Kevin Durant had the ball 60 feet from the hoop without enough time left on the third quarter clock to even take a dribble.
So, last Monday in Chicago, he decided to fire up a halfcourt prayer as a last-ditch effort for three points. It was the correct – and seemingly only – basketball play.
But to those who have watched the tendency of Durant and others across the league, it was a somewhat surprising one.
In similar situations in the past, Durant has utilized the trick common to some of the NBA’s best buzzer cheaters. Wait until a split-second after the horn to fire or take an extra dribble and feign frustration at a temporary lapse in clock management.
“People don’t want to shoot it because it’s like a one percent chance you’re going to make it,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
And, really, that’s what this whole epidemic is about. The argument for and against the end-of-quarter heave is all related to percentages.
Inherently, it’s the least efficient shot in the game. NBA players are a combined 17-of-422 (4 percent) in those scenarios this season. The Thunder is 0-of-16 and, since moving to OKC, just 2-of-77.
So to consistently fire it up is to willingly take an automatic dip in your field goal percentage. And in a league that is so statistically driven, it also means a dip in your perceived value, however slight.
Reggie Jackson provides a great example. The Thunder’s third-year guard loves those shots, even searches them out. He has taken nine of them this season, more than half of the Thunder’s total (16) and more than Durant in his entire seven-year career (five).
But he’s missed all nine. And because of that, Jackson’s current 3-point percentage is at 32 instead of 34. Sounds minuscule, but for a guy who is nearing contract negotiation time and holds a ‘Can he consistently shoot 3s?’ label, it could play an important role.
“There's a lot of things being measured now, and guys know it,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, while also noting it’s a ploy that’s always been around in the NBA. “They know that their contracts probably can be based on that. So I'm sure there are some thoughts on that.”
But in the same light, some decision-makers could view the willingness to heave as a positive. Casey went as far as to call them “true winners that don't care and they'll still hoist it up there.”
Because however low the conversion percentage is for individuals, it’s still better than the alternative for their teams. This season alone, 51 points have resulted from halfcourt prayers.
“A shot not taken is a field goal missed,” Caron Butler said.
And he would know. Like Jackson, Butler is among the minority who seek out a chance for that unlikely long-range glory. In his 12 years, Butler has taken 57. He’s only made one.
But despite a small plummet in his percentages, Butler said it’s done nothing to his league-wide reputation.
“Professionals and guys in the front office know who can play and who can’t play,” Butler said. “…If you take some bail-out shots and stuff like that, (they) take that into consideration.”
And the memory, for Butler, provides an added bonus. He doesn’t remember the 56 misses. He quickly recalled the one make – a 78-foot heave back in 2008, when he was with Washington, which can easily be found on YouTube.
“And I’m gonna keep taking them,” Butler said.
But others are likely to keep passing them up.
Buzzer beater or buzzer cheater? Depends on the player.
Quoteboard on the topic
Shane Battier to USA Today last year: “If you're a true shooter, those shots add up. It’s not worth it. Even though statistically speaking, it’s a positive…The heave is a plus-play. But unfortunately we're not judged on the plus-plays. We're judged on (shooting) percentages. I think they should take the heave out of the stat book. It's common sense.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey: “That's an old trick. That's a vet move. Guys don't want to hurt their shooting percentages. It's nothing new.”
Reggie Jackson: “Why not take it? I don't know why so many people play the percentage game. You can't make a shot if you don't take it before the half ends or the quarter. I just try to give my team a chance to put more points on the board.”
Russell Westbrook with a simple philosophy: “If you got enough time, then shoot it. If you don’t want to shoot it, then pass it to somebody that will.”
A look at the league-wide stats
This season, NBA teams are a combined 17-of-422 (4 percent) on halfcourt heaves. By team, here’s a closer look, in descending order from most to least taken:
A look at the Thunder's stats
Since moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder has never been more willing to fire up the inefficient heave. Already this season, the Thunder has shot 16, two more than any of the past five years.
Overall, the franchise is 2-of-77 since relocation, with both makes coming from former back-up point guard Eric Maynor. But OKC’s current roster is a combined 1-of-136 in their careers. Here’s a closer look at the stats:
-Caron Butler; 0-of-5 this season; 1-of-57 in his career
-Derek Fisher; 0-of-0 this season; 0-of-22 in his career
-Reggie Jackson; 0-of-9 this season; 0-of-17 in his career
-Russell Westbrook; 0-of-1 this season; 0-of-11 in his career
-Thabo Sefolosha; 0-of-0 this season; 0-of-8 in his career
-Kendrick Perkins; 0-of-1 this season; 0-of-8 in his career
-Kevin Durant; 0-of-1 this season; 0-of-5 in his career
-Nick Collison; 0-of-0 this season; 0-of-4 in his career
-Jeremy Lamb; 0-of-2 this season; 0-of-2 in his career
-Perry Jones; 0-of-1 this season; 0-of-1 in his career
-Serge Ibaka; 0-of-0 this season; 0-of-1 in his career
*Note: Hasheem Thabeet, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson have never attempted one