Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Take yourself back to the fall and imagine sitting on your couch watching NFL Sunday Ticket. There are 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter and the Detroit Lions just got the ball back at their own 40 yard line.
Everyone in the world knows what is coming next. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will scramble for a few seconds and then launch the ball into the end zone in the direction of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The chances are rather low that the Lions will actually score six points on the play, but who cares? It’s worth a shot.
The outcome was probably that Stafford threw a pick or incompletion and his passer rating took a hit. Whatever. The Lions tried to maximize their point total and it was a lot more exciting to watch than Stafford receiving the snap and taking a knee. Also, the Lions threw it deep, even though there was a chance the defense could intercept the pass and return it for six points the other way.
You would think a similar situation plays out in the NBA at the end of quarters, but it doesn’t. NBA players are all too happy to hold the ball instead of jacking up a half-court shot and there is virtually no way the other team can score points on the play! Why don’t NBA players just let it fly?
Players are more interested in protecting their field goal percentage than adding three points to the scoreboard. Since field goal percentage and three point percentage come into play in contract negotiations, one could argue that players are making a smart business decision when they refuse to toss a low percentage shot at the rim.
Here are a few examples of the plays:
Lou Williams held the ball just long enough to hear the buzzer and then drilled a three point shot that did not count. His team ended up losing the game by one point. LeBron James held the ball until the buzzer and then misfired on his attempt. His team also lost by one point.
LeBron is the best player in the world, his stats hover near the best of all-time, he has mountains of money, and he won’t have to worry about a new contract until close to the next Presidential election. It would take numerous wayward attempts at the buzzer to twist his numbers very much. On the other hand, he is the most critiqued player in the NBA and he probably would like to do anything to keep his statistics pristine.
Just for fun, let’s take a look at LeBron’s actual numbers and then some numbers that would include missed half-court shots every other game. His actual numbers likely include a few full-court shots already, but just bear with me:
The top line shows LeBron’s actual stats from his first season in Miami. The bottom line includes forty additional shot attempts (one full court shot every other game), but assumes that LeBron missed every attempt. Likely? No, but this would be the worst case scenario heading into a contract negotiation.
There you have it. LeBron’s field goal percentage would drop about a bit more than one percentage point to just shy of 50 percent. Not exactly a terrible place to start negotiations if you’re an NBA player but again, not the same numbers he would have if he just held the ball at the end of the quarter.
How can the NBA expect anyone to launch these shots if a player with nearly nothing to lose isn’t interested in hoisting it at the buzzer?
I believe the NBA should just change the way these plays are scored. The league shouldn’t penalize players for shooting beyond half court right before the buzzer. NBA box scores could have a line at the bottom that counts “team shots.” This would take away a few made three-point shots from players every year, but it would also take away many misses that negatively impact their field goal percentage.
Who loses in this situation? No one.
Players will head into contract negotiations with numbers they believe accurately reflect their performance and ability.
Most importantly, the NBA will have players and teams with aligned incentives — maximizing their squad’s point total.