NBA Stats

Jun 26 2013 6:18PM

Lottery Teams vs Playoff Teams

By Jay Cipoletti

Most of the teams drafting from the 15th spot on are Playoff teams. Before we take a look at their needs and how those will impact their Draft selections, we need to take a look at the difference between Playoff teams and Lottery teams.

This table spells out the differences between the average Playoff and Lottery teams:

TeamOffRtgDefRtgeFG%FTA RateTmTOV%OREB%OppeFG%OppFTA RateOppTmTOV%OppOREB%
PLAYOFF105.0101.150.8%0.28215.4%26.6%48.7%0.26315.5%26.2%
LOTTERY101.4105.048.7%0.26215.3%26.3%50.5%0.27215.1%26.9%

At an NBA average Pace of 94 possessions per game, a Playoff team will force one extra turnover every three games than a Lottery teams. Average Playoff teams have a net +1.0% rebounding edge over their average Lottery counterparts. Together those two Factors fall well short of explaining the 7.5 Net Margin differential between Playoff and Lottery teams.

Free Throw Attempt Rate moves us a step closer to understanding. The average team will attempt 82 shots in an average game. FTA Rate measures the ratio of foul shots to field goal attempts. For an average Playoff team, the difference in offensive and defensive FTA amounts to ~1.5 more foul shots per game than their opponent, whereas Lottery teams shoot ~1 less foul shot per game than their opponent. In a one possession game, as many are over the course of an 82 game season, that slight difference can translate directly into Wins and Losses.

Moving from the abstraction of averages to the reality of this season, the Houston Rockets earned foul shots on 5.5% more of their FG attempts than their opponents, finishing the season as the West's 7th seed with a 45-37 record. The Dallas Mavericks earned trips to the line at a rate 6% less often than their opponents, finishing 10th in the West with a 41-41 record.

That statistical disparity could be explained away by good fortune if we left it at that. But we won't, and it can't. Shots at the rim draw fouls at a MUCH higher rate than shots elsewhere (90% of all shooting fouls occur in the paint) With that information well established, it is easy to understand why the Rockets lived at the line and the Mavs were relatively foul shot camels. Houston took 327 more shots in the paint than the Mavericks -- four more per game, in fact. Move closer, to the Restricted Area, and the difference is even more pronounced. Houston ranked second in the NBA with 2,732 field goal attempts within the RA circle; Dallas ranked 29th, taking only 1,942 shots at the rim. The Rockets took an astounding 790 more shots in the highest value scoring zone -- over 9.5 more per game -- than the Mavs.

That brings us full circle to the point with which we began -- the difference between Lottery teams and Playoff teams. As the above example illustrates, better teams are often defined by better shots if not better players. There are three broad shooting zones on the court that deliver points at a rate higher than the NBA average of 1.031 points per shot: Restricted Area (59.4% - 1.188pps); Corner 3s (38.9% - 1.167pps); and Above the Break 3s (35.1% - 1.053pps). Clearly two zones, RA and C3, are the ideal shot locations to maximize scoring, with AB3s being a solid third option. Conversely, there are two zones that deliver points well below the 1.031 threshold: In the Paint (38.9% - 0.778pps) and Mid-range (39.3% - 0.786pps). [In the Paint is defined as all shots in the lane outside of the Restricted Area; Mid-range shots are those outside the paint and inside the 3pt arc]

Do Playoff teams look different than Lottery teams through this Shot Distribution lens? Emphatically yes.

Now back to the Draft ...

  • Check back tomorrow for our look at the rest of the first round, comprised mostly of Playoff teams.