Mastering LeetCode's "K Closest Points to Origin": A Comprehensive Guide

Dive into efficient algorithms for finding the K closest points to the origin, including a exploration of sorting and heap-based solutions with Python

Mastering LeetCode's "K Closest Points to Origin": A Comprehensive Guide

Welcome to another installment in my software engineering interview tutorial series. Today, I'm excited to walk you through a fascinating problem from LeetCode: "K Closest Points to Origin" (LeetCode 973).

This challenge not only tests your algorithmic thinking but also your ability to apply data structures in a practical scenario. I will meticulously dissect various strategies to approach this problem, elucidate the intricacies of each solution, and present Python code snippets with ample commentary.

Introduction to the Problem

Imagine we're given a set of points on a 2D plane, each represented by a coordinate pair, and our task is to find the k points nearest to the origin. The proximity between any two points is determined by the Euclidean distance, which, in simpler terms, is the straight-line distance between them.

Given an array of points where points[i] = [x<sub>i</sub>, y<sub>i</sub>] represents a point on the X-Y plane and an integer k, return the k closest points to the origin (0, 0).

The distance between two points on the X-Y plane is the Euclidean distance (i.e., √(x<sub>1</sub> - x<sub>2</sub>)<sup>2</sup> + (y<sub>1</sub> - y<sub>2</sub>)<sup>2</sup>).

You may return the answer in any order. The answer is guaranteed to be unique (except for the order that it is in).

How do we systematically arrive at this conclusion for a larger set of points? Let's dive in.

Consideration of Different Approaches

  1. Basic Sorting: The most straightforward approach is to sort the entire list of points by their Euclidean distance from the origin and then select the first k points. This method is simple and effective but not the most efficient for large datasets since it involves sorting all points regardless of how far they are from the origin.

  2. Heaps: A more sophisticated approach uses a max heap to maintain a collection of the k closest points encountered during iteration. By pushing the negative of their distances onto the heap, we ensure that we can efficiently discard the farthest point when the heap exceeds size k. This method optimizes our search to focus only on the necessary points, improving efficiency, especially when k is much smaller than the total number of points.

Big O Analysis

  • Basic Sorting: This method involves calculating the Euclidean distance for each point, sorting the entire array based on these distances, and then selecting the top k points. The time complexity is O(N log N) due to sorting, and the space complexity is O(1, assuming the sort is done in place.

  • Heaps: By employing a max heap, we keep track of the k closest points with a time complexity of O(N log K), where N is the total number of points. This improvement comes from only maintaining a heap of size k throughout the process. The space complexity is O(K) for storing the heap.

Solutions in Python

# Basic Sorting Solution
def kClosest_sorting(points, k):
    # Sort points by their squared Euclidean distance from the origin
    return sorted(points, key=lambda point: point[0]**2 + point[1]**2)[:k]
# Heap-based Solution
import heapq
def kClosest_heap(points, k):
    heap = []
    for (x, y) in points:
        dist = -(x*x + y*y)  # Use negative for max heap
        heapq.heappush(heap, (dist, (x, y)))
        if len(heap) > k:
    return [tuple[1] for tuple in heap]

In both snippets, we aim for clarity and efficiency. The sorting-based solution is remarkably straightforward, leveraging Python's powerful built-in sorting capabilities. The heap-based solution, while a bit more complex, introduces an optimization that is crucial for handling larger datasets efficiently. It's an excellent example of how a more nuanced understanding of data structures can lead to significant performance improvements.


Solving the "K Closest Points to Origin" problem from LeetCode has given us an opportunity to compare and contrast two different algorithmic approaches: basic sorting and using a heap.

While the sorting approach is more intuitive and straightforward, the heap-based solution offers improved efficiency, especially as the size of the input grows. Understanding the trade-offs between these methods is vital for making informed decisions in software engineering interviews and beyond.

I hope this detailed walkthrough has illuminated the path towards mastering this intriguing problem.

Happy coding, and remember, the journey to becoming a proficient problem-solver is as rewarding as the destination itself.

Did you find this article valuable?

Support Sean Coughlin by becoming a sponsor. Any amount is appreciated!