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How can Aaron Gordon become a more efficient shooter?

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Aaron Gordon’s shot selection has been questionable, but what if the Orlando Magic’s star player took his best shots?

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Gordon’s career thus far has largely been defined by his potential. While there are a few lingering questions concerning the forward’s ceiling, his strengths and weaknesses are largely defined. Even a casual fan could very easily rank the types of shots Gordon shoots best: shots at the rim >>> catch-and-shoot jumpers > pull-up jumpers.

It’s troubling, then, that Gordon’s shot selection has arguably grown worse each season. While he’s improved his efficiency in many critical areas (especially around the rim and from 3-point range), he’s offset that efficiency by gradually trading his best shots for his worst ones. In fact, those effects have nearly exactly matched each other: Gordon’s effective field goal percentage has been stagnant of the last three seasons.

Gordon shooting

Season eFG
Season eFG
2014-2015 0.478
2015-2016 0.509
2016-2017 0.499
2017-2018 0.500

What if Aaron Gordon experienced an epiphany this offseason? What if he tried to be a little less Paul George in favor of a little more Giannis Antetokounmpo and reworked his shot selection to focus on what he does best? Let’s find out!

To start with, let’s get a baseline for how often Gordon takes different kinds of shots. We’ll do this two ways, using stats collected from nba.com and pbpstats.com.

Aaron Gordon 2017-2018 Shooting

Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Less than 10 ft 35.2% 67.2% 6.7
Catch-and-shoot 32.5% 37.7% 5.0
Pull-up jumper 31.2% 29.5% 3.0
14.7

Gordon takes close to the same number of shots of each type. His close-range shots are his most frequent, but only barely. Let’s undo a few years of bad habits and revert him back to his shot selection from his second season, when he took more than half his shots from that same “less than 10 ft” range (his first season had the best “close range” frequency, but it came before he started attempting an appreciable number of threes, so it feels like a worse comparison). At the same time, we’ll assume the exact same efficiency of each type as from his last season. What happens when Gordon takes the skills he’s learned and applies them more productively?

Aaron Gordon Reworked Shot Selection

Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Less than 10 ft 52.70% 67.2% 9.9
Catch-and-shoot 29.50% 37.7% 4.5
Pull-up jumper 17.10% 29.5% 1.6
16.1

Overall, we see a net gain of 1.4 points per game on the same number of shots. That doesn’t sound terribly impressive, but there’s a couple important notes.

First, this sort of reshuffling has the effect of taking some 3-pointers and turning them into twos, which goes to show that even low-percentage 3-pointers have a lot of value. Ideally, Gordon would mix in a solid number of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers with his close-range shots (more on that in a bit). Second, that’s a bigger increase than you’d think. Adding 1.4 points per game to the Magic’s total would have been enough to increase them from 24th to 18th in the league (bearing in mind that this doesn’t account for pace).

Let’s repeat the exercise, going for a little more granularity. This time we’ll break it down into shooting at the rim, “short” mid-range (4-14ft), “long” mid-range (>14ft), corner 3s, and above-the-break 3s. We’ll also take a few more liberties with reallocated shots, crafting our own “ideal” Aaron Gordon. Both tables are presented below:

Aaron Gordon 2017-2018 Shooting

Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Rim 30.9% 69.7% 6.5
Short mid-range 14.2% 22.8% 1.0
Long mid-range 15.4% 34.6% 1.6
Corner 3 8.3% 36.1% 1.3
Above-the-break 3 31.2% 33.0% 4.6
15.0

Aaron Gordon Reworked Shot Selection

Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Shot type Frequency FG% PPG
Rim 50.0% 69.7% 10.4
Short mid-range 7.0% 22.8% 0.5
Long mid-range 11.0% 34.6% 1.1
Corner 3 18.0% 36.1% 2.9
Above-the-break 3 14.0% 33.0% 2.1
17.0

Let’s up his rim frequency to Giannis-levels (or really, just a hair more than Gordon’s rookie season frequency of 49%). Those garbage jumpers he likes to take from about 10-14 feet away? We’re gonna Thanos-snap half of those away. We’ll also rebalance his 3-point attempts to focus more on the corner, even as we’re actually reducing his long range attempts overall.

Put it all together, and we earn another 2.0 ppg. Using the same comparison as before, that bumps the Magic’s per game total from 24th to...18th again. Turns out there’s a pretty big gap between 18th and 17th. From Gordon’s perspective, though, it’d jump his personal scoring rank pretty substantially, from 34th to 24th in the league.

This exercise is obviously fairly limited. It’s not so easy to just choose to take layups and dunks all the time. There’s a bunch of statistical simplifications that went into this analysis, too, ignoring factors like pace, free throws, and passing. We’re also working with the stat-buckets that these websites give us, so there’s a limited amount of “shot selection selection” we can do.

Still, I think this exercise demonstrates both the benefits and limitations of improving Gordon’s decision-making. It’s not going to turn him into an automatic All-Star, not without improving his outside shot some more. Shifting the Magic’s point-differential from -4.8 to -2.8 still places them firmly in that terrible tier of nine teams at the bottom of the league last season (albeit at the top of that tier).

On the other hand, as previously stated, two points is a lot more than you’d think. Using point differential to calculate “expected wins”, jumping up from -4.8 to -2.8 is worth about 5 wins, give or take. That does sound like a lot! On paper, if Aaron Gordon took the kinds of shots he should be taking, he could add several wins to the team on his own.

I’m not sure what counts as realistic for Gordon in terms of what he’s capable of, and more importantly, what he’s willing to do. His shot selection has trended downward every year, and I’m not sure I’ve seen anything in preseason that suggests he’s changed his mindset. His future, and the Magic’s, may depend on just that.