Sunday, April 28, 2024

NBA shot data and the mean center

I've been watching NBA basketball since the early 1990s and one of the biggest changes has been the way the center position is played. But more on that in a minute. I'm also a spatial data analyst and if you look at my previous post you will see that I've shared links to NBA shot data as well as some court data I made.  That got me thinking about the concept of the 'mean center', which in this case has two meanings.

Read on for an explanation of this

1. Mean center = Shaq, and players like him who played aggressive basketball close to the hoop in the old-fashioned way. I started off my own basketball career as a center before I went all soft and started shooting threes as a small forward.

2. Mean center = the spatial analysis concept of the 'mean center'. This is just the average (mean) position of all points so we can get a sense of where the average shot is taken from. I thought I'd take all the NBA shot data I had, from 2003-04 to 2022-23 and see where the average shot from centers for each year was taken from. And I also mapped all shots taken. See below for the results.

Clearly, as we can see from the location of the mean center, the mean center in the NBA has become less of a mean center, if we are to take the mean center shot position as an indicator. No matter how you interpret it, the shot chart for centers in 2022-23 looks radically different than it did in 2003-04. I will leave others to debate whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But I do think teams should have a mean center and that the mean center becomes less mean when they shoot lots of threes. I mean, I love Jokić and the way he plays but I really loved Zo and his ferocity.

In the images below, every red dot is a shot taken by an NBA center during the regular season. The bigger dot closer to the basket with the label 'MEAN CENTER' is the average position of all shots in each season indicated in big numbers at the top left of the image.

You want a gif, don't you? Okay, here you go.

A gif of all years? Ok, here you go.

A small multiple, you say?

A mean multiple

PS this may be my last ever blog post but I will keep the blog online in case I change my mind. I've been doing this for more than 15 years and I think it's had its day.