What’s the big deal about half-court heaves?

The half-court heave: Arguably basketball’s most exciting way to score, save for a dunk or game-winning bucket.

Check out the crowd before and after these makes by Alonzo Gee and Jarrett Jack:

Even misses are exciting:

The heaves are like a golfer on their second shot of a par five 18th hole, going for a green that has zero hazards surrounding it. Rarely, if ever, will the golfer score eagle or better (or even a par if their putting is as bad as mine), but it doesn’t hurt to try.

That’s not how some players in the NBA see it though. Some see a massive pond surrounding the green, with alligators and all sorts of other potential danger lurking. Maybe the latter is an exaggeration, but not every player sees a last-second heave as a win-win. It’s viewed instead like a harm to their shooting percentages. After all, about 98 percent of all half-court to full-court heaves are missed. Since 2001, players are 104-for-4,451 from that extended area, according to Basketball-Reference. (For a yearly breakdown, click here.)

That’s a whopping 2.3 percent that drop. The effective field goal percentage (when taking into account that a three-point shot is worth more than a two) isn’t much better at 3.5. To reach an EFG% of 50, 1,483 of those 4,451 half-court to full-court shots would have to go in, or the 104 that dropped would have to be worth about 43 points each. If that were the case, several fans would have defined roles on NBA rosters.

For those who either don’t take the last-second shot or wait just after the buzzer to let them fly, the team is negatively impacted on a situation that should normally be a win-win. Back in February, Royce Young posted a great breakdown detailing how Thunder coach Scott Brooks practically begged for his players to take the last-second heaves, despite the odds being against them.

From Young’s piece at the Daily Thunder:

“We talked about it, about seven weeks ago maybe, couple months ago, and we talked about it,” Brooks said. “I said ‘We have to shoot that shot. There’s still time in the game — shoot it.’ The only time we don’t shoot it is if we’re up and it’s the last seconds because you don’t want to do that.

“We had that talk and somebody on our team did not take it that same night, and then we all got on him,” he said. “The next night, somebody made that shot.”

There was a divide between what each Thunder player would do if they had the ball in the backcourt with the clock winding down, most notably between stat-conscious players like Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin and others willing to let the heaves fly like Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha.

From Young’s piece once again:

How do Thunder players feel about the halfcourt heave? Should it be counted as an attempt? And do they pull the just-after-the-buzzer move? I asked some of them:

Kevin Durant: “It depends on what I’m shooting from the field. First quarter if I’m 4-for-4, I let it go. Third quarter if I’m like 10-for-16, or 10-for-17, I might let it go. But if I’m like 8-for-19, I’m going to go ahead and dribble one more second and let that buzzer go off and then throw it up there. So it depends on how the game’s going.”

Kevin Martin: “Yes, I’ve noticed it a lot. For myself? I like to be considered an efficient scorer, so I think that’ll answer your question on how I approach that shot … [Brooks] said something about if no one wants to shoot it, go up and grab it. Don’t be the person to grab it and wait. And then I think Eric Maynor hit a shot or Russ hit a shot … If they changed that rule [to not count it], I’d probably shoot a lot more of them. Some people like to shoot the halfcourt shot, some people don’t.”

Russell Westbrook: “No. Nope … If I was considering about [statistics] I’d do a lot of shit different.”

Thabo Sefolosha: “Personally if I have it, I shoot it. I’ve seen players not shoot it at all, or seen players shoot it late. I’ve seen that before … [Brooks] did, he mentioned it. In the team, most of us, I think we take the shot. But you see players that don’t do it … You gotta count it [as a shot]. You gotta count it. It’s a shot. But who cares really. I don’t care about that kind of stuff. One more shot, make or miss, is not going to break or make me, so I shoot it.”

Even Shane Battier expressed his thoughts about the last-second heaves in an interview with Sam Amick of USA Today Sports:

“If you’re a true shooter, those shots add up,” he said, while making it clear that his view was also the opinion of most, if not all, NBA players. “It’s not worth it (to shoot them). Even though statistically speaking, it’s a positive – it’s a plus-play (in terms of probabilities of success). If you shot every buzzer beater, you’re going to make one out of – whatever the odds are.

“Even 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.”

Bricking half-court shots in the beginning of the season might cause a worrisome downtick in shooting percentages, but they would be hardly noticeable by the end. If anything, fantasy basketball owners who drafted the heavers are likely impacted more than the heavers themselves.

Besides, whether Durant’s shooting 8-for-19 or 8-for-20, it’s still a bad shooting night. I actually thought it would be the other way around for him, more willing to take the low-percentage shot while having a bad game versus a good one. He was also in a chase last year for the 50-40-90 club (50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent on free throws), which he eventually achieved with 51-41.6-90.5 splits.

To fall below the 50-40-90 club, Durant would have had to take and miss 14 heaves, which would’ve been the highest yearly total in Basketball-Reference’s database that dates back to 2001. Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and Andre Miller each attempted 12 in 2001. Miller’s the most notorious heaver, going 3-for-102 over the last 13 seasons. Jason Kidd has the most makes with four (out of 44 attempts), but nobody comes to Andre Miller’s total attempts. Steve Blake is second with 46, while making only one. (There’s a few more players listed in a bit.)

The worrying about percentages is overblown when looking at Miller, whose heaves barely put a damper on his three-point shooting percentages. For his career, he’s 173-for-825 over 14 seasons. That’s good for a measly 21 percent. Take the heaves away and that’s bumped up to 23.5, only a 2.5 percent difference for someone who doesn’t even take one three-point attempt per game. The difference for Durant would be much smaller.

Season by season, Miller’s half-court attempts matter only slightly more. He took 12 heaves in the 2000-01 season and made one. Take the misses away and Miller’s three-point percentage goes from 26.6 to 32.1. That may seem like a big deal, but it still only amounts to Miller making 17 threes over 82 games. Even Rajon Rondo has done that. Miller probably made his threes in as similar a fashion as Rondo: from either being left wide open or with the shot clock winding down.

Besides three-point shooting, Miller does just about everything else well for a point guard and, as a result, has carved out a long-lasting career. The heaves won’t affect his chances at getting a new contract when it’s time to negotiate.

What about sharpshooters?

In the quotes by Battier, there was worry about players being judged by their percentages, likely concerning those who take the majority of their shots from beyond the arc. All-stars who get picked apart, volume shooters, and even sharpshooters (that Battier was likely concerning) have all taken their fair share of heaves throughout their careers though and have done just fine with finding teams to play for. Here are some of each:

Steve Blake: 1-46

Kobe Bryant: 0-44

Jason Kidd: 4-44

Baron Davis: 2-43

Jamal Crawford: 0-39

  • Had a terrible 2012 season yet got a four-year, $21.35 million contract from the Clippers the following summer.

J.R. Smith: 0-34

Andre Iguodala: 1-31

LeBron James: 0-30

Ray Allen: 0-30

  • Yep, one of the best shooters ever takes buzzer-beating heaves.

Nate Robinson: 1-29

  • He’s actually a pretty good three-point shooter and found his way to a new contract with the Nuggets.

Carmelo Anthony: 0-27

  • 27 heaves, even with a reputation literally as a chucker.

Martell Webster: 0-22

  • Got a four-year, $22 million contract from the Wiz this summer.

Dirk Nowitzki: 0-20

It’s still quite weird that the most heaves anyone has taken over their career, besides Miller’s, is 46 by Steve Blake. LeBron’s averaged only three heaves per season and it feels like there should be an extra zero at the end of the total by J.R. Smith.

What can be done to encourage more of these attempts from long, long range?

I left a quote out from Sam Amick’s interview with Shane Battier about what players would do if heaves were left out of the stat book. Here it is:

And if they did change the rule book to reflect this stance?

“You’d have guys fighting to take that shot, because it’s a hell of a fun shot,” he said. “We shoot those shots every day in practice.”

So fans love heaves and, deep down, players love them too.

The most simple solution to increase the frequency of them would be to only count those that go in, like a sacrifice bunt. It won’t go into the box scores if it’s a miss.

Not counting heaves in the stat book, unless they go in, also puts fantasy basketball owners of Andre Miller at ease. As for sports bettors who often take the under on scoring totals, good thing heaves rarely go in and don’t count for 40 points (yet). 

Until then, we’ll see if attempts from beyond half-court either stay steady or unfortunately decline. So far, so good, at least in the pre-season: 

It’ll be interesting to see if the fearless heaves continue once the regular season kicks off, or if more will be made by fans than actual NBA players.

A follow up that post can be found here.


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3 thoughts on “What’s the big deal about half-court heaves?

  1. […] curiosity of which side would prevail started four months ago. Fast forward to now and this season’s heave total is actually on pace to […]

  2. […] heaves, which are unfortunately not doing too hot compared to last season when I posted a few (a different link for each letter!) thoughts last […]

  3. […] and longevity.” It also speaks to his being wired far differently than many other players, who refuse to take shots that have little chance of going down for fear of hurting their field-goal percentages, which […]

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