“Always Will Be About Buckets”

If you haven’t watched the Uncle Drew series starring Kyrie Irving, and more recently featuring Kevin Love and Hall of Famer Bill Russell, you need to because as Russell reminds Uncle Drew, This game always has, and always will be, about buckets.

A look at the move (here at Vantage Sports, we call these “post-acquisition moves”) just prior to a shot attempt yields insights into how to get buckets.

We first looked at the frequency of post-acquisition moves that led to field goals in the league by looking at the number of field goal attempts after a particular move. Catch and shoot field goal attempts take up the majority of field goal attempts, but for purposes of our analysis, we will not consider them a post-acquisition move. The dominant move is a drive to the right or left (approximately 20% of the time). Ball screens are the third most popular move where the dribbler comes off an on-ball screen. Listed below are all of the post-acquisition moves that Vantage Sports tracks in the data set, sorted by frequency of field goal attempts. The breakdown between two-point and three-point field goal attempts follows.

 Most post-acquisition drives lead to 2PT field goal attempts, while ball screens are generally given to help create space for a three point field goal attempt. These findings also show that crossovers, a move Uncle Drew uses to drive straight to the basket in Episode 2, is also used in the NBA to set up more two point field goal attempts (approximately 3.5 crossovers for two point field goal attempts for every crossover leading to a three point attempt).

Looking at the most frequently used post-acquisition moves, we can see what the average field goal percentage is after a certain play is made.

Clearly, the best option is a catch and shoot scenario, but let’s dive a bit deeper into the data.

The Moves of Diminishing Returns

One shot fake is not as successful for three point field goals as it is for two point field goals (28.63% for threes versus 42.47% for twos). It is to be noted that one shot fake is the post acquisition move that leads to the most frequent fouled three point attempts (besides catch and shoot attempts).

With shot fakes and jab steps, less are better. The diminishing return on these moves are apparent in the field goal percentage numbers that you see. One or two shot fakes compared to three or more is approximately a 4.25% decrease in field goal percentage. The drop is even more prevalent in jab steps, where one jab step could help effectively earn you 38.70% shooting, but two drops the field goal percentage to 36.84%, and in the rare cases of three or more jab steps, 18.18% shooting from the field.

Facing up the defender (after posting up) from below the arch will generate further from average two point field goal percentage (approximately 6.88% below the average two-point field goal percentage). The percentage gap ticks from beyond the arch to 3.86% below the average. This suggests that despite facing a primary defender in these situations, face ups are lower percentage shots when closer to the basket.

Which Move Is the Best?

Like in other studies, the more frequent observations help make up more of the average, so without consideration of the number of observations of a particular move, the top moves that result in the highest field goal percentage, excluding fast break and catch and shoot opportunities for both the 2 PT and 3 PT options, are as follows:

Keeping in mind that jump stops and 2 jab steps combine for less than 2% of the total number of three point field goals in our sample, it is clear that ball screens are the most optimal post acquisition move for creating a high percentage 3 point shot.

The Euro step has broken into the game in a big way and the numbers show why as it is more effective than straight drives, jump stops or spins.


This data show just how hard it is to get buckets in the NBA when attempting to create one’s own shot.

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