Explanation for low shooting percentages in early NBA

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Explanation for low shooting percentages in early NBA

Postby dwayne2005 on Mon Jan 14, 2019 10:01 am

Average FG% per year in the first few seasons in the BAA/NBA:

1946-47: 27.9%
1947-48: 28.4%
1948-49: 32.7%
1949-50: 34.0%
1950-51: 35.7%
1951-52: 36.7%
1952-53: 37.0%
1953-54: 37.2%
1954-55: 38.5%
1955-56: 38.7%

Any number of theories: talent pool (there is some evidence to suggest this as FT shooting increased from 64.1% to 74.5% during the same stretch), lack of a jump shot so hands in the face had more impact, more physical, poorly run plays, lack of shot clock caused less of a rhythm, even a notion that players shot from greater distances with footage from the '30s showing some players lobbing it up casually from back court before there was a mid court rule because an offense used up the entire court. But when looking over the stats for korfball, another idea came to me. Korfball is an early 20th century basketball derivative. It is like a faster paced and slightly more entertaining netball with some additional intrigue including significant play area behind the basket, fade away jumpers, layups, and mixed genders (so you can meet some girls and some of them look pretty good to me). It was my first time looking up korfball stats. I expected to see 10 columns of stats but I think I saw something like 3, with one appearing to show goals. There were no shot attempts, no shooting percentages. This is pretty much like how stats were kept in basketball before the NBA: they didn't care about shooting percentages, how many goals players and teams got was all that mattered. The efficiencies in how the sports were played were largely immaterial.

Could the use of stats have changed the game? 1947-48 was probably the first time any of them had seen their shooting percentages. A 10% difference in field goal shooting to us is huge, but an eye test has to be fine tuned to 1 more miss or hit every 10. Worse if you're looking at efficiencies of 5%, which requires us to detect which players are scoring 1 shot more or less in every 20 attempts. A general perception could easily be wrong and led to the wrong filtering of talent. Better shooters may have been overlooked because biases of prejudices took over so percentages may have resulted in a slow, but gradual improvement (and also explained the increase in free throw shooting).

It is also possible the game ball may have been a factor. Molded balls were invented in 1942 but it seems (unless this source is incorrect) they weren't officially adopted until the 1949-50 season. So stitching may have affected shooting or affected dribbling which in turn affected shooting.
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Re: Explanation for low shooting percentages in early NBA

Postby Andrew on Wed Jan 16, 2019 5:59 pm

I think it's safe to say that they didn't really care about field goal percentages. The object is to put the ball in the basket and they attempted to do it, efficiency be damned as long as it went in more often than their opponent. I'd also suggest the sport was still developing and evolving, especially as a professional spectator sport.
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Re: Explanation for low shooting percentages in early NBA

Postby dwayne2005 on Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:50 am

Jumpin' Joe Fulks was one of the ballsiest go getters (read: ball hoggers) inefficient players. He set early milestones, including I believe 63 points in a game that lasted for about 10 years before Elgin Baylor and then Wilt Chamberlain broke it. I don't believe that 63 point game was inefficient (he was 27/56 from the field, so just below 50% which at the time must've seemed more like 70%).

FG% (FGA p/game)

1946-47: 30.5% (26.0)
1947-48: 25.9% (29.3)
1948-49: 31.3% (28.2)
1949-50: 27.8% (17.8)
1950-51: 31.6% (20.6)
1951-52: 31.2% (17.7)
1952-53: 34.6% (13.7)
1953-54: 26.6% (3.8)

His numbers broadly didn't keep up with changes with shooting in the league. In fact, it is perhaps evidence the league started to take into account efficiencies as his attempt rate decreased, not necessarily because he shot less (first minutes per game were kept in 1950-51 when it was low 30's, at a time a lot of star players were seeing 40 minutes and sometimes more per game). He was the best example of a badly played first few seasons. He is a bit of the symbol of the whole thing to me.
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