SportVU: Uncontested Jumpers vs. OKC

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — In our Q and A at All-Star weekend, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said that when his team is on defense, he’s “concerned about making sure that every shot is contested.”

Contesting every shot is impossible, but Brooks’ team certainly can do a better job. According to SportVU, no team has contested a lower percentage of its opponents’ jump shots than the Thunder . They’ve contested just 24 percent of opponent jumpers, a mark well below the league average of 31 percent.

Perc. of opponent jump shots contested
Rank Team Cont%
1. San Antonio 38.2%
2. L.A. Clippers 36.9%
3. Indiana 35.6%
4. Denver 34.7%
5. Memphis 34.4%
6. Atlanta 34.3%
7. Portland 34.2%
8. Charlotte 34.1%
9. Chicago 33.8%
10. L.A. Lakers 33.7%
11. Golden State 33.1%
12. Orlando 32.2%
13. Toronto 31.8%
14. Boston 31.3%
15. Miami 30.8%
16. Phoenix 30.7%
17. Detroit 30.2%
18. Dallas 29.8%
19. Minnesota 29.6%
20. Washington 29.3%
21. Brooklyn 29.3%
22. Sacramento 28.6%
23. Milwaukee 28.2%
24. New Orleans 27.9%
25. Houston 27.9%
26. Utah 27.1%
27. Cleveland 26.4%
28. Philadelphia 24.9%
29. New York 24.5%
30. Oklahoma City 23.8%
League avg. 30.9%

SportVU defines a jump shot as any shot out outside of 10 feet. It’s contested if a defender is within four feet of the shooter.

There’s a much stronger correlation between defensive efficiency and opponent effective field-goal percentage (EFG%) than between defensive efficiency and any of the other “four factors” (rebounding, forcing turnovers, keeping opponents off the free-throw line).

Here’s the thing, though. The Thunder rank fourth in opponent EFG% and fourth in defensive efficiency. They’ve been a great defensive team — even though they haven’t contested jump shots very well. There is a correlation between the percentage of jumpers a team contests and its opponents’ EFG% (and in turn, their defensive efficiency). The Thunder are an outlier.

They have defended the rim well. They rank fifth in opponent field-goal percentage in the restricted area, with Serge Ibaka ranking among the top individual rim protectors. That’s obviously important.

But, by itself, it doesn’t account for how high the Thunder rank in opponent EFG%. Not only do they not contest jumpers very well, but they don’t really force bad shots. About 61 percent of their opponents’ shots have come from the restricted area or 3-point range, the seventh highest rate in the league.

So how have they been so good defensively? They do rank in the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage and are slightly above average at forcing turnovers. But you have to wonder if there’s a little luck involved. Take the following numbers into account…

  • Thunder opponents have shot 38.7 percent on uncontested jumpers, the sixth lowest rate in the league.
  • Thunder opponents have shot 30.5 percent on contested jumpers, the second lowest rate in the league.
  • Thunder opponents have shot 72.2 percent from the free-throw line, the second lowest rate in the league. (What goes around comes around; they ranked 28th in free-throw defense last season.)
  • Only one other defense (the Lakers) ranks in the top 10 in each of those three categories. Five other teams rank in the top 10 in two of the three.

Now, the definition of what’s contested (see above) allows for some leeway. It could mean that the defender is six inches from the shooter with his hand in his face, and it could mean that he’s 48 inches away with his hands down. Maybe the Thunder contest to a different degree than other teams. But they don’t contest a lot.

Eliminating the possible “luck” factor, the Thunder are still a good defensive team. If OKC opponents had shot the league average on contested jumpers, uncontested jumpers and free throws, the Thunder would have allowed 86 more points this season (about 1.5 more per 100 possessions) and would rank seventh in defensive efficiency (in part because there’s a dropoff after the top seven).

But they have had trouble slowing down Golden State, one of the league’s best jump-shooting teams, the team that has been the most efficient against the Thunder this season, and a possible first-round playoff opponent. In his three games against the Thunder, only 21 of Stephen Curry‘s 66 field goal attempts have been contested (just three of 22 on Nov. 14).

Some other good jump-shooting teams — Atlanta, Miami and Portland — also have had decent success against the Thunder. Others — Dallas and Phoenix — have not.

In this first full season of player tracking, there are still some things to figure out. And maybe things will be different defensively for the Thunder with a healthy Russell Westbrook. But if Brooks’ goal is to contest every shot, his team has some work to do.

FYI (because some readers have asked): While you can find contested and uncontested shots in the Player Tracking tab of our boxscores, we don’t yet have them on the season level. That’s in the works.


  1. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Think about it. One thing that disturbs me slightly is how close the refs position themselves to perimeter players in games. Refs are always on the edges of the court within 3 feet of ball handlers. I think refs need to constantly stay out of bounds! It’s good though that defenses don’t take advantage of the close proximity between refs and ball handlers along the perimeter. I notice teams just try to ignore where the refs are and just “shrink the court” and play fairly. Refs can be closer than 4 feet to an outside shooter. Doesn’t mean the shot is “contested.”

  2. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    I’d just like to state quickly that this measure is ridiculous.

    They consider a shot uncontested if there is no defender within 4 feet of the shooter??????????????????????????

    It’s rare in any NBA game for a team to get a lot of shots THAT wide open.

  3. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    They need to adjust the measure. A “contested shot” is when the defender actually is closer than 1 foot to the shooter. Not 4 feet. If you’re 4 feet away from a shooter, how can anyone challenge the shot? Who the heck has 4-foot-long arms?????????????? WHO??????????????

    They estimate Kevin Durant has, perhaps, the longest wingspan in the game — a 6’10” guy with the arm-length of a 7’4″ guy. So you could estimate KD’s arm is somewhat close to 2 feet long? Something like that? Even KD can’t contest a shooter if he’s 4 or more feet away! I mean: imagine if KD had arms 4 feet long. They would stretch down toward his ankles everywhere he goes. Even KD is not Inspector Gadget. 🙂

  4. harris27312 says:

    regardless of what their deficiencies are they are still number 1 in the western conf. which is the hardest conf. to be in. Every team is allowed to go through a slump give OKC a break they are still number 2 in the nba as a fan I will support them regardless that is what a true fan does. Miami is ranked 2 in the east but all I hear about is that they are only 2 games behind the pacers. Instead of worrying about OKC Miami need to be worried about defeating the pacers in the play offs

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      In the short run, Indiana upgraded big by adding Evan Turner. Danny Granger hasn’t returned to “All Star form” like they had hoped. For this season, Pacers are my pick to win the East.

  5. You’re telling me that 62% of the time, the Spurs don’t even have a defender within four feet of a guy when he shoots, and that’s the best in the league? Hard to believe.

  6. Cain says:

    I think it’s a difficult one to really understand, it is a false economy to look at isolated stats on any team or individual and JohnS has obviously tried to incorporate more into his article. I do love the way the league / teams and fans are becoming increasingly involved with multiple stats. Feel is also shows just how affective and underrated some of the players are who fly below the radar (Non-all stars etc).

    I do think more thought along these lines should be incorporated when looking at potential trades and where teams need to fill gaps and improve, not team will ever be perfect but understanding your limitations is a sure fire way to get up the standings.

  7. okc2014 says:

    Maybe you are correct…

  8. Worshaka says:

    Maybe they are very good at having non-shooters take those shots or good shooters take shots in positions on the floor they aren’t that comfortable with?

  9. okc2014 says:

    On paper the Thunder look excellent. I just wish the last 3 games they played never happened….

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      Don’t worry. The Miami loss was an outlier (statistical anomaly). If I’m not mistaken, that home loss was OKC’s worst in years. Thus, that won’t happen again. The home loss to the Clippers — Jamal Crawford was on fire and made an incredible “trick shot” with, perhaps, one of the highest archs to any jumpshot this season. As good as he is, Crawford tends to be herky-jerky and inconsistent. With Westbrook back at 100% ALREADY, OKC should beat the Clippers later in the season. Crawford and Matt Barnes may never be that hot in outside shooting for the rest of the season. The home loss to the Cavs. I didn’t see that game, but the Thunder just didn’t close the game out properly. OKC will probably not allow 42 points in a 4th quarter ever again for the rest of the year.

      When the Thunder plays for real, it’s lights out. They would be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of facing the Warriors in the 1st round. Talk about an easy series win. Come on, Warriors! Get that 8 seed! I think you can do it. Maybe. Honestly, rather face the weak, overrated Warriors than the Grizzlies.

  10. Canser says:

    So, what is the reason behind this Thunder success on defensive end? Knowing the fact that hey don’t really force bad shots, they don’t really contest shots, and even if the luck-factor mentioned in the article is eliminated, they still rank 7th in defensive efficiency.

  11. Tammy says:

    Agree with previous comments. Amazing what the Thunder does in this small market!

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      Small market or not, OKC is under the salary cap this season. Adding Caron Butler is genius if Milwaukee bought out his contract. Butler could find the Thunder Fountain of Youth just like Fisher has. I think he’s past his prime, but he has shown signs this season, by catching fire in a couple Milwaukee games or so. He can help the Thunder big time, and the Thunder can help him big time. Caron is a career 15+ PPG, former All Star, and former NBA Champ with Dallas.

      I predict the Thunder will win it all. Then, I think they should look to investing in adding Carmelo Anthony. More than worth the investment and more than worth paying a few measley taxes. Then, the Thunder will have formed one of the greatest NBA teams of ALL TIME.

  12. amitpal says:

    I think the difference is they take away the easy shots and they are really long and athletic. It’s hard to get into a flow against the thunder because they switch so many pick and rolls and then teams start playing one on one against them after the switch. For example if Sergei ibaka switched onto the point guard the point guard would try to go one on one against Serge, but serge is quick enough to keep the player in front as long as he back off a little forcing what would be a uncontested shot but a shot that’s not in the flow of the game making it a bad shot. Good shooting teams like warriors can make those shots because they have great shooter but not every team has great shooter. And miami had success against them in one game, the other game they struggled big times. And the success was mainly the big three but d wade and lebron aren’t jump shooter making that one game a little exaggerated.

    • thespectator says:

      id agree to a certain extent…miamis defense was no where to be found back when okc came to miami…and dwade wasnt a factor at all, when the big 3 are clicking and miamis defense is slightly above average, OKC not gonna pull away with the W. defense does win championships and the numbers say OKC has better defense, however when you have a superstars who imposes his will and sets the tone by dropping 12 straight in the 1st quarter and also understands its now 2nd half of the season and time to get into playoff mode, you (okc or any time for that matter) need to bring it every night….OKC had no reason to not win that game if anything keep it close, durant didnt attempt a shot til almost end of the quarter? whats scary is miami is just now startin to click defensively…before they werent doing so well with defense and still winning games…

  13. L says:

    Who is taking those uncontested shots? It seems to me that the Thunder is good at keeping star players from torching them. (Curry’s 21/66 is 31.8% – good for 12th. If you’d like to say they just did a bad job on Nov. 14, the other 2 matchups he’s had 40.9% of his jumpers contested.) Maybe it’s lesser players who are taking more uncontested shots, and maybe they’re not as good at shooting.
    The Thunder like to help off their man because they trust their ability to close on shots with their length and athleticism. I’d guess this leads to more uncontested shots while making it tougher on focused players.