Fun with shot charts

The Bucks have reached the 1/4 mark of the season with a 0.500 record, a record that has probably surprised most basketball observers. In a startlingly weak Eastern Conference, the Bucks have kept themselves with eyesight of the Central Division lead, even if the remains of a challenging December schedule loom ahead.

While they only tell some of the story, let’s take a look at shot charts to partially put together a picture of what has gone well and what hasn’t gone so well.

O.J. Mayo

Let’s start with O.J. Mayo. Much has been made of his renewed commitment and his improved conditioning, but Mayo actually shot the ball better from the outside last season.

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Despite the carnage, there are some positive takeaways from O.J.’s shot chart. 1) He’s probably going to go on a tear soon. He is too good a shooter for these trends to last. 2) His regained athleticism has resulted in an uptick at the rim, both in accuracy and volume. 3) He is still playing well from the corners. One of the Bucks’ best plays among the bench guys is Mayo curling around a John Henson screen to get to the corner, and looking for Henson on a dump-down pass if/when Mayo draws the requisite attention from the defense in the corner. I would expect the Mayo-Henson chemistry to return when John gets healthy.

Brandon Knight

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This terrific shot chart reflects the fact that Knight is a whisker from posting a 45/40/90 mark to start the season. (Knight currently holds shooting percentages of 44.4% FG, 40.2% 3FG, and 90.7% FT.) Could he do better at the rim by going for a few more kickout passes? Probably, but that would be nitpicking.

Jason Kidd said something in the preseason about Knight being the team’s best outside shooter and that statement has definitely held up this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

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To be sure, there’s a lot of red carnage here. Continuing a trend from the preseason, Antetokounmpo has struggled with his jump shot, and too much time has passed for any of the success he had with it last season to matter much.

But a lot of what counts here is that little tiny number near the rim that says “69.5”. Antetokounmpo is taking roughly 70% of his shots in the immediate vicinity of the basket. Not only is he finishing these shots with accuracy (even when defenses know it’s the only shot he wants), but he is also finishing them with startling grace and athleticism.

Jerryd Bayless


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The Bucks would probably prefer Bayless to be a bit more productive on long twos from the free throw line extended, shots that might typically come when opponents chase Jerryd off the three-point line. But in the bigger picture, Bayless has produced more consistently off the bench than anyone else.

Larry Sanders

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The yellow is all that matters here. Sanders has successfully converted nearly 50% of his shot attempts this season, and the red just serves as a reminder that Sanders really doesn’t need to be doing anything to create shots further than 6 feet from the basket.

And for the most part, he isn’t.

Ersan Ilyasova

Back in the middle of the Skiles Era, in 2010-11 to be precise, Ilyasova had a season where he didn’t shoot well on three-point shots, but remained exceedingly valuable as a floor spacer because of his accuracy on long two-point shots — Dirk Nowitzki-like precision.

This season is shaping up the same way. The Bucks could really use a healthy Ersan as they take on some of the NBA’s top teams.

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Khris Middleton

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Middleton’s three-point field goal percentage from last season (41.4%) was nearly what his overall field goal percentage (41.6%) is this season. I predicted a big season from Middleton headed into free agency, and for some reason — be it injuries, or a new role on the team, or something else — that hasn’t happened.

Jabari Parker

I remember watching Parker compete against the middling talent of Summer League and thinking, “How is this guy going to get his shot off against elite NBA defenses?”

I could not have been more wrong. Look at his numbers at the around the rim, where he has taken more than 75% of his shot attempts. Greens and yellows, all of them.

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That’s a big, solid starting base on which the 19-year-old can build.

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