Shot Chart Scouting: Michigan State

Dylan Burkhardt
Adreian Payne Nebraska v Michigan State HnUNsaxZJqql[1]I don’t watch much NBA basketball, but came across Kirk Goldsberry’s work over the past few months. Goldsberry constructs shot charts using hexagonal binning and is able to draw some wonderful insights on both individual or team levels. Take the time to read his comparisons of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, or his breakdown of the Portland Trailblazers offense, or anything else he writes. It’s fantastic work and well worth a read.

There aren’t many similar resources available in college basketball, so I was inspired to try to put together some data. We’ll start by examining Michigan’s Sunday afternoon opponent, Michigan State.

Here’s a quick overview of where Michigan State’s starters (I realize that Dawson is injured) shoot the ball – regardless of effectiveness. Bigger hexagons represent a higher volume of shot attempts – click all charts to enlarge.

Where Michigan State Shoots

The first thing that stands out is that Michigan State loves to play on the left side of the floor. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne play a lot of two man basketball on the wing and the majority of Payne’s midrange game takes place on the left wing. The importance of Gary Harris to the offense is obvious, although partially skewed, but note how important Payne and Dawson are to Michigan State’s interior attack. Both players sat out in the first meeting and 44% of Michigan State’s field goal attempts were threes.

After the jump we’ll take a closer look at Michigan State’s rotation and where the Spartans are effective. 

Keith Appling
14.4 PPG – .481/.400/.521

Keith Appling Shot Chart

Appling does a good job of getting into the paint (54% shooting) or shooting from distance (40% shooting), but he doesn’t have much of a middle game. Appling is just 7-of-30 on two-point jumpers outside of the paint. Ninety percent of Appling’s three-point attempts come on the wings or in the middle of the floor, common for a point guard, and he’s shooting 42% from above the wings. With a hurt wrist, the key to stopping Appling is keeping him away from the rim.

Adreian Payne
16.3 PPG – .556/.431/.577 (2P%/3P%/EFG%)

Adreian Payne Shot Chart

Payne is most effective from long range, or in the paint. 49% of his field goal attempts are in the paint and he shoots an impressive 66% when he’s able to get both feet in the lane.

Adreian Payne - Pain, Twos, Threes

Payne shoots quite a bit from the midrange, especially on the left side, but he’s not nearly as efficient. He shoots just 35% on midrange jumpers outside of the paint, compared to 43% from three-point range. Payne’s pick-and-pop effectiveness is obvious as he’s better than a 40% 3-point shooter on the wings and in the middle. All 22 threes that Payne has made this season have been assisted. Of his 90 two-point makes, just 46 (91%) have been assisted.

Gary Harris
17.4 PPG – .497/.323/.491 (2P%/3P%/EFG%)

Gary Harris - Shot Chart

Harris is one of the most complete offensive players in the country, but he’s been stuck in a major slump lately. Harris is shooting just 37% on twos and 27% on threes in the month of February with a .325 effective field goal percentage. His slump is illustrated in the shot charts below.

Gary Harris - JanuaryGary Harris - February
Gary Harris — January vs. February Shooting

In January, Harris was shooting at better than a 40% clip from every zone behind the three-point line. He was 12-of-17 on midrange twos and was finishing at the basket effectively. While he has still knocked down a few jumpers from the left wing, he’s gone cold on the right wing. He’s also not converting as efficiently at the rim and struggling with his midrange shot. Harris was nearly unstoppable in the first meeting between these two teams, but like Stauskas he’s struggled to regain a rhythm.

Branden Dawson
10.2 PPG – .604/.000/.604 (2P%/3P%/EFG%)


Dawson stands just 6-foot-6, but he plays like a big man. 84% of Dawson’s field goal attempts have been in the paint this season and he is 68-of-99 (69%) when he shoots within eight feet from the basket. Beyond eight feet, he’s shooting just 10-of-31 from the floor (32%). Dawson isn’t supposed to get the pins out of his hand until late this week. He may play spot minutes, but will be a limited offensive threat.

Denzel Valentine
7.8 PPG – .431/.320/.449 (2P%/3P%/EFG%)

Denzel Valentine Shot Chart

Valentine is Michigan State’s irrational confidence shooter. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot from anywhere, but he’s not a very efficient player either. His hot spot is the right corner three – 9-of-16, 56% – but he shoots 33% or worse in all of the three-point shooting zones from the wings up. Valentine does have a nice floater (11-of-29 in the far paint) and he also has a serviceable midrange jump shot from the right wing. The chart below illustrates that he’s a poor wing three-point shooter, but he’s been above average in the midrange game.

Denzel Valentine Shooting Zones

Travis Trice
6.9 PPG – .362/.427/.525(2P%/3P%/EFG%)


Trice loves the deep left wing three, but doesn’t have much in the way of a middle game. He shoots just 29% on two-point jumpers outside of the paint, and while he does a decent job of converting at the bucket, only 19% of his field goal attempts are in the paint.

Kenny Kaminski
6.1 PPG – .524/.483/.673 (2P%/3P%/EFG%)


Kaminsky is ‘just a shooter’, with 59 of his 80 field goal attempts originating from behind the arc. His distribution of three-point attempts is fairly balanced, especially for a complementary player. He’s knocked down a few triples from just about every spot around the three-point arc. He shoots 49% on the wings and from the top of the key, but he’s also 7-of-14 in the corners.

  • lsahdjf

    This is the one I’ve been waiting for Dylan! I, too, have been wistfully looking at Goldsberry’s work hoping to, one day, have it be relevant to my team.

    You’re doing god’s work sir.

    • So you guys think this sort of thing is useful? Plan to use it for some Michigan-based analysis coming up and maybe for previewing other teams as well.

      • Mattski

        Yes, but. . . are you reluctant to draw conclusions about what it means for game-planning, saving them, or just striving not to create really long posts?

        • Mattski

          Guess you partly answered the question. . . Don’t forget that some of us are a little challenged. :)

  • Mattski

    Great stuff. As often, I hope that Beilein is taking notes, further developing the game plan around some of these insights. Would be neat to see you do a follow-up, Dylan, charting Sunday’s game and how we defended against what these charts suggested.

    Am curious to hear posters speculate about what this suggests the game plan should be.

    • Ben

      Shot 11-19 from three and 25-30 from the line. That game plan worked well! In seriousness, not sure how the game plan changes from before now that they that have Payne back. Although, you know it will be vital to play with consistent high energy given that we will be much more rested.

  • mikey_mac

    Dylan, this is really great. I’m especially fond of the charts showing the court broken into zones, since those smooth out some of the sample size issues that make the hexagon charts harder to analyze.

    • Yep. My plan is to apply the colors based on broader regions (similar to Goldsberry’s charts) which should help make them more readable. I definitely understand what you mean though.

      • mikey_mac

        Yeah, Goldsberry’s charts are a thing of wonder. I’ll be duly impressed if you can put together similar results on any sort of regular basis!

  • colourizing

    This is really nice. Mind me asking what’s your source for all the data?

  • jakelam2116

    Great piece, Dylan. Haven’t been able to look at it in-depth, but my initial main takeaway is that the Spartans haven’t been very efficient at the in-between game. Of course, isn’t that the case for most teams? And the trick is stopping penetration from that area. Looking forward to being inside Crisler Sunday!

  • spartybrutus

    Izzo to Team – put the ball in the HEX!!! Nice graphical analysis.