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Nerd Alert: At-Rim Studies, Part III

Carson Cistulli

Carson Cistulli writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Over the past two weeks, I've looked at ways we might begin to understand the underlying components of a player's field-goal percentage by looking at his shooting profile -- and, in particular, his shooting profile at the rim.

Two weeks ago, in an unabashedly verbose post, I looked at players who were taking significantly more or fewer shots at the rim -- this, with the understanding that field-goal percentages At Rim are roughly 20 percentage points higher than from other ranges.

Last week, in a considerably more succinct offering, I looked at players who were converting at both considerably higher and lower rates at the rim than we might otherwise expect given their lines from previous seasons.

In this dispatch, we'll look at players who are taking a significantly higher or lower percentage of their shots at the rim as compared to last season. While representing a slightly different approach, my sense is that this an improvement on the study from two weeks ago -- that is, the one that considered merely absolute shots per game At Rim. In what follows, we'll be looking at six total players -- three who're taking a higher percentage of their shots At Rim, and three more who're taking a considerably lower percentage.

Because it's likely that shot-location samples become reliable more quickly than, say, field-goal percentages, it's likely that we're identifying players here who are not merely suffering bad luck but whose profiles have actually changed in some real way.

For the present study, I've considered only those players who have averaged more than 20 minutes per game both this and last season. For each player, you'll find that player's name followed by the difference (either positive or negative) in the percentage of shots he's taking at the rim this season. After that, you'll find the percentage (of his total shots) that he's taken at the rim this year and also last year.

Players With More At-Rim Shots:

Player: Kris Humphries, NJ
Difference: +8.3%
This Season: 46.8%
Last Season: 38.6%
Notes: I'm no expert, but my guess is that it's rare for a player to achieve a new level in his seventh professional season. That said, a tour around his Hoop Data profile reveals quite a bit of jumpshooting in Humphries' recent past. That hasn't been the case so far this year, as Humphries has increased both his rate of shots at the rim and also his overall shooting percentage -- the latter of which is almost exactly 10 percentage points over his career average.

Player: Darko Milicic, MIN
Difference: +7.8%
This Season: 30.8%
Last Season: 23.0%
Notes: Even most casual fans are aware of Darko Milicic and his significance to the now-famous 2003 NBA Draft; however, in the last year or two, Milicic has become more than just a Human Victory Cigar. He's currently playing a career-high 26.3 minutes per game, and his only hindrance this season has been a recently suffered thigh contusion. His 2.8 blocks per game are second only to Andrew Bogut's average of 2.9, but fantasy owners are probably curious about his field-goal percentage, which sits at 42.0% -- i.e. about three percentage points below his career average and about eight points lower than his average over the last two seasons. Well, while it's not etched in stone, everything about his current shot-location profile suggests a regression up to -- if not past -- his career average.

Player: Hakim Warrick, PHO
Difference: +7.0%
This Season: 50.6%
Last Season: 43.6%
Notes: Warrick has averaged about this many points per game before in about as many minutes per game. But he's never played alongside Steve Nash before and, coincidentally or not, has never sported a field-goal pecentage as high as the 55.5% he currently sports. Warrick is also averaging a quite-high 5.7 free-throw attempts per game, which places him among the league leaders in terms of free throws attempted relative to shot attempts.

Players With Fewer At-Rim Shots:

Player: J.J. Hickson
Difference: -29.2%
This Season: 34.7%
Last Season: 63.9%
Notes: It's generally the case that, as usage increases, efficiency decreases. That's almost certainly the case with Hickson, who's seen his field-goal percentage drop over ten points, from last year's 55.4% to this year's 44.3%. Hickson's shooting at the rim hasn't changed that much: he shot 68.2% from there last year and is shooting 64.2% this year. The problem is how few of his shots, by percent, are coming close to the basket. Of course, the absence of LeBron James is almost entirely the reason for the change: Hickson featured an 18.9 USG% last year. This season? It's increased considerably, to 25.0% even.

Player: Carl Landry
Difference: -27.4%
This Season: 24.3%
Last Season: 51.6%
Notes: After Landry moved to Sacramento last season, his shots per game increased from 10.6 with Houston up to 13.5 with his new team. The problem is, those extra shots -- plus another half or so -- were all being taken from the 16-23 Feet range. Now, this season, Landry's shots per game have decreased to 10.0 FGA even, and almost all the difference is made up of fewer shots At Rim. I'm not qualified to state exactly why this is so, but the most likely explanation is the way Sacramento coach Paul Westphal has utilized the power forward. Whatever the case, it's unlikely that Landry's field-goal percentage (currently 46.4%) will increase significantly anytime soon.

Player: O.J. Mayo
Difference: -15.4%
This Season: 11.5%
Last Season: 26.9%
Notes: I was surprised this past Saturday, while doing the nightly wrap-up here at RotoWire's lavishly decorated headquarters, to find that Mayo had only played 17 minutes in Memphis's 84-83 victory at the Clippers. Nor does this represent a huge departure from his season average of 29.0 mpg. The attentive reader will, of course, know that Mayo's averaged exactly 38.0 minutes per game each of the last two seasons; thus, Mayo's season is already disappointing from that perspective. Well, adding insult to the proverbial injury, we have Mayo's shot-location profile. He's taking about three shots fewer overall as compared to last season, and over 2.5 of those have come out of his At Rim attempts. Accordingly, that his current field-goal percentage (40.1%) is so low is of little surprise.