Collins Era Shot Selection Review: Finger-Pointing Through Comparative Shot Charts


At this point it's widely recognized that the Sixers' shot selection in the Doug Collins era was awful. There's no real arguing with that. If you feel inclined to argue with it anyway, check out Hickory High's Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS) database, where the Sixers rank dead last - and by some distance - in each of the last three seasons.

Really the only question has been who or what to blame. Well, Doug Collins, sure. But there's always been a lingering question of to what extent Doug's hand has been forced by his personnel - was the system forcing players into a bad game, or was it a response to players who just couldn't shoot threes and attack the rim like you'd want? Should management change the coach or the team or both? Without the ability to experiment with different players and different coaches there's no way to be really sure.

Luckily, a roster overhaul that removed four of the team's top players makes for a natural experiment of sorts, and with a year of data since that overhaul we now have the opportunity to shed some more light on the issue by comparing the way these players played both in and out of Philly. With shot-charts from, we can make the comparison better looking, and just for fun we'll throw in some of the lesser players who arrived in Philadelphia this past season as well.

Of course this all matters less now, because Doug is gone and so are most of these players, and in any case it's nothing new - but a year after a major overhaul, and heading into a new offseason and a coaching search, it's still worth checking out and reminding ourselves of the major themes.

Throughout, click the images for better resolution.

Firstly, a quick look at the Sixers' shot selection, and why it was such a big deal. In the following diagram, the top row shows the percentage of their total shots that the Sixers took from each position, with color scale showing how each figure compares to the league average for that position - lighter/white means a lower percentage of total shots than the league average, darker/red means a higher percentage. The bottom row shows points per shot from each position, with color scale again showing how each figure compares to the league average from that position - green means above average PPS, red means below average PPS, with each getting darker towards the extremes.



The most notable point is that not only has the Sixers' shot selection been awful, but they've actually been better than the league average at the shots they don't take enough of (ie in the paint and from three), and worse than the league average at the shots they take too much (the mid range). While this is no doubt partly in response to opponents recognizing and responding to the Sixers' shooting tendencies, that only increases the extent to which the team would benefit from even a slightly better shot distribution. It also shows a lack of adjustment to the team's strengths on Doug's part.

On to the player charts. As in the top line of diagrams above, the numbers are the percentage of each player's shots that he takes from each position. The color scale, from light/white to dark/red, again shows how this figure relates to the league average - lighter means the player shot a lower proportion of his shots from that position compared to the league average, and darker means he shot a higher proportion of his shots from that position compared to the league average.

Andre Iguodala



In words: After leaving Philly, Iggy drastically cut his mid-range shots to somewhere around the league average, significantly increasing his shots in the paint, while continuing the increase in three point shooting. His three point shooting also tended more towards the corners in Denver.

Lou Williams



In words: Under Larry Drew, Lou also cut his mid-range game substantially, instead shooting from distance more often, although he also cut down on shots from the paint. Like Iggy, he also substantially upped his shooting from the corners.

Elton Brand



In words: EB reversed his percentages in Dallas, focussing much more on the paint than the mid-range, particularly increasing the proportion of shots he took around the rim.

Jodie Meeks



In words: Jodie decreased his mid-range shots by half in 2012-13, increasing both his three point shooting and shooting at the rim. He also saw a sharp increase in three point shots from the corners.

Jason Richardson



In words: JRich shot more threes under Doug, but also more from the mid-range, with a big drop in shots from the paint, specifically from the rim. His three-point shooting also gravitated away from the corners.

Nick Young



In words: Almost unbelievably, Nick slightly improved his shot selection this year, although his numbers are so similar that it might be more accurate to conclude that no system changes Nick Young. Well except Flip Saunders', but let's be clear that doing better than Flip, and about the same as Vinny Del Negro, really isn't much to hang your hat on.

Dorell Wright



In words: Dorell shot more from three under Doug, but also more from the mid-range - the decrease then coming from the paint. I'd like to see less from the mid-range, of course, but I'm fine with pushing Dorell towards the three so much.


Not much of the above looks good for Doug or the system, which won't come as a surprise to most. Each of Iguodala, Williams, Brand, Meeks, and Richardson shot what, at least on the surface, looks to be a worse distribution of shots under Doug than elsewhere.

It may not be entirely fair to dump it all on Doug. It may be that it's not individual players but the combinations of players that caused the problems. Perhaps this is just what happens when Jrue runs your team, or Spencer clogs your paint. Okay, maybe not that last one, but there are other factors that could contribute.

Still, whatever the other factors, and while these players may still have greater personal affinities for the mid-range than you'd like, there's no denying that those instincts were tolerated (at best) or encouraged (at worst) more in Philadelphia than at any of their other teams, and that's on Doug. Let's hope the next natural experiment - how the Sixers' current players shot selections change under a new coach - suggests the same conclusions.

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