The NBA preseason is in full swing, and while it’s largely frivolous for fans, especially fans looking for things that will translate into actual NBA games, there are some nuggets of truth to be gleaned if you look hard enough. Or maybe it’s simply that if you squint long enough, you’ll confuse a pile of “nothing” with a heaping mound of “something.” Either way, when things happen in the NBA on an NBA court, there are things that we can deduce and things we can infer with some degree of certainty.
First of all: LeBron James just looks more natural in a Cavaliers uniform. For one reason or another, the burgundy and gold has always seemed to look more natural on him — and probably no one else — than during his four-year sojourn to Miami. That doesn’t have anything to do with shooting, necessarily, just that it feels worth mentioning here. Also, Cleveland could very well be the best offensive team in the league, but we’re not quite willing to hang our hats on that just yet.
With that settled, let’s take a look at some tendencies in the NBA’s preseason shooting, and let’s examine what kinds of things might be able to be learned from those numbers.
The above chart, as the title might indicate, is an examination of what kinds of made shots have taken prominence in different teams’ offenses throughout the preseason, sorted in order of the prominence of the two-point shot. While this doesn’t divide the two-pointer into a couple of meaningful ways that we would’ve really liked to see — namely the difference between a shot at the rim and a shot from 15 to 22 feet, the dreaded “worst shot in the NBA” — there’s still a lot to dig through.
For one thing, the Houston Rockets still look to be boring. While it’s become clear that emphasizing three-point shots and trips to the free-throw line are the keys to a good offense in the modern world of NBA basketball, the Houston Rockets have put such a stamp on it that two things are evident very quickly when actually watching them play. One, that they are going to score a lot of points, brick a lock of shots, and get to the free-throw line all the time; two, that this results in very boring basketball. There’s nothing good about watching James Harden average 11 free throws a game. For a league that’s experimenting with shorter quarters in order to speed the game up, Houston is part of the reason why, and the Rockets are setting a trend for the league to follow.
On the other hand, it appears that a steady diet of threes and free throws are only going to work for a handful of teams in the league, and given that the last few NBA champions — Miami, which has some obvious differences this year, and San Antonio — are still relying on the two-pointer for the majority of their team’s points, it appears that the many facets of NBA shooting are still paying off. Last year, the Portland Trail Blazers were able to punish Houston’s defensive model by making all the long two-pointers that the Rockets gave them, a striking reminder that there’s weaknesses behind every strategy.