MIAMI -- Mike Bibby was the man of the hour at Monday's Heat practice. The 12-year veteran faced the media for the first time since Mario Chalmers injured knee diagnosis came to light. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Bibby will be Wednesday's starter against the Detroit Pistons in place of Chalmers, who will be sidelined for two weeks.
Playing next to the Big Three looks like a cool gig. You get open looks all the time and the defense is always preoccupied with someone or something else.
But Bibby doesn't see it that way. When asked about the looks he's receiving in Miami, his response was fascinating.
“I really don’t like how open they are to tell you the truth," Bibby said about his looks on the perimeter. "I’d rather be rushed a little bit where you can be a rhythm shooter. It’s so wide open that you have to knock them down."
Is it because he's thinking too much?
"Yeah," Bibby said. "In the flow, you catch it, somebody’s running at you and you have to make a quick decision on the shot instead of looking at the rim, make sure the elbow’s in, bending your knees and stuff like that. I’d rather have a contested shot than an open one."
So does that make Bibby not an ideal fit next to the Big Three? Well, not necessarily. Bibby may prefer a contested shot to an open one, but he still may be more accurate when given the space. And that's what really matters.
Thankfully, we can actually check this stuff. Synergy Sports Technology, a video data warehouse, tracks every shot taken in the NBA. Synergy separates catch-and-shoots into two separate groups: guarded and unguarded. Not only does Synergy allow users to watch each shot on video but the service also provides statistics. Does Bibby shoot better when he's guarded? Actually, the answer may surprise you. With the Heat, Bibby has shot 9-for-18 on guarded shots (50 percent) and 8-for-17 (47.1 percent) when he's unguarded. So, yes, as a member of the Heat, Bibby has posted a better conversion rate when guarded than when he's unguarded. But it's essentially the same.
What about in Atlanta? Let's check.
Guarded: 43-for-107 (40.2 percent).
Unguarded: 58-for-128 (45.3 percent).
That's better. When we expand our sample size, it appears that Bibby does in fact experience an advantage when he is open compared to when he's contested. His splits in Atlanta reflect the overall numbers across the league. According to Synergy, there have been 8,053 catch-and-shoots this season with a conversion rate of 39.3 percent. What are the splits? Let's take a look:
Guarded: 1,301-for-3,579 (36.4 percent)
Unguarded: 1,860-for-4,472 (41.6 percent)
Here, we see that unguarded shots drop in more often than those that are guarded. Depending on a player's release point, some players benefit from space more than others. Shawn Marion needs more space than Kevin Durant to get his shot off. These findings seem painfully obvious on the surface but it's worth double-checking after hearing Bibby's words on Monday.
Couper Moorhead at Heat.com wrote a brilliant post over at the team's official site breaking down Bibby's game with video. In the post, Moorhead highlights Bibby's spot-up shooting and finds he's especially adept at finding spaces on the perimeter. Moorhead provides two video clips illustrating his spot-up abilities and notes that Bibby hits the shots despite hard closeouts by defenders. Makes sense given what Bibby said earlier in the day.
But Bibby may be onto something.
At the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference ("Dorkapalooza") held two weekends ago in Boston, there was a potentially ground-breaking presentation made by Sandy Weil. Speaking in front of business students, media and high-level NBA execs alike, Weil presented his findings after digging through STATS, LLC's optical tracking data. Basically, the NBA has planted multiple cameras in several arenas this season to track every movement on the court. Players, the refs, the ball, everything. (Weil dubbed it the "Data holy grail").
After crunching the trove of data points, Weil discovered that there might be something to the idea of "rhythm" shooting. Weil found that even if we control for the proximity of the defender, when a player receives a pass the instant before shooting, he performs better than we'd expect given all sorts of other factors. Weil also found that if the player holds the ball for more than 2.3 seconds after catching the pass, then the benefits of catching that pass are extinguished. There is something to catching and immediately shooting.
Back to Bibby. What Bibby is saying is that he doesn't like open shots because it throws him out of rhythm. He is concerned with the dynamic of time, not space. He takes the time to think about his mechanics when he should be relying on his subconscious shooting reflexes. From what it sounds like, Bibby observes that open space causes hesitation. And hesitation, as Weil has discovered empirically, is bad.
When Bibby says he'd "rather have a contested shot than an open one," he may be telling the truth. But it's so tempting to take that extra moment before launching a shot if a defender is far away. But if he can ignore that temptation and maintain his timing, I'd imagine he would favor the open look. With a long history of playing baskeball myself, I agree that timing makes all the difference.