Kirk Goldsberry, a writer for Grantland, wrote a great article about Kevin Love a while ago and if you haven’t read it you should. The gist of it is that Kevin Love’s offensive game has been moving out, and now he takes a large portion of his shots from behind the three point line. Since he is so far away from the basket he is reducing the chance that his team gets an offensive rebound. What Goldsberry suggests is that this hurts the team more than it helps. In the case of Kevin Love this is debatable. Love put up MVP type numbers last season so it’s hard to say that he really hurt his team. This does raise a big question however: Does the NBA’s fascination with stretch bigs hurt teams?
I think it’s a pretty obvious that the farther away from the rim a player shoots the ball the less opportunities for offensive rebounds he will have. In the following charts you can see that as players average FGA distance gets higher their ORB% normally gets lower1 .
These guys are just a few examples. Thad Young, Spence Hawes, Serge Ibaka, and Josh McRoberts are just some other notable players had a dramatic shift in where they shoot the ball, and had their ORB% go down. Most of these guys started shooting threes, but some of them like Ibaka and Aldridge stick to mid-range shots. In all cases you can call these guys a stretch big. For some of these guys it wasn’t a gradual change either, Young, Hawes, Millsap, and McRoberts suddenly began shooting threes last season despite rarely shooting them in past seasons2 .
But is it a bad thing that these guys are shooting from the perimeter? I’m sure we all know that three-pointer is a better shot than most two-pointers, and floor spacing is a big aspect of the game.
— Nathan Walker (@bbstats) August 13, 2014
But like Goldsberry said in his article they reduce the chance that their team gets an offensive rebound, and unless they are really good shooters do you really want them on the perimeter. A lot of these guys that are now considered stretch bigs were pretty good low post players and some of them could have been called elite offensive rebounders when they were at their best. Why wouldn’t you want them playing down low, rather than shooting the ball?
Before we move on lets establish something, ORB% does not mean winning. The Miami Heat had the 2nd worst ORB% last season, and the San Antonio Spurs had the 7th worst ORB%. The big difference between those two teams and other poor offensive rebounding teams; they were 1 and 2 in eFG%. This really pertains to the stretch big debate. Would you rather have a guy on the perimeter that lowers your ORB% and eFG% or a guy who plays inside and raises both of them.
Well it really depends on the situation. First lets take a look at LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers. Aldridge led the league in mid-range attempts with 899 attempts coming from that zone. Despite being one of the better high volume mid-range shooters in the league, his FG% from that area still wasn’t that great. He had the lowest eFG% of his career last year, and unsurprisingly he also tied a career low in ORB%. Just looking at those factors it is hard to say that he helped the team. But when you dig a little deeper it looks like he might have helped them. His DRB% was an absurd 25.5% and he a career low in TOV% (7.2) despite a career high in USG% (29.8, which is top ten in the league). His mid-range shooting added another zone that defenses had to defend opening up room in the paint and perimeter. That’s part of the reason why Portland was one of the top three-point shooting teams in the league last year. It also didn’t hurt so much that he wasn’t as active on the offensive boards because Portland had three guys who were top 30 in ORB% last year (Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland, and Thomas Robinson).
Now this doesn’t mean that Aldridge was really bad last year because he took so many mid-range shots, and it also doesn’t mean that he was great because he spaced the floor for the team. As a whole however helps his team, and while you would like him to be more efficient, he isn’t the only player who could use a higher 2p% (looking at you Damian).
Now lets look at the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks took the second most threes in the league last year, in large part to essentially their entire rotation (with the exception of Elton Brand) averaged at least 2.5 3PA a game. Three of their post players, Millsap, Pero Antic, and Mike Scott, took a large portion of their shots from three point range. Of the three Millsap is the best shooter, but Millsap is also a very good offensive rebounder, and for the first three seasons of his career he put up elite ORB%. Like so many other bigs his game migrated outwards, and his ORB% dropped. The other two both seem like they could be capable offensive rebounders as well. Antic is a capable defensive rebounder and you think that would translate, but he takes almost 60% of his shots from three point range. Mike Scott was actually a very good offensive rebounder in the 2012-13 season (12.1 ORB%), but he took way more threes this last season (.1 3PA per 100 Poss vs. 6.8 3PA per 100 Poss). Collectively, those three shot 33.2% from the three point line. That certainly isn’t great, and I think most teams would like fewer, more efficient, three point attempts if they could get more second chance opportunities. These three as a whole did hurt their team. They were not very efficient, and they were not a great offensive rebounders last season. Granted Al Horford missed most of the season, so Atlanta will certainly be an interesting team to watch.
So to close, it really depends on the situation. In the case of the Trailblazers I would tell Aldridge to keep doing what he is doing, but in the case of Atlanta I would like their bigs to tone it down a bit. Like most things there really isn’t one easy answer.