Gravity Equals Mass

In the physics of the modern NBA, shooting gravity equals mass. Contributor Ryan Nguyen explores how teams are using shooters as screeners to great effect.

This article is a collaboration between Ben and Ryan Nguyen.

Ryan is a performance analyst for the Canadian Development Women’s National Team, a video coordinator for the Cape Breton Women’s team, and has been cutting up and identifying keys sets on YouTube and Twitter for a few years now. If you’re interested in Xs and Os you should definitely check out his videos and Twitter feed.

Basketball is a big man’s game. Size has always mattered to an astounding degree — even the league’s pygmies are tall by normal standards. It confers advantages putting the ball in the basket, keeping it out of your own, and on the boards. But perhaps the action we most think of as the domain of the big man is screening: the act of literally using your body size to get in the way of a defender.

But as the NBA world has tilted on its axis, this natural order has been upended. The modern NBA rewards skill as much as (if not more than) size. A skilled shooter has gravity, pulling defenders closer to him, in the same way a rolling big man does. On offense, skill can even be a substitute for mass – a change that becomes particularly apparent when we examine trends in screening.

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