SNS: Living and Dying by the Jumper

Yeah, I know this is late. Final projects and such have gotten in the way of my writing here. But now, 4 days later, I’ll look at the Sixers game 4 performance, and comment, like many others have, about the late jumper from Andre Iguodala which sealed the Miami Heat’s victory.

First off, I have to attach the highlights here. Fast forward about 2 minutes into the video to get to the point of discussion.

The Sixers battled the Heat throughout the game, but early in the fourth quarter the Heat pushed and at one point had an 8-point lead with about 9 minutes left. Then what happened looked inconceivable: the Sixers starting hitting jumpers like there was no tomorrow. Obviously, the Sixers would have no tomorrow if they lose, but regardless of this expression, the team started hitting shots I didn’t know they were capable of making.

Andre Iguodala hit THREE step-back 20 foot jumpers, in a row. Thad Young hit a turnaround 15-foot jumper, paired with two other 18-footers in the quarter. In other words, a mathematically hard to believe series of events kept the Sixers in the game late, giving their season one last breath. Video evidence can be found in the highlight above of a few of these shots. As I noted this, I kept in mind that, theoretically, there was very little chance of keeping this up.

So fast forward to the Joel Anthony free throws, where he solidified his role as the make-or-break guy in the series by making two key free throws. This makes it a three-point game. Now, I’ll point out that the only reasons for it being a three-point game are (a) the Sixers’ incredible shot-making and (b) a Dwyane Wade technical foul with 2 minutes to go. While (b) was just plain stupid on Wade’s part, (a) was something Miami was willing to give us. See, the Sixers don’t usually make too many shots. They did at the end of game 4, and that gave them a win. They failed to do so in games 1 and 3 (and countless other times this year), and lost.

This all sets up a possession with 16.8 seconds left to go. In this situation, down 3, a team generally has two options: go for a quick, high-percentage two-point shot, or set up a quick, at least decent three-point attempt. Since the defense usually tries to prevent the three for the tie, with so much time left, a quick two points is not a bad thing, as long as the shot is a good, makeable, high-percentage attempt. A layup is preferred. Something easy that keeps hope alive will do.

Not, let’s put everything in context. Andre Iguodala hits three straight mid-range jumpers, but according to NBA StatsCube, he shot only 37% on those shots during the year, in over 250 attempts*. For the offense, do you trust that Dre is hot and can continue to make shots he normally doesn’t? Do you play the numbers and have him give the ball up, having your best player leave it in someone else’s hands? Do you, as Doug Collins, leave yourself open to criticism from media, fans, and your players for giving it to someone else? All these things were going on and, in some way, impacted the final decision, though how we do not know.

* Oddly enough, that consists of 37 percent of his attempts. So he shoots 37% 37% of the time.

However, we do know what the end decision was: give Andre the ball, and let him do his thing. It failed, as Andre took an ill-fated, questionable 20-footer to seal the win for Miami, well before Dwyane Wade’s tasteless dunk.

Was this the right decision, then, giving Andre free reign to shoot a mid-range jumper? Do you trust 3 shots and the hot hand to create a good outcome, or do you trust over 250 of the same attempts, in a game where that attempt will not give your team a share of the lead?

It depends on who you ask. For example, Zach Lowe wrote about it here. As the idea of a “Hot Hand” has been debated, stats indicate that players shoot a lower percentage after their own misses than their own makes, as Henry Abbott pointed out here. Now, my position is that players can get into a “groove”, finding a perfect shooting stroke for a given situation for a limited period of time, but that, in time, the effect will go away, especially since cited evidence in the study shows players generally also take tougher shots after makes than after misses. I know that, from just shooting around and playing basketball (not that I’m any good at it), I can get into a “groove” from a certain location, finding a certain stroke that works in that area, which can be construed as a “hot hand” effect. However, given a game situation, it’s almost impossible for two shots to come under almost the exact same circumstances. Teams play defense, defenders react in certain ways, and the location a player shoots from is largely uncontrolled.  That is, the hot hand exists, but because of the number of variables found in a given NBA contest, the effects are rarely, if ever, seen, though shots aren’t a 50-50 proposition unto themselves, like some would portray it.

What happened in the final play did not in the previous three. While Andre had hit three mid-range shots, none were as contested, rushed, or off-balance as the final shot. Andre faded away from the rim, borderline out-of-control, and threw up what in retrospect looks like a wild shot attempt.

So, I guess the way I wrote the question and explained my views about the hot hand dictate my answer. I don’t believe the right decision was made in those final 17 seconds – while I’m not opposed to giving Andre the ball, under no condition should he be taking that shot in that situation.

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