Math! Says Hero Ball Doesn't Work

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Some interesting research from the TrueHoop gang today, meant to address the non-flop-related issue of the 2012 playoffs: Who should be taking those crucial last shots? If the choice is between a covered superstar and an open non-superstar, the numbers say: give it to the open man.

This should come as a surprise to no one, as "find the open man" is literally the reason for and desired result of every basketball play ever designed. Even the worst NBA shooters are better than your sorry ass, and are going to make an unmolested shot more often than not. But to make sure, ESPN has crunched the numbers for the last five minutes of every close playoff game this year, and broken it down into 15 superstars and everybody else.

Through last night's play, "go-to players" are shooting 41.5 percent (68-164), including 25.6 percent (11-43) from 3.

Other players who happen to be open are shooting 54.2 percent (58-107) on field goal attempts, including 36 percent (18-50) from 3.


There are a lot of problems with the research, and that doesn't even include the timeless debates about sample sizes and what the parameters are for clutch. (Games within five points with under five minutes left is as good as any.) What makes a superstar, for one. ESPN's list is sort of arbitrary, and you'd expect a covered Paul Pierce (superstar!) not to shoot as well as a wide open Ray Allen (non-superstar!). And the numbers don't take into account free throws, which are a pretty large part of many superstars' arsenals. In traffic, Dwyane Wade is better off barreling into a defender and getting two free throws than passing it to an open Shane Battier on the wing.

One more point: the iso play exists not only to pre-select the shooter, but the timing of the shot. On the last possession, the play is drawn up to take the shot at the buzzer, so the other team has no time to counter with a possession of their own. That's easy to do when you give the ball to your playmaker, and let him spot up with a single man in his face. Not so easy to do when you try to make that extra pass.


Still, we like numbers, and we especially like numbers that fuel more arguments about LeBron's willingness to pass in the clutch.

A better option than a superstar []