All Shots Are Contested to a Degree

To be precise, what does contesting a shot mean?

This is an important question since contesting a field goal shot is the defensive action most directly linked to the offensive scoring actions.

“To contest” has several different meanings. The one most fitting here is “to oppose especially in an argument”.

Given this, contesting a FG shot simply means opposing it. Or putting pressure on the shooter so that she can’t shoot the way she would ideally shoot if there was no defense. This is done to lower expected value of the FG shot.

There are two types of this pressure:

  1. Temporal pressure.
  2. Spatial pressure.

As is often the case in space/time issues, spatial pressure and temporal pressure are two sides of the same thing – a complementary pair, that is.

Temporal pressure is a condition where in order to avoid or ease the spatial pressure, the shooter abandons her preferred timing and/or movement patterns. In other words, as the defense closes out on the shooter, she in some way rushes her shot.

Spatial pressure affects the movement patterns of the shooter and/or the motion of the ball. This can happen in two ways: indirectly and directly.

Indirect spatial pressure means that to avoid a defender’s touching the ball, the shooter goes away from her preferred movement patterns. A defender can create indirect spatial pressure with hands or with the body.

  1. If he’s trying to reach the ball – or to touch it – she’s pursuing the ball.
  2. If she goes so near the shooter that the indirect spatial pressure is primarily due to the positions of her trunk and/or her arm, she’s jamming the shooter.
  3. To soar means to jump as in order to block the shot after the shooter has released the shot.

Direct spatial pressure means that the defender touches the ball during the FGA and affects its motion.

  1. If this happens while the ball is still in the shooter’s hands, we call it brushing.
  2. If the shooter has already released the ball, it’s a swat. (We don’t call it a block because a tag may also be something that’s usually called a block.)

This implies that all FG shots are contested to a degree. To divide them into two categories – contested and uncontested – is to present a false dichotomy. The rate of contesting is a continuum, not an on/off thing.

That is because the shooter always perceives the defense in some way. At the very least, there is always some temporal pressure on her. Even if there are no defenders anywhere near her right now, they just might start closing out on her.

This in turn implies that the rate of contesting on most FG shots is usually not determined by anything that could be measured objectively. Rather, it is the shooter’s perception that determines the amount of both the temporal pressure and the indirect spatial pressure.

In other words, it doesn’t matter as such how close the defender comes to brushing or swatting the ball. What matters as such is how the shooter perceives the situation and how she consequently changes the FG shot.

Of course, this changes if there is direct spatial pressure – or if the defender manages to actually brush or swat the ball.

These theoretical musings have several practical implications regarding coaching.

  1. The statistics regarding contesting should be approached cautiously. Among other reasons, that is because the stats do not into account the shooter’s perception.
  2. An elementary part of shooting practice should be learning to adapt to variable contesting. This means shooting versus variable defense, instead of versus air.
  3. An elementary part of the defense practice should be learning to brush and swat FG shots without fouling.
  4. Also, a part of the defense practice should be learning to manipulate the shooter’s perception of the contesting. Sometimes it is beneficial to exaggerate the possibility of the direct spatial pressure, sometimes it is beneficial to play it down.
  5. There is no one optimal way to contest FG shots – for example, to close out. Rather, what the defender should do depends on multiple factors: the defender’s qualities, the shooter’s qualities, the team’s defensive tactics, the opponents’ offensive tactics, the game situation.

This post was published on February 27 2020 and revised on September 13 2020.

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