Philly Front Office

Anatomy of a Game-Winning Shot

Six seconds left on the clock. The Sixers and Hornets are tied at 119. Jimmy Butler receives the ball on the far (right) side of the key. He stands in triple-threat position. Four seconds left. Butler dribbles between his legs once. Three seconds left. He takes two dribbles to his right with his right hand. Two seconds left. Butler takes a tap step with his left and side step with his right foot before gathering into a three-point shot. One-point-five seconds left. Jimmy pulls the triggers with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s hand in his face. He holds the follow-through and waits. His dagger hits the target with point-three seconds left in the game. Kemba Walker’s sixty-point night is in vain.

Ten-point-two seconds left in overtime. The Sixers trail the Nets by two. Butler retrieves the in-bound pass. He initiates the play — an isolation on the right side of the key. Eight seconds left. Butler dribbles back and forth between his legs a number of times. Four-point-six seconds left. Jimmy dances the clock down to three-point-five seconds and then makes a move towards the basket. He steps back. Three-point-two left. He gathers. Two-point-four left. Rises. Two-point-one left. The ball leaves his hand. One-point-seven to go. Jimmy holds the follow-through and waits. Butler puts the nail in the Nets’ coffin with point-four left to cap a twenty-point comeback.

Shot Selection

Different scenarios call for different shots. Sometimes, there are only two seconds remaining, and your team trails by three points. Other times, the game is tied with twelve seconds left. Your shot selection is limited to one option in the first scenario. In the second scenario, conventional wisdom would recommend looking for a shot as close to the rim as possible. It truly all depends on how much time remains and the score of the game.

Last season, there were roughly forty(!) game-winning or game-tying baskets made. This isn’t just buzzer beaters. This qualifies as any shot within the last minute of the game to tie the game or give one’s team the lead. Twenty-five of those field goals, that is 62.5%, were jump-shots. In the current NBA, players are moving away from conventional wisdom in execution of plays. With long-range jump-shots being more prevalent than ever before, players are much more inclined to take longer, more difficult jump-shots than they are to drive to the basket looking for a layup, dunk, or a foul. This isn’t to say that today’s players lack the basketball intelligence of previous generations of players–not at all. It’s that the NBA player has evolved from previous generations. Think about it–have we ever seen a player like Steph Curry before? Kristaps Porzingis? Joel Embiid?

Players aren’t taking long jumpers to win games because they are superior beings to players of old and are coming into the league with natural sniper abilities. They are taking those shots because they practice them. Guys like Jimmy Butler are spending numerous unseen hours in the gym rehearsing the exact same shot the night before a game because they know that they could be called upon to be heroes the next day. They work tirelessly to perfect their craft, and Jimmy Butler has mastered the step-back three-pointer from the right wing.

Why THAT Shot?

As the heat map above indicates, Jimmy Butler is very confident in his ability to make three-pointers from the right wing. So, naturally, he is going to do anything he can to get himself to that spot. Once he finds that right wing, all he has to do is create space for himself to rise up and focus on making the shot. This sounds fairly difficult in general, and even more so when you consider that there is likely a player defending Butler who is of similar size and athleticism. It doesn’t matter. Nothing a team can throw at Jimmy Butler matters once he gets to that spot because, as the video below indicates, he has worked countless hours to perfect that exact move and shot so that it’s ready for any situation.

Film Break-Down

Redick Floats to the Corner

Let’s take a closer look at both of Butler’s game-winning shots as a member of the 76ers. The first thing I want to point out is that JJ Redick slides over into the strong-side corner as soon as the ball is inbounded. This is meant to be an “insurance policy.” In the event that Butler gets doubled-teamed or cannot get the shot off, he has a safety option in JJ Redick. He can kick it to a wide-open Redick for a three-point shot with no time left. Alternatively, we can view Redick as a strong-side floor-stretcher. The defense has likely been instructed to not leave Redick no matter what. By moving Redick to the strong corner, the offense is essentially putting Jimmy on an island with his man. Best of luck to that guy.

Inbound Location

The second thing I notice is where Butler goes to retrieve the ball. He comes so far out to retrieve the inbound pass because he wants to create as much space as possible in this isolation. In doing this, should the defender act without discipline and over-play Butler or bite a dribble move, Jimmy can turn the corner and attack the cup. In effect, this creates chaos for the defense. Do they collapse and defend the rim? Do they stay with Embiid, Redick, Simmons, and whoever else is out there? Keep in mind, there is no right answer. If the biggest defenders come out to help slow Butler down, Embiid and Simmons can cut and Jimmy will just lob it. If they all collapse, Jimmy can find the open shooter. Should they stay home, Butler has an open lane to the basket.

Butler’s Decision

At this point, it is all up to Butler as to what he should do next. He trusts his preparation, and he knows that all he has to do is get to his spot and concentrate on the task at hand. He chews the clock down to its final ticks and begins to operate. Given the situation in Charlotte, a tied game, I would’ve made sure that there would be no time left on the clock when the ball went in. I would’ve waited a bit longer. If it goes in, I’m a walk-off winner. The Hornets don’t even get an opportunity to answer it. If I miss, oh well, we’re going to double-overtime.

Given the situation in Brooklyn, Sixers trailing by two, you either go to overtime against a team that has given you fits throughout the season or take a three to win the game. You just completed a large comeback, and you’re probably mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted after battling back. The odds are probably not in my favor to win if the game goes to overtime, so I’m shooting for the win. I have no problem with Butler’s decision on this shot.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I would’ve done. Jimmy is the one who had the decision to make. The rest lives on in a highlight reel.

Austin Krell (@Analyst_Austin)


Austin Krell

Villanova University School of Business '19. I am the Director of Sports at WXVU (Villanova student radio), where I have my own talk show called Second Take (better than ESPN's First Take). I live for the Sixers, and I have my own Sixer pod called The Feed To Embiid!

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