How Do Shot Attempts Change in the Last Two Minutes?
August 6th, 2009 by Jon Nichols

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.

4 Responses  
Josh Alexander writes:
August 7th, 2009 at 6:46 am

This is a very interesting analysis of crunch time basketball. It makes sense that 3 point attempts would increase as the clock wound down the final 2 minutes or so in a game. If you were to break it down further, into 5 second increments over the final 2 minutes, it would be clear to see the preferred shot selection in waning moments. To get an even better view would be, like you said, to know the situations, the score, time remaining during these shots. You also have to factor in the player personnel on the court at the time. Down by two with less than a minute to go, I might be more inclined to get it inside to Dwight Howard and let him try to score and get fouled as opposed to attempting a long 2 or a 3 pointer..now this is of course not the case with Orlando being the best 3 point shooting team in the league, but you get my point.

Dave writes:
August 9th, 2009 at 4:39 am

Josh the problem with breaking it down into smaller time steps is the data gets noisier (ie greater variability) so you have less confidence in the values.

Jon have commented at ABBR instead of here :) keep up asking the questions

Basketball-Statistics.com » Blog Archive » Analyzing Changes in Shot Types Over the Course of a Game writes:
August 9th, 2009 at 10:57 pm

[...] I explored how shot types change during the final two minutes of a game.  However, that only gave snapshots based on certain timeframes that I chose.  Looking at how [...]

Hardwood Paroxysm » Blog Archive » Bonus Nichols and Dime: Analyzing Changes in Shot Types Over the Course of a Game writes:
August 10th, 2009 at 12:41 am

[...] I explored how shot types change during the final two minutes of a game. However, that only gave snapshots based on certain timeframes that I chose. Looking at how those [...]

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