What is Going On With Doug McDermott’s Home and Road Shooting Splits? — The Playgrounder

Last week, while I mindlessly scrolled through Twitter, a tweet from Indy Cornrows/ Premium Hoops blogger and friend of the program Mark Schindler (who I highly recommend you follow if you aren’t already) caught my eye:

Mentioned this a few weeks ago, but Doug McDermott’s Road/Away split continues this season

(+ is differential from hole to away)

18/19: +7% FG +18% 3pFG

19/20: +12%FG +20% 3pFG

20/21: +14%FG +16% 3pFG

Just wild. SSS this season, but assuming it’ll track

- Mark Schindler (@MSchindlerNBA) January 24, 2021

Doug McDermott, career 41 percent three-point shooter and haver of beautiful chemistry with Domantas Sabonis , has been ice-cold while playing in Indiana. Weird stats are one of my favorite little things about following sports (like the home court advantage in empty arenas this season ), and this certainly fits the bill. So, like Charlie Kelly searching for Pepe Silvia, I dug deeper.

When playing in Indiana, McDermott is shooting noticeably worse on two kinds of shots: open three-pointers (classified as open or wide open on the NBA stats website) and free throws. He shoots slightly worse on other shots at home as well, but it is not nearly as drastic of a difference:

These splits have been consistent for every season of McDermott’s tenure in Indiana. So far, the trend has continued this season; McDermott is currently shooting 32.5 percent on 40 open three-point attempts at home, compared to 38.7 percent on 31 attempts on the road, and 72.0 percent on 25 home free throw attempts, versus 100 percent on 8 road attempts.

This could just be a statistical fluke or a product of randomness. With something weird like this, it often is; Darryl Blackport did some work several years ago where he showed that it takes around 750 attempts for three-point percentage to stabilize, and McDermott is far short of that mark on career shots in Indiana. Yet, the difference is so great that it is likely that there is something to this. For McDermott’s splits to even out over 750 attempts both home and away, he would have to shoot far better at home than on the road over his next 500 attempts in both locations. So, while the difference may not stay quite as large as it currently is, it is likely that McDermott actually is worse at shooting at home.

There are not very many players with McDermott’s long-range shooting splits going back to the 2010–11 season. Most players shoot about the same at home as on the road (the average percentage goes up by less than one percent for home games vs away games). There are some other players with big splits, but most are on small volumes.

The most similar player is Ryan Anderson during his tenure with the Rockets, when he shot 33.6 percent at home and 44.7 percent on the road over 845 total three-point attempts. Like McDermott, Anderson missed a large percentage of open threes at home. Anderson also shot 73.6 percent on home free throws and 90.3 percent on away free throws over 243 total attempts, an even bigger difference on free throws than McDermott’s. Dennis Schroder also shot poorly in Oklahoma City.

As for players who shot better at home on high volumes, Carlos Delfino shot 42.3 percent from three at home with Milwaukee and 30.0 percent on the road on 523 total attempts, while Bojan Bogdanovic shot 41.9 percent at home with Brooklyn and 29.9 percent on the road on 594 total attempts. Still, none of these differences match the scale of McDermott, who has been 17 percent better away from home.

So what is going on with McDermott? Why can’t he shoot at home? McDermott is not used differently at home versus on the road. He takes similar numbers of shots per game everywhere. And the difference in his splits comes primarily on open threes and free throws, where the defense has little to no impact on the shot, so it is probably not due to any change in opponent quality at home versus on the road.

One possibility is that the Bankers Life Fieldhouse could have poor sightlines for shooting, for everyone. The background for a shot obviously changes from location to location, and some arenas have backgrounds that negatively affect shooters. There is some evidence that college players shoot worse at the big stadiums in the NCAA tournament, since their depth perception is thrown off. The opposite was true in the “shooter’s gym” of the NBA bubble, where many players shot better than normal (though, interestingly, not McDermott). However, this does not seem to be the answer to McDermott’s home woes since the average shooting percentage on all shots for all players is about the same in Indiana as it is everywhere else. McDermott is the only player with a huge drop in shooting percentage in Indiana. This article on Inpredictable indicates that there is not much of a difference from arena to arena in the NBA, though players do seem to shoot a little better in Cleveland and worse in Houston.

Along these lines, I found another hypothesis. Last season, Tony East wrote for the Fansided Pacers blog Eight Points Nine Seconds about this subject. In it, he pointed to a tweet by Ben Pfeifer and a Reddit post about how color-blindness can affect depth perception (I told you I was diving deep into this). Remember how Ryan Anderson has the most similar split to McDermott? Well, Reddit user u/boxonfire pointed out that red-green color-blindness is pretty common, and Anderson shot worse at arenas with red theming, and has some pretty in-depth research to back up the hypothesis. It was pretty interesting, but Anderson later refuted his alleged color blindness . So color blindness was not the cause of Anderson’s home woes, but could it be for McDermott?

The Pacers play in a yellow-themed arena, not a red one, but yellow-blue color blindness does exist , though it is rarer than red-green color blindness. Red-themed arenas are much more prevalent in the NBA than yellow, but both Oracle Arena and the Chase Center, the past two homes of the Warriors, have been yellow. In away games at the Warriors, he is 9-for-17 from three, and 1-for-1 from the free throw line-a point against him struggling in yellow arenas, though on a small sample size. I also tried the Celtics (4-for-9 from three, 2-for-5 from the charity stripe), since the TD Garden has yellow seats, though the fans don’t wear yellow there, and the Lakers (9-for 20-from three and 3-for-3 from the free throw line), since the court is yellow and the fans wear yellow, even though the seats aren’t. McDermott has not struggled in either place.

As for blue arenas, there is not much there either. The only blue arena where he has a notably poor split is Minnesota, where he has shot just 5-for-18 from three. But this is more than balanced out by the other blue arenas. For what it’s worth, I can’t find any reference of McDermott sharing that he is color blind. This out-of-the-box theory probably isn’t the answer.

When looking into his performance by arena, I noticed that McDermott also shot poorly in the NBA bubble, making just 10-of-29 threes there, though he did go 5-for-6 from the free throw line. He also maintained negative home-road splits during his tenures with the Bulls, Thunder, Knicks, and in college at Creighton , though all to much smaller degrees than he has in Indiana (he did have a positive home-road split while playing for the Mavericks). So maybe it is just that he shoots poorly at home, regardless of where home is. As for McDermott’s opinion, he has no idea. When asked by about the difference in his splits, he said, “I don’t know, I usually look at overall and not get too hung up on the home and road.” While I’m at a bit of a loss for the cause of this phenomenon, I think it will continue. When the Pacers are drawing up a key play at a crucial moment, they should consider the location of the game when determining whether to go to McDermott.

Originally published at https://www.theplaygrounder.com on February 1, 2021.

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