AFL Shot Charting: Insights from the 2020 season so far

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Our AFL Shot Charting Explorer represents a goldmine of information regarding how the AFL looks right now, as well as revealing a raft of unique insights into our game.

After three rounds, and a collective 26 matches of footy, we're beginning to get a clearer idea of what’s going on in this most bizarre of seasons. It also makes for the perfect time to check in on our shot charting so as to get an even deeper look under the bonnet. 

Let’s get to it. 

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Goal kicking accuracy is one of the most important, yet most misunderstood features of our sport- and one that can literally win or lose games for your club.

In 2020, making the most of your opportunities has never been so vital, particularly considering the shortened nature of games, and within an already truncated season.

Through 3 rounds, the always hard-to-pin down Hawthorn are leading the way with an overall 63% accuracy. Perhaps the most impressive Hawk this season, Chad Wingard, has converted a stunning 86% of his opportunities into goals, to go along with his 17.3 possessions per game

Hawthorn’s gap to the next most accurate team, Geelong, is substantial. The Cats are hitting 58% of their shots in season 2020, helped enormously by the fact they’ve taken a league-best 19 shots from within 25 metres of goal. Interesting to note, 8-time club leading goal kicker, Tom Hawkins, has converted just 57.1% of his shots this year- his lowest return since his rookie season in 2007. 

At the other end of the spectrum, the winless Fremantle are the league’s least accurate team, posting a paltry 40% shot accuracy on the season. While it’s wonderful to see Matt Taberner fit and firing, an improvement upon his concerning 50% shot accuracy could help steer the Dockers towards a breakthrough win. 

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When we wrote about shot charting during the AFL’s hiatus, we discussed the strong correlation between generating set shots and qualifying for September. It’s worth keeping that in mind when we assess who’s been good and who’s struggled to create shots close to goal this season. 

Interestingly, it’s Carlton who are leading the way in the early going, having already generated 40 set-shots this year. While the Blues are only converting 50% of their set-shot opportunities, its undeniably an encouraging sign for this long-suffering club. In fact, Carlton enjoyed a round-high 17 set-shots against the Cats at Kardinia Park last week, needing every one of them in securing their 2-point win.

Port Adelaide, perhaps the league’s most impressive team so far, has generated 39 set-shots this season. This is a number that’s benefitted greatly by the fact they’ve produced a massive 174 total inside 50s, some 35 more than the next best team, which indeed happens to be the Blues.

While North Melbourne blew their chance for a 3-0 zip start against the Swans last Saturday, they, like Port, have generated 39 set-shots this season, yet are converting just 44% of those chances. The usually reliable Ben Brown has been a major culprit, nailing just 50% of his chances so far, which is a sharp dip from the 65.9% he posted in 2019 and which almost won him a Coleman medal.

Essendon are averaging just 10 set-shots per game so far in 2020, which is the league’s lowest figure. They’re closely followed by the desperately struggling Crows who’ve cobbled together just 22 set-shots on the season. While the Gold Coast Suns come in third-last with just 23 set-shots, they have managed an impressive 36 general shots which is the second best figure in the league behind only Port Adelaide (42). 

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It stands to reason that the closer you can get to goal, the better chance you are of converting that opportunity into six points. 

In 2019, 5 of league’s best teams for generating shots within 25 metres of goal played Finals, which included Richmond and the Giants who of course squared off for the flag. 

This season, St Kilda and Geelong are leading the way, with each having generated 19 shots from within 25 metres of goal. The undefeated Power are next up with 18

Essendon are bringing up the rear, having cobbled together just 7 shots from within 25 metres through their first 2 games. It’s grim news for both Melbourne and Adelaide with each averaging just 4 each on the season. As for the Dogs, a club who finally got back on the winner’s list last Friday night, well they’ve mustered just 6 shots from that range all season, yet are converting at an excellent 83.3% once there. 

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This is one of the most fascinating trends of the modern game, assessing just who’s willing to chance their arm (or foot) from long range. 

Last season, the Western Bulldogs lapped the field producing a massive 202 shots from beyond 50. They’ve slipped towards the middle of the pack this season, with Port Adelaide taking up the running, producing a competition-high 23 shots from beyond the arc. A cautionary note however on Port’s early season penchant for the long ball is that they’re hitting just 22% of those attempts, with only Melbourne (20%) performing worse.

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Perhaps the most innovative feature of our shot charting is its ability to produce an an ‘expected score’. This is a number which can be used to investigate both individual games as well as team performance across the season.

Our ‘expected score’ contributes to a better indication beyond a game’s final score or team’s win-loss record on the season.

And we’re indeed seeing some fascinating trends in the early part of the 2020 season. 

So far, it’s the Western Bulldogs who are once again leaving the most meat on the bone, with the Doggies performing a whole 33.2 points worse than what their expected score would imply. The Saints, a club who like the Dogs have had their fair share of goal kicking turmoil, is next on the list having left 29.3 points on the table. 

A scary notion for the rest of the league is that the barnstorming Port Adelaide should probably have caused even more scoreboard damage this season. In fact, the Power should have an extra 23.5 points than they actually have. 

As for clubs who might be in for something of a rude awakening, the Bombers might have some reason for concern.

Although Essendon have won their first two games, our expected scores suggest they’ve been rather fortunate, scoring a full 19 points more than they really should have. This is only amplified by the fact that Essendon’s two wins have been by a combined 12 points. 

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James Rosewarne

James is a writer. He likes fiction and music. He is a stingray attack survivor. He lives in Wollongong.

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