Otto Porter’s Simple Adjustment And What We Can Learn From It
There were 77 NBA players this season who hit the 1000 point mark. Hyper-efficient roll men like Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan were among those 77. Offensive stars like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden. All-time great shooters like JJ Redick and Klay Thompson.
Of those 77 players, the most efficient scorer, above the low-usage centers, above the Hall-of-Famers, above the gifted snipers, is Otto Porter.
Porter managed to score 1075 points this season on a total of 894 possessions, making him the only player with 500 possessions to score an average of over 1.2 points on each of them, per Synergy. These stats, of course, are a far cry from his first three years (0.716, 0.933, 1.036 PPP), and the goal today is to figure out what’s changed.
As Kevin O’Connor pointed out about three months ago, Otto’s shot form hasn’t changed drastically.
Here are two missed threes by Otto. One of them is from 2015, the other 2017. If it weren’t for the Nets winning by 19, though, I’m sure you wouldn’t have been able to guess which one was from this season. He has the same strong flicking action with both his wrists. His left hand flings sharply upward, while his right hand catapults the ball rimwards. His release is still slow and incorporates a time-consuming gathering motion, an oft-necessary part of receiving the wild drive-and-kick bullets that John Wall delivers to his spot-up shooters. He has the same subtle verticality, accompanied by a slight sweep-and-sway action. Nothing has been changed enough to explain the drastic uptick in his effectiveness.
Otto’s shot distribution is where the changes are most clear. Early in his career, Porter took shots wherever he could get them, as is the case with many overambitious rookie shooters who are eager to prove their abilities. He shot abysmally bad from midrange, which just happened to be the place where he took the plurality of his shots. Fast forward a couple years and you’ll find that, although he does still take a large number of mid-range shots, his percentage is vastly improved and the total percentage of his shots coming from mid-range dropped (from 35 to 26%), a change that would warrant sly smiles from Daryl Morey.
The biggest area of improvement, though, is his new-found ability to knock down above-the-break and wing threes. Now, you might be thinking, “why is that important? A three’s a three! 48.4% from the corner!” but when it comes to planning offensive sets, or even just improvising based on defense, an open corner three is more difficult to get than a wing three. Take this play for example:
This is an extremely simple action (anything else from Scott Brooks would be astonishing) wherein Porter sets a down-screen for Beal, who draws the attention of Batum just long enough for Porter to dash to the perimeter.
The reason this tedious action is relevant, though, is because it represents the wealth of options that Porter now has because of his ability to shoot from anywhere. If Batum goes on the baseline side of Gortat, Otto will just come towards Wall for a three. Batum went over the Gortat screen, and you see what happens: Porter receives the pass, stops his uphill momentum, turns back downhill and sets for an open, uncontested three.
This shot isn’t as easy as it looks. First of all, above-the-break threes are further away from the basket than corner threes — that’s simple. But more importantly, his ability to gather a pass and shift the momentum of his entire body in a split second to release the shot in time is an ability that he has only recently developed (or at least shown off in games), and an ability that is not found in all NBA shooters.
So, Otto Porter can shoot from above the free throw line now. Big whoop. Who cares? Why should I give a crap about Otto Porter’s shot chart? Why does this matter?
Acting upon the shaky assumption that basketball matters, it’s because shot charts are more than just a visual stimulant. The most common use of a shot chart that I’ve seen is to accentuate the volume of a certain color, and derive from the color of mode whether or not that shooter is good. For example:
Holy smokes, that’s a lot of red! Look at how bad Kris Dunn is at shooting basketballs!
But it goes far deeper than that. Some zones are more valuable than others: above-the-break threes are more valuable than corner threes. Corner threes are more valuable than midrange corner twos. Relatively efficient restricted area finishing is generally more valuable than relatively efficient floaters or post-ups (sorry, Grizzlies).
If there’s anything to take away from reading about dorky-ass Otto Porter, it’s that shooting is not a binary ability — it’s a complicated spectrum. All the normal numbers might say you’re a “good shooter,” but the numbers also say that Pau Gasol is better than Joe Ingles. Use statistics wisely.