Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On Shooting Field Goals

Jackie Stiles (#10) should just let Cara Consuegra shoot.

One of the great things about basketball is that there is a lot of action. It was the invention of the 24-second clock that changed basketball from becoming something like football and baseball. Baseball's selling point is that there is a potential for action, and every ball or strike changes that potential by forcing the pitcher to adjust what he does. Football's action is actually the result of a long march downfield and all of the "hard hitting" disguises the fact that there's really not much of anything going on in football - the famous phrase is "violence punctuated by committee meetings", with a lot of that clash of bodies contributing nothing to the final result.

Instead, basketball is a collection of mini-dramas with the goal of taking a ball and putting it into the basket. Each of these dramas is interesting in itself, and each of these dramas plays out in brief periods of time. If the attempt succeeds or fails, the other team will get a chance to do what the first team couldn't.

Baseball doesn't care where the ball is hit, as long as it's hit between the two foul lines. Football doesn't even require that you carry the ball to the endzone to score - you can always kick the ball between the uprights if you are forced to. Basketball, on the other hand, requires that the ball be fired through a small circular rim not much bigger than the ball is. (Basketball and golf have that much in common.)

Like making a putt from six feet, people underestimate just how difficult this task is. It's very hard to put that ball through the rim when a) you only have 24 or 30 seconds to do it, b) there are very specific rules as to how this ball may be carried to the hoop, c) you can make only minor physical contact with someone while moving with the ball, d) for women, the rim is suspended in the air so high that it can't be reached by a simple jump and e) there are possibly people who are taller than you who could just bat the ball away as you hurl it.

For some reason, Europeans look at the 2-point field goal and the 3-point field goal as entirely separate acts. They are calculated in different columns, with record-keeping separate. In America, the 3-point field goal is seen as a special kind of field goal, with the 3-point column a subset of the 2-point column. Even though the record keeping doesn't really matter, I think the Americans are looking at it the right way.

There are 48 WNBA players who played their entire careers without scoring a field goal. You would think that those careers would be short, but they're not as short as one might think. Cara Consuegra was given 15 games and 50 minutes of play to try to get the ball in the bucket. Five attempts. All in vain. She did, however, make two of four free throws, but a free throw is not a field goal.

At the other end of the table, there are only 31 players in WNBA history that have made 1,000 field goals. Only one has made 2,000, and one is very close behind her. Those players might end up playing on the same team this year. It's truly an amazing thing to make a field goal.

Here are the WNBA leaders in field goals made:

Most Field Goals, Career

1. Lisa Leslie, 2188
2. Tina Thompson, 1915
3. Sheryl Swoopes, 1721
4. Tangela Smith, 1701
5. Lauren Jackson, 1615
6. Katie Smith, 1575
7. Vickie Johnson, 1545
8. Chamique Holdsclaw (*), 1531
9. Yolanda Griffith, 1497
10. Nykesha Sales, 1481

(*) contracted to the Atlanta Dream

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