Thursday, July 17, 2014

What Animals do Shot Charts Look Like?

Yesterday, the LOVELY new basketball analytics website Nylon Calculus debuted a new tool that displays shot charts going all the way back to the 1996-1997 season. It is deeply nifty and highly recommended. While I was fiddling with it today, I got to thinking: what animals to these collections of dots resemble? And what do they tell us about our favorite players?

As you can plainly see here in Amir Johnson's shot chart from last year, we have a red salmon, it's head all congregated in the restricted area and its tail along the right baseline, jumping out of the raging waters of the three point line. Appropriate for a player who was taken in the second round and had to do some stints in the D-League to stick in the NBA; the salmon's journey back to its birthplace to spawn is difficult, the river is a cruel force keeping them from their destiny, just as the rolling riptide of never ending basketball talent threatened to keep a guy like Amir out of the league. But if you keep on keepin' on, you'll get there. Unless you get eaten by a bear, I suppose.

Exhibit B, John Stockton's chart from the 1997-98 season. It's a turkey, clearly. Check out the beak right there underneath the restricted area and the dazed look in its eyes, which sit right there in the rim. A neck perfectly situated in the middle of the restricted area. And a big ol' turkey plumage all over. Stockton's Finals years aren't really remembered as his years at all. He was merely one of a series of chumps who were unlucky enough to be on the wrong end of the Michael Jordan inevitably machine. Much like the life of a turkey: he regarded as being only for slaughter an object meant only for the fulfillment of the family who carves him up for Thanksgiving.

As an animal rights advocate and a believer in Stockton's brilliance I would like to encourage a paradigm shift in the way we think about both of these things. A turkey is a continuous animal that feels pain. I don't think it's okay for a human being to decide another sentient creature is an object for consumption and to artificiality gear that animal's whole life towards that aim. Just like John Stockton wasn't cannon fodder for the JordanTank by NIKE. He was a brilliant player on his own terms! Give John a seat at the table, don't just exalt MJ gnawing on his bones at yet another basketball history thanksgiving.

I don't have to tell you that Ben Wallace's shot chart from 2003-04 look exactly like a leopard perched up in a tree. You see its head on the left baseline, then left to right you see its four paws, then at the other baseline you can plainly see its big ol' tail. Leopards drag their kills into trees to keep them from lions and hyenas. Once the mid-decade Pistons got their hands on enough points to eat a victory, Big Ben would get the team on his shoulders, climb to the top of the rim, and swat away shots from the Hyenas looking to feast. Big Ben might not have been the king of the hunters: look at all that blue. But when the Pistons for the victory in their teeth, he took drug it away and never gave it up.

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