Breaking down Ron Artest and his whacky shooting numbers

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Take a look at Ron Artest.  Based off of his gargantuan size and incredible strength, you'd figure he would make his living as close to the basket as possible.  NBA coaches used to beg for this to be the case.  But Ron likes to shoot it from outside - he always has.

Take Tim Floyd, who coached Ron in Chicago during Artest's first two NBA seasons.  I'm sure Floyd particularly resented Ron's obsession with chucking it from deep.  And with good reason: Artest only made 31.4% and 29.1% of his three-point shots during those two respective seasons.  And yet, he still took 2 to 3 three-pointers per game.  Said Ron of his relationship with Coach Floyd (in 2002):

"With [Floyd], you had to worry about getting yanked all the time," says Artest. "[Coach Bill Cartwright] lets me play. I'm not afraid to take a fadeaway, take a three in transition, take it coast to coast."

Anybody willing to bet that, more often than not, Ron hit the pine for shooting an ill-advised three-pointer?  He didn't sound like a very smart shooter back then.  He's still doesn't exactly possess the greatest shot-selection of anybody today either.  But for some reason, those three-pointers are suddenly starting to fall.  And by "fall," I mean that Ron is making threes at a higher rate than one Ray Allen.  He's had a downtown renaissance in 2008-2009.

Oddly enough, it is the only shot that has been consistent for him this season.

Via NBA.com, here is Artest's updated shot chart:

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I've been stalking Ron's shot chart all season long.  He recently raised his layup percentage above his three-point percentage (which was quite possibly the strangest shooting statistic I had ever seen).  To elaborate further, Ron is only shooting 39.4 percent this year, his second worst FG% of his career.  And yet, his three-point percentage is a staggering 41.1%.  How is this happening?  Aren't three-point shots supposed to be more difficult, especially for a 6-7, 246-pound monster?  Simply put, yes.  But what if we're overlooking something?  How about the fact that Ron has quietly progressed from behind the arc every year since his move to Sacramento?

I talked to Tom Ziller from Sactown Royalty and asked him to briefly sum up Ron's outside shooting ability, at least during his tenure as a King.  Tom's response:

He was bad in 05-06, better in 06-07 and actually good in 07-08. His shooting is a bit underrated; he has a tendency for long twos, and threes off the dribble. Those are bad. But when he sets and shoots, his stroke is fine.

From my observations of Ron as a Rocket, and based off of Tom's thoughts, not much has changed.  In an article that CelticsBlog's Steve Weinman wrote earlier this year, he quoted Ziller as saying of Ron's shot selection, "He makes extraordinarily odd decisions on offense.  Repeatedly."  In short, this could sum up Artest's first month with the Rockets, when he shot around 33% from the field.  This proceeded to kill his FG%.  In other months, Ron has shot 42%, 41%, and 44% from the field.  As the season has progressed, his shot has progressed as well.

Breaking it down...

What's with the low field goal percentage?

A number of things contributed to Ron's shooting woes over the first part of the season.

  • His injured ankle.  Through early December, Ron was shooting 38% underneath the basket, in terms of layups/dunks.  This problem pointed not to a lack of hand-eye coordination, but instead to an inability to lift off the ground.  The layups problem was what confirmed this issue, but it should have been obvious in the first place.  One of the most important parts of a jump shot, if not the most important part, is the actual jump or lift off the ground.  Of all parts of the leg to injure, the ankle is probably the most devastating for a jump shooter.  The ability to lift off the ground not only allows a player more room to shoot over the opponent, but also contributes to shooting rhythm and consistency.  Being able to jump straight up is a much stronger and more consistent motion than any movements made with the arms.  Therefore, with a few exceptions, a good jump shooter in the NBA will rely mostly on his legs for a good shot, and then will use minimal arm and wrist movement to release the ball.  Without a healthy ankle, Ron was unable to maintain a consistent jump shot unless he was in a set stance and comfortably open, which mostly happens behind the arc.
  • New scenery.  Looking at Ron's career shooting statistics, in every season which he has either been traded to or signed with a new team, he has shot poorly.  In fact, the four times he has changed teams, he has had his worst four shooting seasons.  Ironically, in each of these seasons, he missed a decent amount of games due to injury, but generally speaking, it is clear that Ron's shooting ability is directly proportional to his relationship with his teammates and his knowledge of the offense.  We know this because in each subsequent season with his new team, his shot has improved.  And over the course of this season, as he has gotten to know the offense and his teammates' tendencies better, his shot has improved.  Early on this year, Ron was uncertain of where to be on the court in order to get off a good shot.  There were plenty occasions when he would almost run into the ball handler while trying to clear space.  In all, it was a big mess.  As Ron and his teammates have jelled, there has been significant improvement.  Artest has been spotting up along the perimeter, has been running from the paint up to the wing to catch a pass in rhythm and either shoot or drive, and has worked well with Yao in order to clean up the paint and pick the right time to post up.  As the season goes on, we can only expect Ron to get better.
  • Bad shot selection/form.  Much of this correlates with the previous paragraph, but I must point out that Ron has indeed minimized his "odd" decisions, at least to some degree.  Ever since the horrid New York game in which he jacked up shots like there was no tomorrow, he has been more controlled.  And more importantly, he is shooting in rhythm.  I've pointed this out many times on the game threads, but Ron sometimes has a tendency to catch a pass when he's open, pause and let the defender guard him, and then take the shot when he is A) Being guarded, and B) Out of sync.  His tendency to hesitate briefly when catching a pass would throw everything off.  Recently, however, I've noticed that when Ron catches a pass, he has been doing so in a "ready stance," or a position that allows one to catch a pass, and without extra or excessive movement, go right into a jump shot.  If he stays in this habit, it will do nothing but help his percentages.

By the end of the season, as Ron improves his jump shot and finds a groove, his overall FG% may finally exceed his shooting percentage behind the three point line.  But for the sake of it, let's think about how he could be shooting so darn well from behind the line for the first time in his career.

What's with the high three-point percentage?

Out of all of the contributions I expected Crazy Pills to bring to our team, three-point shooting was never one of them.  What has contributed to this?

  • Ron has been roaming.  Point guards bring the ball up down the center of the court, and yet, the majority of Artest's three-point shots have come from that area.  This means that he is getting plenty of kick-out shots from either the post or from the short corner.  As a semi-decent three-point shooter myself, I love nothing more than a nice kick-out pass.  This allows me to catch the ball in a groove and go right up while keeping my body square to the basket.  It is no different for Ron or for any shooter in the NBA.  In many cases during the low point of his 3-point barrage, the month of November, Ron was missing to the left and right of the rim.  This indicated that he wasn't square and wasn't comfortable with his shot, as it's a common fact that quality shooters either miss long or miss short.  Kick-out passes minimize the tendency to miss left or right because the shooter is more square to the basket.  Ron's fading threes will occasionally go in, but he's almost guaranteed to swish one when he's in a stance and square to the basket.  By roaming along the top center of the three point line, he has been finding more kick out passes on double teams, whereas you may see Shane Battier receive a swing-pass when he shoots a three from the corner (which is something Shane has adapted his shot for).
  • Constant practice and improvement.  As I stated earlier, Ron's shot has improved every season since his arrival in Sacramento.  This is just based off constant practice.  There's no way to break it down statistically - it just means he has been working on his outside shot during practice and on his own time.  As time has gone on, his shot has improved.
  • Team recognition.  When Artest got to Houston, his outside shot wasn't a focus of our offense.  It would be nice if he could be an option on the outside, but more often than not, we would have liked the ball to go to Battier, Alston, McGrady, Brooks, Novak, or Barry on the perimeter.  As Ron started taking (and eventually, making) more threes, we began to find ways to get him more looks.  I'm not saying I knew what our coaches were thinking, but logically speaking, it would make sense for them to try to get him the ball more on the outside.  And the stats don't lie.  In October and November, Ron only took four threes per game.  That number jumped to six in the succeeding months and is now hovering around five.  But the more we tried to get Ron open looks from outside, the more confidence he had in taking those shots.  That, and Rick Adelman's occasional brilliance may have resulted in him being wide open a few times.

In summary, Ron's interesting shooting statistics have been somewhat of a downer, as we expected more than a 39 percent shooter when we traded for him.  And yet, his three-point shooting has been excellent for us, primarily because, among other reasons, he is able to take set shots as opposed to forcing up jumpers off the dribble.  As the season has moved along and improved for the Rockets, so too has Rawn, and with the stretch run coming up in a few weeks, he is going to be counted on not only to hit shots from the outside, but from any spot on the floor when he is open.  When he is open...

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