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More Lessons For The Pacers From The Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

I'm still making my way through recaps of the different sessions and presentations from MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference which took place this past weekend. This yesterday I found myself reading a very detailed piece by Zach Lowe from The Point Forward. Lowe's piece covers some of the highlights from a presentation by Sandy Weil on data gleaned from a handful of 3-D capable motion capture cameras which have been installed in five different NBA arenas.

The cameras allow for the recording and analysis of data which previously had been to complicated to feasibly collect or tabulate by hand on a large scale. For example a portion of Weil's work looked at how field goal percentage is affected by the proximity of a defender. The proximity of the defender can actually be measured and recorded by the camera, something that would be wildly inconsistent and time-consuming if done by simple human observation. In Lowe's recap I found two different areas which I thought applied very specifically to the Pacers.

Here's the first:

The other finding that has major implications for your favorite team: Catch-and-shoot attempts are much more efficient than other types of shots when you control for distance and the presence of a defender. A player’s shooting percentage jumps significantly when the last thing he does before the a shot is the act of catching a pass — and not the act of dribbling. 

But if you catch a pass and hold the ball for about 2.25 seconds, whatever advantage you gained from catching the pass disappears. This makes sense, since holding the ball gives your defender a chance to catch up to you and prepare to defend your next move. 

That second paragraph seems like the exact advice Frank Vogel must have given Danny Granger when he took over the team. Earlier in the season I was pulling my hair out watching Granger catch the ball on the wing, turn and face up for roughly 2.26+ seconds before rising up for a contested jumper. Although I've seen a handful of these possessions over the past few games, this tendency seems to have largely disappeared under Vogel's guidance. Granger has been much more decisive with the ball in almost all situations, not just in isolations and curling off screens.

Now would someone please forward this information on to Tyler Hansbrough? Although Weil's work didn't address it specifically, I'm guessing Hansbrough's occasional combination of head fakes and jab steps before launching a jumper isn't doing his accuracy any favors.

Here's the second tidbit:

Another bit of conventional wisdom Weil’s work confirms: Teams shoot a better percentage on possessions that start with a defensive rebound or a forced turnover. But once you dig even deeper, you find that the higher shooting percentage on these possessions only really exists if the team shoots quickly — early in the shot clock, before a defense can get set. 

This would indicate that teams that try to force lots of turnovers, such as the Grizzlies and Celtics, might be making a smarter calculation than we realize. It also justifies the urgency with which a lot of point guards command their teammates get their butts moving after a defensive rebound.

This again reminds me of the Pacers. Their offense has been much better when they push the ball, especially off defensive rebounds and turnovers. One problem is that the team has not been particularly effective in creating turnovers, In their 10 wins under Frank Vogel the Pacers are forcing 14.2 turnovers per game. In their 8 losses they are averaging just 12.5. That may seem like a small difference but 12.5 turnovers per game would rank the Pacers dead last in the NBA this season. 14.2 would make them about average.

The half-court offense has been really stagnant over the past few weeks. When the team is able to push the pace it seems like open shots are a lot easier to find. Defensive effort, running the floor hard after all possession types and maybe even some traps, ball pressure or other defensive wrinkles could really make a difference at the offensive end as well.