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A new shooting metric to shed light on the 2017-18 Knicks’ woeful shot selection

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

With the NBA playoffs in full effect and the Draft Lottery still some weeks away, there isn’t much content for Knicks fans to consume. Yes, the New York Post reported that Mike Budenholzer is interested in the coaching vacancy. Outside of that report, and until we have some idea as to where New York is picking in the draft, there isn’t much going on for the Knickerbockers.

This lull in the news cycle is a perfect time to take a deeper dive into last season. The topic at hand: shooting zones. For those who have happened to read some of my previous work, where players shoot on the court and the overall philosophy of “Moreyball.” From the basic math — 50% from midrange is (roughly) the same as shooting 33.33% from three — to the advanced analytics, where players shoot on the court is more important than ever. And if specific zones on the court yield certain results, there should be some sort of statistic that reflects the impact, right?

Enter zone true shooting percentage (zTS%). This is a statistic I developed to address this specific topic. You can find the methodology here, but let me provide a quick-and-dirty version of the concept. Below is the formula:

It’s modeled after true shooting percentage and it reads like this: the absolute value of total points divided by 2.25 times the sum of each shooting zone’s FGA total times its coefficient. The coefficients (–0.56, –1.35, etc.) are from an OLS regression with the dependent variable being single-season offensive RPM and the independent variables being specific shooting zones totals via NBA Stats over a four-year sample. Court zones are as followed: restricted area, paint non-restricted area, midrange, corner three, above the break three, and free throws.

The 2.25 is a value to help scale the results to the norms of true shooting, meaning roughly 55% is league average, anything above 60% is considered good, and below 50% is bad (based on the player data gathered). Again, do not hesitate to read the methodology, or you can take my word for it at face value right now. The choice is yours.

The Knicks on the season had a 59.35 zTS%, which is higher than their traditional true shooting percentage (54.4). New York may have had a terrible shot profile as a team — 23rd, 3rd, 28th, and 29th in shot frequency at the rim, midrange, corner threes, and above the break, respectively, per Cleaning the Glass — but they were 8th and 9th in midrange and corner-three FG%.

Below is a list of all the Knicks players’ zone true shooting percentages for last season:

(Note: you can check out the entire NBA’s zone true shooting percentage here).

These individual figures should not be surprising given the nature of the zone true shooting percentage formula and the Knicks shot selection. Players like Kristaps Porzingis, Trey Burke, and even Courtney Lee are penalized for their high-volume midrange shooting attempts, whereas Troy Williams, Luke UniKornet, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are rewarded for their shot profiles.

On the surface, it seems odd that someone like Hardaway Jr., who shot 31.9% from three, has a better zone true shooting percentage than Porzingis, a player who shot 40% from three and has a better true shooting percentage. Once you dig into each player’s shot profile, however, it makes more sense. Porzingis took 58% of his shot attempts from midrange, 23% from three, and a pitiful 18% at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. Hardaway, on the contrary, took only 28% of his shot attempts from midrange, 45% from behind the arc, and 27% at the rim. Furthermore, Porzingis shot 56% at the rim versus Hardaway Jr.’s 62% — and both players shot 42% from midrange. Hardaway Jr., despite shooting worse from three, isn’t as penalized for those attempts as Porzingis is for his midrange jumpers, and he also is rewarded for taking and making more shots at the rim.

It seems almost unfathomable that The Unicorn doesn’t have a higher zone true shooting percentage given his shooting prowess — well, not that unfathomable given how the Knicks ran their offense last season. What better way to utilize arguably the best stretch-five in the league by isolating him on and around the elbow for a contested midrange jumper, right? The Knicks shot profile is something that this team needs to improve upon next season, especially Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina; whoever the next coach will have his (or her) hands full.

More than anything else, zone true shooting percentage should be used to help provide some additional context as to where players shoot on the court, rewarding Moreyball and penalizing inefficient shots. This statistic should be used in conjunction with traditional true shooting percentage as two together provide good insight into a player’s overall shooting numbers. That isn’t to say that you cannot use zone true shooting independently. Like any statistic, misinterpreting its purpose leads to bad usage — hence why I suggest using it with its cousin metric.

Zone true shooting helps individuals understand where players are shooting on the court and if they are converting those shots in an efficient manner. If a player has a higher true shooting percentage compared to his zone true shooting percentage, the conclusion should be that despite that player being efficient from the field, he is not taking the most efficient shots on the court. If a player has a higher zone true shooting percentage compared to his traditional true shooting percentage, he is taking and converting more efficient shots and avoiding inefficient shot attempts. This level of additional context is important in the “3 > 2” Era.

Hopefully, the Knicks analytics department has something similar to zone true shooting percentage to help the team understand where to focus shots. And if they do, I sure hope that Steve Mills, Scott Perry, and whoever the next head coach is will focus on cutting down on those long twos. If the franchise doesn’t have a similar statistic, well, I sure hope Mills or Perry reads Posting & Toasting because their team’s shot profile needs improvement.