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For Brett Brown And Sixers, Focus On Analytics Extends To The Practice Court

Brett Brown and his staff video tape and chart every shot each player takes during practice. The numbers, they hope, will give them a better idea of how players are progressing in their development, and allow the coaching staff to reward players who have worked hard with more offensive freedom.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If you looked at the Sixers shot chart last season you'd be very impressed by their offensive execution. You would be if you ignored that minor detail about whether or not the shot actually went in, at least.

As we looked at during the offseason, the Sixers Expected Points Per Shot was 3rd best in the league last season, the teams first season under the Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown regime. They did many of the things you would expect a good offense to do, including getting a high percentage of their shots at the rim and from beyond the three point line, while avoiding that inefficient mid-range jump shot.

Yet, despite taking shots from what are generally accepted to be efficient parts of the basketball court, the Sixers actual points per shot ranked dead last.

Nylon Calculus doesn't have the data yet for 2014-15, but the shot chart is similarly exemplary. They're 3rd best in the league at generating shots within 3 feet of the basket, which makes up over 36% of their field goal attempts. They take the 2nd fewest attempts from mid-range, with only 9.9% of their field goal attempts coming from between 16' and the three point line, trailing only Sam Hinkie's former team, the Houston Rockets. They are about mid-pack in free throw rate (29.3%, 14th), while getting the 6th most of their field goal attempts from beyond the three point line, with 30.4% of their field goal attempts coming from deep.

Yet despite all that, the Sixers rank dead last in just about every meaningful offensive metric. They have by far the worst offensive rating in the league at 90.2, while also having the worst true shooting percentage in the league, at 48.1%. League average for those two metrics is 106 and 53.9%, respectively.

The players, more or less, have the offensive freedom that few teams this offensively challenged would enjoy.

At least for now.

"I'm not all twisted right now on people taking three's if they're open, although their percentages say 'Well, it's maybe not a great shot for Tony Wroten'," Sixers coach Brett Brown explained at practice earlier this month. "It's part of those discussions that we have as a staff that's all born out of our stage of development. You can't put the time that we put in [in practice] and then say you can't shoot an open 3."

That offensive freedom that Brown's players currently enjoy may not be there in the future, however. Not only might Brown care more about the quality of a shot when the team has the talent level to compete, but he might cut back on players offensive freedoms later on in this season.

"We have told our team that if you're open in the first third of the year, we want you shooting the ball," Brown said. "That privilege will be refined, and defined, in the middle third after we look at your percentages and how it's weighed up with development."

The percentages aren't necessarily just what happens in game situations.

Brown would go on to explain that the percentages he was talking about aren't as simple as, say, everything bucketed into one category called 'three point attempts'. They would be categorized into more specific shot types. Catch and shoot, corner three's, shooting coming off of a screen, one dribble pull-up jumpers, and so forth are all types of shots that the team is likely to be charting.

Which makes sense, as they're all different skill sets. Practicing perfect form on a catch and shoot jump shot isn't necessarily going to yield consistent results on a pull-up jumper when your defender goes under the pick.

However, the more specific you get, the more sample size comes into play when judging progress based solely on game results. For example, Tony Wroten only attempted approximately 26 jump shots when coming off of pick and rolls last year. If two of those jump shots roll in during the 2014-15 season rather than roll out, his shooting percentage can jump nearly 10 percentage points.

And that's for a player who played over 1700 minutes last season. For some of these guys who don't see 20 minutes or more every night, measuring year-to-year, much less month-to-month, improvement based solely on game results is virtually impossible. Drastic changes in results can happen, but with the sample size so low that doesn't necessarily signify an improvement in form, and doesn't always mean the improved results are something you can rely on going forward, and the inverse is also true when dealing with regression.

The less sample size you have, the more that chance plays into the equation, and the less meaningful the results.

So, to get a better gauge, not only of improvement but also in terms of the work each player is putting in, the 76ers chart every shot the players take during training camp and practice. Every. Single. Shot.

"I can tell you every shot they've taken since Stockton [College]," Brown said, referring to where the Sixers had their training camp. "It's all taped, and then we go back and measure it."

"So I can then go back and say, 'You know what Tony [Wroten], or Michael [Carter-Williams], when people go under pick and rolls, you're [shooting] 11%. And not only that, you've [only] shot 50 of them in your development. The handshake deal is off," Brown said, offering up a hypothetical.

"So right now we have a partnership," Brown said about the freedom he gives his players.

That freedom Brown has granted, almost by default, will in short order turn into earned freedom. It is something Brown hopes will promote hard work and attention to detail.

"We want to promote development. We want to promote shooting, a lot. We want to reward development and the frequency [of practice]," Brown went on. "But at some point it's got to give. And that will be reviewed [later on in the year]."

Does Brown ever use it as motivation?

"From time to time. I think it caught them off guard [a couple of weeks ago] where I said 'Here's every shot you've taken since Stockton'," Brown explained. "This is who hasn't worked, this is who has worked, and here it is, from best to worst."

"They get it. I'm very transparent with the group," Brown said.

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