On the face of it, this number suggests a knockdown shooter capable of destroying nylon every night. But take a closer look and his percentages have an interesting little wrinkle.
In the 23 home games Niang has played in this season, the seven-year veteran has converted 46.1 percent of his 5.6 attempts. This would be the fourth-highest percentage in the NBA if that mark had been his hit rate all season.
However, in the 18 games he played away from Wells Fargo Center, Niang hits a pedestrian with 34 percent (once again, about 5.6 attempts per game) – 1.7 percentage points less than the league average this year. season.
This discrepancy lends credence to the old adage that actors (like Niang) perform better at home than on the road. But is this trend just an anecdote, or is there hard evidence that it is actually a widespread phenomenon?
Before attempting to answer this question, we need to answer a few sub-questions to paint the canvas for our analysis.
Why does it even matter?
In his “Four Factors of Basketball Success”, Dean Oliver identified shooting as the most important swing factor among the variables he identified, estimating that it was responsible for determining the outcome of 40 percent of the game.
Thus, the outcome of a single match can be decided by simply one team doing hot/cold shooting. This is especially true when you’re thinking of do-or-die scenarios like Game 7 in the playoffs.
For example, last season, a second-round hand-to-hand fight between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks ended in a 109-81 win in favor of the home team (the Celtics).
Take a look under the hood and while countless factors contributed to this uneven result, the main one was the stark contrast in outdoor shooting. The Celtics made 40 percent of 55 three-pointers. The Bucks, meanwhile, were only successful on 12.1 percent of their 33 three-pointers.
As we mentioned, Boston was the host in this example, so it could be argued that we are dealing with a different Niang situation here. If true, if both of these incidents are evidence of an overarching trend (that players are playing better at home), it would give the home team an even bigger boost in these highly leveraged games.
Why three-point shots?
With the rise of heliocentrism (the idea of dedicating much of the scoring/playing to one or two players), teams want their roles to be individuals who can capitalize on the strengths created by the stars they surround.
A typical “advantage building” sequence goes something like this: a heliocentric star rides a lane, beats its player, forces the defense to attack them, and throws it to an open role player who shoots for three points.
This makes shooting one of the primary role-playing functions, and three-point percentage the easiest variable to measure when trying to answer a question of this nature.
Of course, when simplicity is prioritized, nuance is lost (remember that everything requires a compromise). To remedy this, future research could include other collaborative activities performed by role-players to paint a more holistic picture.
So do the players play a better role at home?
For the purposes of this exercise, we define “roleplayers” as those who average between 10 and 23 minutes per game and have played in at least 10 games this season. Also, to include players who don’t throw threes (Andre Drummonds of the world), we filtered out all the guys who didn’t attempt at least 50 three-pointers this year (giving us a total sample size of 74 players).
Finally, all data for this study was taken on January 12, 2023, so there may be minor changes to the individual percentages as you read this today.
And now, without further ado, here are our results:
Chart Created by Daniel Bratulić
Makes sense, right? No? Well, that’s because it shouldn’t.
If our original theory were correct, we would see a smorgasbord with the faces at the bottom right of the chart. But instead, most players are stationed near the trend line, indicating no significant difference between their home and away goalscoring performances.
Okay, but those are just numbers from this season. No sports study is complete without data from multiple seasons. With that in mind, here’s what the 2021-2022 road home breakdown looks like.
Chart Created by Daniel Bratulić
A few changes worth noting: 1) instead of the threshold of 50 three-point attempts per season, we increased our filter to 100 attempts (since last season is fully completed and this one is not), and 2) similar to one, we increased the minimum requirements for games from 10 to 30 (meaning our sample has 65 players).
(User Note: Although the data is from the 2021-22 season, the photos of these players have them on the jerseys of the previous season. For example, Gary Payton II is in Portland Trail jackets uniform even though he played for Golden State soldiers last year.)
Still, even with these tweaks, the main point remains unchanged – there’s no real correlation between a role player’s 3-point shooting and whether they’re playing home or away.
To add another layer of context, we also explored these divisions at the team level. This time, our only filters were for players who average between 10 and 23 minutes per game and have played in at least 10 games this season.
Chart Created by Daniel Bratulić
And once again, a cluttered conglomeration of images near the trend line, which supports the idea that there is no significant difference in how roleplayers shoot at home or on the road.
(Sidebar: A clear difference in how Dallas Mavericks shooting at home versus away can be attributed to the fact that most of their “role player” shooters play over 23 minutes per game and are therefore not counted in the sample. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the sample, the higher the chance of error).
Without providing a definitive answer – as we said, further research on more variables would be needed for that – this article serves as a solid argument against the age-old maxim that gamers roleplay better at home.
From a sports fan’s point of view, this is a huge win because not knowing how well a player will perform in a given location adds to the unpredictability of the game we love so much. So, while we potentially busted one sports stereotype, we also fueled another.
One that reads “that’s why you’re playing this game.”
All visuals for this article were created by software engineer/data analyst Daniel Bratulić (@daniel_bratulic on Twitter). Statistics on this story are up to date for Monday matches.