People do not play to their skill set

It never ceases to amaze me how people who can provide fair and accurate judgement on the game of others have no ability to reflect that same skill upon themselves.  It seems most obvious when playing pickup basketball.

I by no means have any basketball skills; my body is basically a scaled version of Kermit the frog.  That said, I know that same body gives me some advantages down-low.  So, my game plan has always been simple: stay, shoot and help defend down-low in the paint.  If I have the ball outside of the paint with no clear lane, pass it immediately.

What’s so shocking is how often I see, say, the other team’s 5’5″ guard trying to do the same thing, or a big man on my team taking completely unnecessary shots from way outside the arc.  You see this stuff happen in college all the time (e.g. Quinn Cook) and even in the NBA (e.g. Antonio Walker), which is incredibly frustrating to watch.  It’s why I find it very refreshing to see players who can take a particular skill set and squeeze everything out of it.  My favorite example is the Big Z, Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Take a look at his stats per shooting locations in the 2008-2009 season:

You’ll notice that he basically only takes two types of shots a game: shots at the rim or mid-range jumpers.  By delving further into his mid-range shots, they’re almost exclusively catch-and-shoots (notice the ridiculously high %As, or percentage of makes assisted).  What’s even more telling is that he’s not only taking them from the same distance, but nearly always the same place on the court: off of the left wing of the basket, 2 feet in front of the 3-point line.  Check out his shot chart from his best game that season (vs. the Bucks):

Zydrunas Ilgauskas shot chart in his best game of the 2008-09 season.

The clustering to the left of the rim is his sweet spot.  He’s clearly comfortable there, whether it be from practicing or some innate skill.  What you don’t see are shots taken randomly all over the court; he knows where he can best shoot because he understands his skill set.

Why does he have such an understanding?  Tape is often the key, but even a basic sense can be gathered by listening to others.  Or, in the case of pickup basketball, observing the reactions of your teammates whenever you do something stupid.

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I am Director of Data Science at Two Six Capital, Co-Founder of Krossover, Ph.D in Stats from Wharton and a proud Savannah-ian.

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