Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 2/1/12
A recent news story said that scientific studies of NBA games showed that teams who shot the ball earlier in the 24 second clock had more success. I hate to disparage people who enjoy putting numbers into computers and seeing what comes out, but the result the computer guys came up with isCOMMON SENSE. This is not to criticize the work of Brian Skinner, a theoretical physicist at the University of Minnesota who conducted the study and had to sample 5000 NBA games to do it. He really didn't need to watch that many games or take so many notes. It has been evident ever since the shot clocks started being used that teams don't get many good shots out of the last ten seconds of a shot clock in normal play. But "wait a minute", you say. What about Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers" telling his players they had to make five passes before shooting. Or what about all those motion offenses used by teams on all levels that involve multiple passes? What about Josh Lucas (Don Haskins) in "Glory Road" who had to get most of the playground style out of his players before molding them into an NCAA Champ? Neither Gene nor Josh (Don) had to deal with a shot clock. I am not disparaging teams that share the ball or look for good shots. If they are smart about it they certainly have an edge on the dribble dribble shoot playground teams. It is just that the stats show early shots equal better teams. But do you know why? Early shots include fast break baskets. They include "early offense" shots that are taken before defenses have had time to fully set up. Those shots, lay ups and two on one baskets always lead to higher shooting percentages. Higher shooting percentages equal more points which lead to more wins. Anyone who watches basketball these days knows some of the worst offense results from teams trying to work the shot clock down. Invariably it seems they wind up with desperation shots just to avoid the shot clock winding down. And upon reflection of the possession there were many better options that were passed up. The Houston Cougars loss to North Carolina State in the 1983 NCAA finals was attributed in part to Coach Guy Lewis changing his team's usual aggressive offensive style which resulted in either poor shots or fouls. The Cougars could not hit foul shots and that ultimately did them in. Lewis could be excused for his strategic move since his club was foul troubled and had already lost minutes from key players due to those troubles. The bottom line was that when the team took more time to shoot they did not perform well and lost the game. The Cougars may have done worse down the stretch if the shot clock had existed then. That was just not their style. No one who watches basketball thinks this means that teams should shoot earlier just to shoot earlier. But they should not be afraid to take an earlier shot if it is a good one. At the same time there is a place for controlling the ball and clock within reason. Years ago before the colleges used the shot clock I did play by play for Bradley University basketball. The head coach at the time was Joe Stowell. At times in a game he would go into what he called "control to score." It looked like a close relative of the famed North Carolina "four corners." It also looked like an old fashioned stall. But the object was to still score pointshence the name. The "control to score" was set up to spread the court with passes, but break a player down the lane here and there. If the passing lane was right and a layup was certain he would receive the ball and go to the basket. Stowell's team was also excellent at free throw shooting. The improvement and multiple defenses played by teams in all levels of basketball have contributed greatly to making the long possession less effective. When defense in basketball was strictly man to man it was not as hard to get an opening and a good shot by a star player. Now with much better team defenses including a variety of zones it is much tougher. And the offense can no longer wear down a defense with a series of passes and cuts. Shot clocks have taken care of that. Twenty four or thirty-five seconds is not too long to play tough defense. All this adds up to why getting early shots with as many fast breaks and mismatches is the key. Of course a coach can preach all this and hope his players instincts can take over. If they don't hit the shots it doesn't matter when they take them in the end.
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