NBA longshots are as easy as under-the-hoop jump shots

How good are NBA players? Well, get this: They’re just as accurate from 21 to 25 feet away as they are from 1 to 5 feet. Sound unbelievable? Take a look at the graph on the right, which plots field-goal percentage by distance. NBA players make 1 in 1.78 (56%) shots from under the hoop; 1 in 3.03 from 26 to 30 feet away (that’s deep-three range); and 1 in 24.38 from 31 to 90 feet. From everywhere else, their odds are about the same, around one in 2.5.

Amazingly, for an NBA player, a jump shot is a jump shot, regardless of distance. Other shots, of course, work differently. A dunk, for example, is just about automatic: Players make 1 in 1.09 (92%), and it’s pretty embarrassing when they miss. Lay-ups, on the other hand, are far from automatic—even though, in the English language, “a lay-up” refers to something easy. Lay-ups are often contested in the NBA, and players only make 1 in 1.85 (54%) of those.

Still, those odds are better than for any other shot, which is why NBA players try to make as many attempts from under the hoop as possible. In all, 1 in 3.2 shot attempts is a dunk, lay-up, finger roll, or tip-in. That does indicate that 1 in 1.45 shot attempts is some sort of jump shot, which probably means that defenses on the whole do a good job of preventing high-percentage shots.

There exists another piece of evidence to back up that claim—subtle, but quite fascinating nonetheless. As in the general population, most NBA players are right-handed, meaning they should have a somewhat easier time going to their right than to their left.

And yet, NBA players take more shots from the left side of the court: 1 in 4.09 versus 1 in 4.18 from the right side. Why would that be? Presumably, defenders know that their opponents shoot worse from the left side and do all they can to force them in that direction—and it looks like they’re successful.

Who would have thought defenders would be better off letting their man shoot from 20 feet closer, as long as they can force him to the right (which is, of course, the left) side?

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