Charting Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry

One odd phenomenon that has perplexed me since the previous year has been Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry’s complete inability to shoot the basketball despite possessing a fairly orthodox shooting form.

Lowry is shooting 43% overall from the field, which is at his career average and right around the norm for most NBA guards. However, delving deeper into the numbers, thus far this season, he has a eFG% of 35% on jumpshots. By comparison, Aaron Brooks has a eFG% of 47% on jumpshots. Furthermore, Lowry’s eFG% on close shots (what one would consider a layup) is at 54%. One can see that this latter figure is positively inflating his overall field goal percentage.

It was postulated last season that the culprit for Lowry’s low 3PT shooting percentage was the end of quarter ‘heaves’ which he was often forced into taking. However, even if true, this would only account for his low 3PT%. True field goal percentage is inclusive of 3PT accuracy, and thus far this season, 51% of the overall shots Lowry has taken have been what one would define as a ‘jumpshot.’ While this figure is comparatively low in relation to the typical NBA guard (71% of Aaron Brooks’ attempts have been ‘jumpshots’), it is still too significant (given the overall number of shots Lowry has attempted) to be dismissed as merely a composition of situational heaves.

It is the sheer peculiarity of this situation which begets the intrigue. This isn’t some mere case of arbitrary microanalysis of futility. I know why Rafer Alston shot so poorly – he put improper rotation on the ball. I know why Luis Scola only goes right – his left hand is a vestigial organ. I know why Carl Landry gets abused in the post – he has virtually no center of gravity, etc. etc.

Lowry’s case is unique because, to this point, I haven’t seen a single plausible explanation as to why this player, who is above average to elite in every other facet of the game and has a completely conventional shooting form, can’t hit a jumpshot to save his life. It’s of interest because, as I stated prior to the season, Lowry could be considered a top 15 point guard were it not for this achilles heel.

So why? Why can’t Kyle Lowry shoot? It’s not for a lack of practice. We read the reports from Morey that Lowry was taking 1000 jumpshots a day. So why?

My Hypothesis

Watching the game last night, as he casually knocked down two rare jumpers with ease, I noticed that both were in coming off his right hand. The significance in this is that, as anyone who even recreationally plays basketball can attest, right handed players are most comfortable in shooting while going to their left (and vice versa for lefties.) While just conjecture from personal experiences, I would imagine that this is due to the fact that one can stabilize himself by planting the off-leg while transferring the ball back to the shooting hand before taking the shot. If taking one or more dribbles with the shooting hand prior to the shot, one is not afforded the window to properly align both legs with the basket. (As a side note, I would argue that one of the primary abilities that made Jordan/Kobe so lethal was/is the ability to comfortably shoot jumpers going towards the dominant hand. However, this is topic for another discussion.)

My hypothesis is that because it feels natural (as described above), as with most players, the majority of Lowry’s jumpshots are in coming off the left hand (ie: taking at least 1 dribble with the left hand and then transferring to the shooting hand). However, unlike the average player, I believe that it is these attempts which are resulting in misses, while the majority of his made jumpshots are coming off of the dominant hand. Basically, I think he has a split completely opposite of the norm.

If my hypothesis holds true, and Lowry actually shoots better from a position where most players shoot worse, while it would underscore the overall peculiarity of the phenomenon, it would at the least serve to shed some light on his woes. Up to this point, it has been a complete mystery.

We know Lowry can’t shoot; we know he has great form; maybe the cause is simply that most of his attempts are coming from a position which, while natural, is personally low efficient?

Charting Kyle Lowry

I will begin tracking Kyle Lowry’s jumpshot field goal attempts from this point forward. The attempts will be divided into the following categories:

A)Jumpshots within the 3 point line:
•Going left
•Going right
B)Jumpshots outside the 3 point line:
•Going left
•Going right

Situational ‘heaves’ will be documented but not given consideration in the final assessment.

‘Going left’ is NOT only inclusive of ‘drives’ to the left. It will merely be defined here as any jumpshot taken after one or more dribbles with the left hand. This distinction is crucial because the premise is that it is simply the act of transferring the ball back to the dominant hand that allows players time to gather, providing the natural degree of comfort.

Going right is NOT only inclusive of ‘drives’ to the right. It will merely be defined here as any jumpshot taken after one or more dribbles with the right hand. This distinction is crucial because the premise is that it is the fact that the ball is already in the shooting hand that makes such a motion so uncomfortable for the average player. (ie: there is no time to plant both feet.)

The reader might note with some confusion that I have classified ‘setshots’ within the category of ‘going right’. The reason is that as my premise essentially boils down to targeting the jumpers ‘going left’ as the culprit, I have denoted the category of ‘going right’ as basically an all-inclusive ‘other’ for purposes of simplification. I think the data will prove that Lowry is actually fairly average on setshots. Last night notwithstanding, I don’t expect to see too large of a sample size of jumpers in motion going right as few average players actually have this capacity. (As mentioned above, my corollary contention is that consistent accuracy on jumpshots driving towards the dominant hand is one of the absolute distinguishing traits of the elite.)

My Prediction

My prediction is that one of these two scenarios will unfold:

1.I will abort the experiment in embarrassment: I have a fearful suspicion that this data already exists in some capacity.

***To be clear, as I am sure many have already made this assumption, this is something distinct from that of a ‘hot zone’ or ‘shot chart.‘ My interest is not where on the court the player is most accurate (data of which is already extensively available), but rather how they are most accurate. Taking a jumper from the left side of the court is NOT synonymous with taking a jumper after dribbling with one’s left hand.

2.The Study Will be Inconclusive: Lowry barely ever shoots. Even with a full season’s worth of data, my hunch is that the sample size will simply be too small to warrant any type of deduction. In addition, for this reason, I also anticipate that the splits will not be extreme enough to conclude any definitive proofs.

Despite this pessimistic forecast, I do look forward to getting this project underway as I feel that at the very least, it can shed some light on other aspects of the game of which I have thus far been overlooking. It is often the case that the focus upon one of life’s perplexities lends itself towards the elucidation upon other discoveries originally unknown.

I will report on my results at frequent intervals and would greatly appreciate any feedback on fine-tuning the methodology.

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