The NBA’s unsightly sleeved jerseys have been a source of (mild) controversy for some time. In advance of yesterday’s Christmas day slate of games, Roy Hibbert, LeBron James, and Nick Young – among many, many others – outwardly voiced opposition to the sleeves. Robin Lopez thought they should be burned. Dirk Nowitzki just thought they were ugly.
LeBron worried that Miami’s stable of shooters would be affected by wearing the sleeved jerseys, throwing outside shots off the mark. Given that the Heat are a team that heavily relies on shooting to space the floor, it was not an unfounded concern, though LeBron later went back on his statement. Young, meanwhile, felt he was being set up to fail.
With that in mind, we decided to investigate whether yesterday’s slate of games featured a noticeable difference in shooting when compared to the the rest of the season.
Rest of Season
The table above compares Christmas day performance on multiple shot types to the league average through December 24th. Field goal percentage on jumpers was indeed down yesterday, as James worried it would be, but there are some other factors to consider here.
First, only two-point jumper conversion rate went down; three-point field goal percentage was actually up by 0.1 percent yesterday when compared with the rest of the season. Second, the first three games of the Christmas slate featured teams playing without star players. The Chicago Bulls were – as they’ve been for the last few weeks and will be for the rest of the season – missing Derrick Rose. The Brooklyn Nets were without Brook Lopez. The New York Knicks squared off against the Oklahoma City Thunder minus Carmelo Anthony. And the Los Angeles Lakers were once again down Kobe Bryant for their game against the Miami Heat. Having those players would obviously have affected field goal percentage on Christmas day.
Third, the league at large might not provide a representative sample for the baseline average of the 10 teams that played on Christmas day. Four of the top 10 three-point shooting teams (Golden State, San Antonio, Miami, and the Lakers) played on Christmas, for example. So how did the Christmas day shooting averages compare to the season-long marks of those 10 teams?
Rest of Season
Hook shots were the only shot type the Christmas day teams performed better on than the 10-team season average. Two point jumper field goal percentage was down 3.0 percent compared to the 10-team average. Three point percentage was also down, though only 0.4 percent.
Even those averages might not be fully representative, though, because the Christmas slate featured two afternoon games. As anyone who has followed the NBA for any length of time knows, afternoon games are often sloppy and feature many turnovers and poor shooting. It’s entirely possible that the afternoon slate could have thrown off the numbers.
The four teams that played yesterday afternoon were the Bulls, Nets, Thunder, and Knicks. How did their performance compare with their season-long performance in afternoon games?
The performance of the afternoon teams pretty much resembles their performance in afternoon games this season. It should be noted, however, that the afternoon game sample for these four teams includes only five games, three of which were played by the Knicks, and none of which were played by the Thunder. The Knicks were also blown out of the water in two of those three afternoon games (a 31-point loss to San Antonio and a 41-point loss to Boston after a 9-point loss to Minnesota early in the season), but then, the Knicks have been blown out of the water many times this season, and were blown out of the water yesterday.
Considering all these factors, it seems unlikely that the sleeved jerseys threw shooting performance off by very much, if at all, despite Beno Udrih’s assertions to the contrary. It’s far more likely that the absence of certain star players, along with the simple randomness associated with using such a small sample is behind the slightly lower shooting numbers on Christmas day.