Using the play-by-play data at BasketballValue, I decided to see how shot attempts change in crunch time. Do players take more three-pointers in the last two minutes of a game? Are layups and dunks harder to come by? Does desperation lead to more players crashing the offensive boards and tipping the ball in? Today I’ll try to answer some of those questions.
Without further ado, here are the shot frequencies when there are more than two minutes remaining and when there are less than two:
As you can see, essentially nothing changes except for two types: three-pointers and midrange/post shots. It appears teams take more long distance shots at the expense of less efficient and perhaps more difficult midrange shots. Logically, this makes sense, especially when your team is trailing and every point appears to matter more. If you’re down seven or eight points with little time left, you’re more likely to try to make up that difference in larger chunks. Also, perhaps players know that on average three-point shots tend to be more efficient than long twos. With the game on the line, they want to maximize their chances of having a productive possession.
There are a number of problems to consider when looking at this data, and today I’ll take a look at one of them. Perhaps three point attempts only are high in the final seconds, when there simply isn’t enough time to get a shot off near the basket.
With that in mind, I’ve split up the final two minutes into four parts. The results are below:
There are only thee shot types that have enough attempts in each timeframe to qualify: three-pointers, layups, and midrange shots. As a general rule, with the game winding down, three-point attempts increase, layups decrease, and midrange shots bounce around a bit but also generally decrease. When I didn’t split the final two minutes into chunks, it appeared layups did not decrease. However, you can see that defenses tighten up on the inside as time runs out. The only reason I can think of for why midrange shots spike in the last five seconds is because players don’t have time to get any closer. There are also a lot of players like Dwyane Wade who will run the clock down to the final seconds and launch a midrange jumper at the buzzer.
The next thing to consider is the situation in which these shots were taken. Narrowing it down to five-second intervals is nice, but it would be a lot more useful if we also knew the score and exactly how much time is remaining during each shot attempt. That is something I will take a look at in the future.