How many times have you seen a dude dribbling the clock out at the end of a quarter, half or game before attacking and putting a shot up at the buzzer, hoping to squeak in a couple of extra points? Nine billion? 75 thousand? 16? Infinity? I don’t know the exact answer, but I know it’s a lot.

And while that might seem like the smart play — it keeps the ball away from the opponent, limits turnovers, makes you feel pretty special for being the designated shot taker and cetera — science says you’re leaving points on the table if you do such a thing. Here’s a brief, two-sentence explanation of science’s claim that shooting early in the clock is better, courtesy of Brian Skinner who is a researcher and not that Clipper who used to dye his goatee. From Wired:

[Skinner] discovered through an analysis of scoring situations that NBA players often wait too long to shoot and it could cost teams an average of 4.5 points per game. Rather than take the sure thing early in a possession, players wait it out, taking time off the clock and hoping to make another, possibly tougher, shot pay off.

That’s science and math talking, you guys. Those are two well-established fields of study, and if they say you should take good shots early in the shot clock, maybe you should.

But Kobe Bryant is like, “Nope.”

Yeah, whatever, Bryant responds. He told after a recent matchup with the New York Knicks that there are countless variables, and his decision to shoot — or not shoot, as the case may be — depends upon who’s on the floor, where they’re standing and how much time is left on the clock.

“If I can kick it to somebody, a lot of times I wind up getting a hockey assist, so it just depends on how much time I have left,” Bryant said. “If there’s a chance to pass and swing [to another player] for another opportunity, that’s fine. If there’s not, then I have to create space and get a shot up, understanding that there are two [players] on me and it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to get an offensive rebound.”

I was lead to believe that Kobe Bryant was a “scientific dawg,” but this sounds kind of like he is being the opposite of that. An artistic catt, I guess? Beats me, but that sentence sure sounds like Kobe saying he knows better than science when he should be taking a shot. Science has never played in the NBA. Science doesn’t have titles. Science wasn’t with Kobe shooting in the gym.

You would think that Kobe would trust science since he used it to get special blood put in his leg in order to combat aging, but I guess not. Still doesn’t quite trust it after not being able to fix his finger after all these years. He never forgets.


Comments (25)

  1. Dude, have you been taking writing lessons from Chris Chase? I find the lack of substance in this article disturbing.

  2. seriously, this stuff is horrible

  3. Has there been a serious uptick in trolls since TBJ started getting linked to by Grantland or is it just me? I mean, I love seeing everyone with the team get more attention and a wider audience but it does seem as if the comments section has one or two complainers in it on far too many articles.

    Ahh well, such is the price you pay for success I suppose.

    “Science wasn’t with Kobe shooting in the gym”.

    Real nice reference there, boss.

    • Yeah, I dont get the hate either.

      • Maybe it’s all people who migrated from “Ball Don’t Lie”? I’m not saying this as a zing, since I originally game from there. But that site has a fair share of trolls.

    • I don’t like Trey’s writing style and humour (both seem lazy to me, which seems to be well in character for him), and I’ve been following the Jones for years… To me, one of the lows of the new season is too much Trey and not enough Matt (and JD), including on the overdose… I guess it’s supposed recenter the show on basketball or feel more professionnal, but I think it’s going away from what made the Jones successful (which isn’t Trey).
      I mean, I like some Kerby in small doses, but I guess he’s too pun-happy and not enough substance for me… I usually only read the excerpt from the link…

      I originally came from BDL, but that was when Skeets was still the editor…

  4. Evidently the commentariat has metastasized.

    Kobe has never shown a particular affinity for science/statistics. He discounted Shane Battier’s defense, he disbelieved all that stuff that says he’s not really any better than anyone else in the clutch… You can argue that’s a necessary condition for being one of the best — just believe in yourself no matter what — but it’s also a good way to hurt your team. Fortunately, Kobe is still very good, even if he doesn’t let outside perspectives inform his decisions.

  5. should’ve repeated “science wasn’t with Kobe shootin’ in the gym” with a Rick Ross voice

  6. Advanced stats are overrated anyways. All stats are overrated, to be honest.

  7. Trey Kerby and Kelly Dwyer…. Same guy.

  8. I hate 99% of Trey’s articles. Not trolling, that’s just me. Call me hater, whatever you want.

    • If there’s a 99% chance you’ll hate something and you still do it, you’re either an idiot or a masochist.

      If it’s the former, be less of an idiot and just don’t click on Kerby’s links.

  9. Kobe obviously didn’t read the article, so his critique is going to be generic and uninformed. I don’t think anyone expects Kobe to read physics articles in his spare time, but it would be nice for bloggers to actually read the article, since they’re the ones paid to read and write articles.

    For purposes of tractability, Weiner had to make a lot of strong assumptions like a constant number of available shots per second within a possession and a constant turnover rate. He (and Wired) even points out that as your turnover rate goes to zero (ie Kobe holds the ball at the top of the key) you can be more selective with what shot you want to take. Weiner also points out several of the problems with these key assumptions in his Discussion section, including this gem: “It is also likely that at very small time the theory’s assumption of a uniform distribution of shot quality becomes invalid. Indeed, in these “buzzer-beating” situations the teams’ shots are often forced, and their quality is likely not chosen from the same random distribution as for shots much earlier in the shot clock.” Unfortunately, caveats which go against the sexy headline rarely see print.

    There’s also a significant sample selection problem in the data. If a team takes a shot later in the shot clock, that *could* mean it’s deciding to pass up a good shot, or it could mean the defense cut off its first option and *forced* the offense to take a shot later in the shot clock. Better defenses force later shots. This is similar to the fallacious idea that teams should only take the most efficient types of shots (free throws, three pointers, dunks/layups, etc) and avoid mid range jumpers entirely. A good defense is going to funnel your offense into lower percentage opportunities, and sometimes you just have to take what you can get. Similarly, a good defense may make the first three rotations in a pick and roll, only to break down on the fourth rotation late in the shot clock (or never break down, forcing a buzzer beating shot).

    Ultimately Kobe isn’t even bashing the scientific nature of the article. He’s just saying it’s difficult for a mathematical model and limited data to capture all the variables that happen on the court. If you’re going to bash Kobe for ignoring something, that something should be Bynum and/or Gasol in deep post position.

    • Hey! A comment about the content of the post. Great job!

      I agree that there were a few problems in the study. However, I thought the biggest problem wasn’t actually an error on Weiner’s part. The study focused on maximizing points. I think he has a good argument for teams shooting earlier in the shot clock. If you’re looking to put up more points, listen to this guy. The problem is that you don’t win basketball games by scoring a lot of points. That may sound weird, but the fact is that you win games by scoring MORE points. When you take that higher percentage shot earlier in the shot clock at the end of a quarter, you’re also giving the other team an extra possession.

      He says that teams can improve their PPP by .05 by shooting earlier, but I think you need to also factor in that extra possession the opponent gets–even if it’s just an off balance 30-footer as the buzzer sounds. I think that this is why most NBA players and coaches will continue to “milk the clock” and why you will continue to see poor end-of-quarter offenses. The team with the ball is doing more than trying to score; they’re also preventing the other team from scoring by simply holding onto the ball. This used to be standard practice before the shot clock, obviously. Now days, the only time a team can play defense with their offense is during the last 24 seconds of every quarter. Shooting a lower percentage shot with .5 seconds left in the quarter instead of a higher percentage shot with 7 seconds left in the quarter is just good defense.

  10. I always thought the last second shot was about controlling the ball and more about not giving your an opponent to be motivated going into the next quarter.

  11. Some people just don’t get Trey’s writing style…

    • We do get it, and it is sometimes funny, but most of the time, it’s repeating the same thing ad nauseum while adding a few twists to it (reasons to blame LeBron, things Durant isn’t impressed with, Brad Miller, Brad Miller, Brad Miller, …)

      • I happen to love it, When he left yahoo and went to this site, i came along. He’s the only guy that can make me “LoL” by reading text. Sure, on some days, its a hit or miss, but most of the time, his writing is consistent.

        Have you been to the yahoo blog lately? Its terrible.

        • It sure is… And I’m okay with Trey on the Jone, I sometimes find him funny or even insightful, I just hate it when people are considered haters, trolls or TBJ-rookies just because they don’t like one particular part of the site.
          Opinions are like assholes : to each his own.

  12. It sounds stupid but there it goes : I agree with science.

    I mean, seeing how often those plays with 5 to 10 seconds left without a timeout seem to fail, I think giving one to the other team should be okay if it’s a sure-fire 2 points… I mean : worst case scenario, it’s a wash.

    And yeah, those isos at the end of quarters are ridiculous… Just run a freakin’ play that should take about the amount of time left, what wrong can come from that?

    Nothing forces you to make a dangerous pass, you can freaking wait at the top of the key and jack a 3 anyway if you want, but if the 4 other players have some damn movement, I don’t see how it can hurt (while it could obviously create open shots or mismatches along the way).

    I just don’t get why some teams just stop running plays when it matters the must… It’s just ridiculous to me… There are times when it’s the best option (for instance if you pretty much only have one scorer (late 80s Bulls) or your best scorer is on a tear or badly covered), but it very rarely is the case imo.

  13. This is misleading… The article published was not focused on late-game scenarios. Specifically, the team milking the clock had the lead.

    The study’s author disregarded crunch time possessions, when other motives may outweigh scoring the basketball (like running the clock out when you have the lead). This study does not apply to the situation it’s being compared to.

    And in reality, since the Lakers were up 1 at the time. Running out the clock and shooting a tough shot with a few seconds remaining may lower their chances to widen the gap. But by the same logic, it significantly lowers the Celtics chance to score on the other end with very little to no time left.

  14. Don’t listen to ‘em Trey, the only this wrong with this article is that Kobe is the focus of it….I think you should break out the Microsoft Paint and do it up Blowtorch style, like the good ole days!

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