MVP year in Minnesota in 2004, 75 percent of his shots were jump shots, according to 82games.
But we’re beginning to see some evidence that Kevin Garnett is becoming a different kind of jump-shooter as he ages—specifically, one who takes more long jumpers and is more dependent on his teammates to get them off.
Let’s take a look at how KG has distributed his shot attempts during his last season in Minnesota, his first in Boston and this season (with all info from the superb site Hoopdata.com). The left column represents KG’s average field-goal attempts per game; the other four columns represent the percentage of those field-goal attempts that came from various distances from the rim. (Note: I’m skipping ’09 since he missed so many games, but the stats from that year show the same general trend).
FGAs/G At rim <10 ft 10-15 ft 16-23 ft
’07 17.6 22.7% 14.7% 21.5% 35.2%
’08 13.9 25.2% 15.8% 18.0% 40.0%
’10 11.6 27.9% 17.3% 12.1% 43.1%
It’s a small but gradual evolution: KG’s shot selection is moving both closer to the rim and further away. He’s getting more shots at the rim and within 10 feet and in the area between the foul line and the three-point arc—the area NBA experts generally consider the least “efficient” place from which to shoot.
But this isn’t a bad thing. The first reason is simple: Since 2007, KG has made a slightly higher percentage of shots from 16-23 feet than from the 10-15 foot range. And that makes intuitive sense. Those 16-23 footers tend to be open shots created by dribble penetration or a pick-and-pop, while the 10-15 footers are more often created in one-on-one isolation and shot within crowds.
Put another way: A shot from 10-15 feet away is (generally) the worst shot Kevin Garnett can take.
But there’s a second change in KG’s offensive game that is even more dramatic than his changing shot chart, though the two are clearly connected.
The second change is this: A higher percentage of KG’s made field goals—from all ranges—come from a teammate’s assist than ever before in his career. Here are the numbers (again, via Hoopdata).
AT THE RIM:
Year—Percentage of Baskets Assisted On:
LESS THAN 10 FEET
Year: Percentage of Baskets Assisted On
BETWEEN 10 AND 15 FEET:
Year: Percentage of Baskets Assisted On
BETWEEN 16 AND 23 FEET:
Year: Percentage of Baskets Assisted On:
The trend, so far this season, is pretty stark: KG’s offensive game is much more teammate-dependent than ever before. The numbers on 82games.com back this up. The site tracks what percentage of a player’s shots are assisted on in three distance ranges—jump shots, shots from “in close” and dunks. The data goes back to 2003, when KG was in his absolute prime, and the numbers during that season and his final few seasons in Minnesota were consistent: About 65 percent of his jumpers and in-close shots and 75 percent of his dunks came from teammate assists.
This year? Those numbers are up to 80 percent for jumpers and in-close shots, and 100 percent for KG’s dunks. All of those are—by far—career highs.
Again: This isn’t a bad thing. In 2007, KG’s “point guard” was some combination of Mike James, Troy Hudson and Marko Jaric. Today, it’s Rajon Rondo, with Paul Pierce occasionally playing a version of point forward on those KG-Pierce pick-and-pops that work so well.
As he ages, KG should take advantage of his (excellent) teammates and find more of his shots in the flow of the offense rather than via isolation. Isolation plays demand extra energy, so using fewer of those during the regular season may give us a slightly fresher KG for the playoffs.
The question we’re left with is this: How much of this trend is the result of KG taking better advantage of his teammates’ skills and how much is the result of a deterioration in his own abilities?
Come playoff time, when the shot clock is running down and KG has the ball on the block, will he be able to score efficiently on his own?