One of the most surreal experiences a sports fan can have is going to a NBA game early and watching the players warm up. The ease in which these large human beings flick in shot after shot is obscene. If you’ve ever tried to play basketball at any level, you immediately recognize that these players are not just winners of the genetic lottery. Steph Curry’s pre-game warm up routine is mezmerizing, but he’s Steph Curry and of course he can make those shots. I’m more amazed by the guy who never plays, the 12th man in the rotation who’s drilling jumpers for 15 straight minutes with a surprise miss here and there. The hoop looks like that scene in Pleasantville when no one ever misses (emphasis on the hoop).
Walking back to your seat you wonder how they ever miss an uncontested shot in a game. Of course you know that live-action is different than warm ups, but you still cringe when a wide open three-pointer clangs off the rim. “How did you miss that!?!”
For Celtics and Rockets fans, it’s hard to watch the NBA finals and not think about the historically bad shooting nights their teams had in a pair of game sevens. Shots were short, long, in-and-out, off-left and off-right. There were good misses (quality shots that were half-way down) and bad misses (ill-advised bricks) but in the end, it didn’t matter, a miss is a miss. Without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics were depending on young, streaky or just straight-up bad shooters to consistently make shots in high-pressure situations. As disappointing as game seven against Cleveland was, it wasn’t shocking.
I don’t know if it’s the coach in me or my personality type (or both), but I’ve always felt like a competitive loss that comes on a particularly bad shooting night is the worst kind to stomach. For all parties involved, it’s a terribly helpless feeling to know that you are close but but yet miles away from a win. Fans and coaches alike are quick to chalk it up to “one of those nights.” But what if we knew exactly what went into one of those nights? Are all those nights the same? What exactly are the fundamentals that are breaking down? In my quest for misses, I stumbled upon an interesting blog by Craig Luschenat. Craig is a New England native and former college basketball player who has spent time working with NBA players in the summer, including assisting Brad Stevens with summer practices in 2017. Craig has charted (by hand!!) the missed shots of dozens of NBA players and categorized the misses by using common mechanical flaws. If you’ve been following my work here at Celtics Hub, you know that this is the sort of insanity I support. All of this data is Craig’s, I am just the messenger.
How Did You Miss That?
For his project, Craig charted a sample size of 100 missed shots in the 2017-18 season (16 feet and deeper) and organized them in the following categories: good misses (back-rim or in-and-out), dropped hands (no follow through, inconsistent release), fading/leaning back, bad feet/off-balance, missed short and no hop/1-2 step (no shot preparation, flat-footed). First Craig set a baseline for what’s “elite” by charting the misses of shooters who shoot 40% plus from three and have at least three seasons of experience. For elite shooters, 39% of their sampled misses are good misses. The fundamental breakdowns are: 24% of the time they drop their hands, 25% fade/lean, 12% bad feet/off balance, 25% miss short and 6% have no hop/1-2 step. So let’s see how the Celtics stack up (their bricks). *All video and stats are courtesy of Craig Luschenat.
- Dropped Hands: 3% of the time he missed.
- Fade/Lean Back: 11% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 11% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 45% of the time he missed.
- Weak/No-Step into Shot: 40% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 37% of the time he missed.
No surprises here, Al is very good at shooting. His fatal flaw is his flat-footed pre-catch stance that leads to short misses and rim-outs. He’s never going have Ray Allen-like lift on his shot, but when he’s slumping it’s often because he’s not stepping into his release and it comes of his hand flat. His excellent follow through and balance is the reason why you think it’s going in every time he shoots it. He’s an elite good misser (lol).
- Dropped Hands: 28% of the time he missed.
- Fade/Lean Back: 37% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 6% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 39% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 32% of the time he missed.
These numbers pass the eye-test with Tatum. His great feet and shot preparation allows him to stay on balance, but his tendency to fade/lean (thanks a lot, Kobe) and drop his hands on his follow through account for most of his misses. It’s hard to believe he could become a better shot-maker (shoot more 3s and stop head faking!!!), but he can.
- Dropped Hands: 24% of the time he missed.
- Falling/Fading Back: 37% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 12% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 35% of the time he missed.
- Shooting on the Way Down: 23% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 40% of the time he missed.
For Kyrie, Craig tracked a fundamental flaw unique to some shooters and that’s shooting on the way down. When a shooter releases the ball on the way down, he loses the energy from his lower body and the shot becomes all hands. This habit is the reason why Kyrie misses short at such a high rate, especially compared to other elite shooters. The fading/leaning misses from Kyrie come with the territory, but missing short on wide-open looks because of a simple flaw seems very correctable.
- Dropped Hands: 37% of the time he missed.
- Falling/Fading Back: 18% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 12% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 37% of the time he missed.
- Weak/No-Step into Shot: 21% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 24% of the time he missed.
Again, these numbers match up to the eye-test. Jaylen’s shooting ability has exceeded everyone’s expectations and most of it is due to his elite balance, shot preparation and footwork. But when he’s missing, he’s often “pulling the string” and dropping his hands on his release. This habit was on display in game seven against the Cavs as the misses started to pile up.
- Dropped Hands: 45% of the time he missed.
- Fade/Lean Back: 30% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 21% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 23% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 35% of the time he missed.
Terry Rozier’s streakyness is a reflection of the fundamental breakdowns in his miss profile. Of all the Celtics shot-makers, he doesn’t measure out as elite in any of the categories and he struggles to release the ball with consistency. As much as he’s improved as a shooter since college, these numbers mirror his scouting report in the 2015 draft. When he’s locked in, he’s great, but when he’s off, it all falls apart. Unfortunately, Celtics fans already know this.
- Dropped Hands: 15% of the time he missed.
- Fade/Lean Back: 60% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 12% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 16% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 44% of the time he missed.
- Hop into Shot: 21% of the time he missed.
These numbers align with exactly what we’ve been watching for the last four years. Marcus Smart has great follow through and he always manages to get his feet squared to the rim, but everything in between in a disaster. He struggles with his in-air balance and it leads to misses that are all over the place. He misses short at an alarming rate and rarely has good misses. If it wasn’t for his oddly consistent follow through and release point, he’d be an even worse shooter. Yikes.
- Dropped Hands: 62% of the time he missed.
- Fade/Lean Back: 9% of the time he missed.
- Feet off Balance: 5% of the time he missed.
- Good Misses: 21% of the time he missed.
- Non-Step into Shot: 23% of the time he missed.
- Missed Short: 28% of the time he missed.
Semi Ojeleya has the exact opposite miss profile of Marcus Smart. Boston needs Semi to hit 35% of his threes next year and they are often WIDE OPEN. The good news is that he has great feet and balance. The bad news is that he has tragically inconsistent follow through and is often flat-footed on the catch. I am of the opinion that improving follow through and shot preparation is easier to improve than balance, so I am bullish on Ojeleye improving next year.
I hope this information, and Craig’s excellent work, will help you see the next soul-crushingly bad shooting performance from your favorite Celtic coming. Every jump shot is different and the fundamentals that players perfectly execute during warm ups can crack under the pressure of live-action. The hope is that individual players and coaching staffs are aware of these flaws and work to the point where consistency is the norm. The good news for Celtics fans is that this roster is comprised of hard-workers who are committed to growth and will continue to improve regardless of their age. Moving forward, if the Celtics are fortunate enough to compete for a chance to play in the NBA finals and shoot that poorly again, I will be shocked.
(Note: I know we’re missing Marcus Morris, but you can imagine what his miss profile looks like…)
Latest posts by Ryan Mahanna (see all)
- 5 Bold(ish) Predictions for Draft Night - June 20, 2018
- How Did You Miss That?! The Anatomy of a Missed Shot - June 5, 2018
- CelticsHub Whiteboard Playoff Edition: Defending A Star Player - April 14, 2018