Ranking the Best Pure Scorers in the NBA Entering 2012-13
Scoring is the most glamorous aspect of basketball, and almost every NBA player loves to put the ball into the basket as often as possible. Just as with everything else in life, though, some people are better at meeting the goal than others.
These 20 players are the best of the best when it comes to pure scoring.
Now, of course, that begs the question: What exactly does pure scoring entail?
To be a pure scorer, a player must be able to maintain efficiency while scoring in volume. It doesn't matter how the points are scored, as long as they're put up on the scoreboard. A dunk holds the same value as a beautiful shot from just inside the three-point arc.
However, there is a distinction that needs to be made between some shots. You're more of a pure scorer if you create your own shot and score it than if you rely on teammates to create your opportunities.
How Pure Scoring Was Calculated
If you've followed my work for a while, then you probably know that I like to stay as objective as possible in situations like this. If I can come up with a formula, then I'm going to do it.
The way to quantify pure scoring stems from total offense created, a metric that Kelly Scaletta and I created to determine the most dynamic offensive players in the NBA. The only difference is that offensive rebounding, turnovers and passing were eliminated from the equation.
Here is the relevant sections from the initial development of the stat:
Essentially, you can argue that there are two components to every shot: the creation of the shot and the execution of the shot itself. Sometimes a player controls both of these components, but in some situations, multiple players are involved.
For example, consider this scenario: Chris Paul penetrates and brings Blake Griffin’s defender over to stop him; Paul dishes the ball to Griffin, who throws down the dunk for two points.
In that situation, Paul created the shot, and Griffin made it. Most metrics will give two points to both of them, essentially double-counting the basket. Only two points were scored though, not four. Therefore, we're splitting the credit evenly between the distributor and the finisher.
The field goals that a player made were split up into two categories: unassisted and assisted. Players received full credit for unassisted field goals if they served as both shot-creator and shot-maker, but they received only half credit for assisted ones. This applies to both two-pointers and shots from behind the three-point arc.
Additionally, credit was given for free throws made and taken away for free throws missed. Missed field goals counted against the player:
However, all missed field goals aren’t lost possessions. Many times, teams score on missed field goals. In fact, the tip-in is one of the most efficient shots in the game, and literally none of those happen without a missed shot.
As a result, missed shots were more detrimental to the cause on teams that were less effective on the offensive glass.
Essentially, pure scoring can be quantified by summing unassisted points per game, assisted points per game and free throws made per game then subtracting missed free throws per game and the weighted version of missed field goals.
20. Ty Lawson: 7.92
Team: Denver Nuggets
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 7.95 unassisted points per game (UPPG), 2.72 assisted points per game (APPG)
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 48.8 field-goal percentage (FG%), 82.4 free-throw percentage (FT%)
The speedy point guard leads off our list heading into the 2012-13 campaign, but don't expect to find him this low after he takes yet another step forward with the Denver Nuggets. The expected growth of the players around him and the athletic presence that is Andre Iguodala will only help create opportunities for Ty Lawson.
Even though he was uncharacteristically inefficient from the field last year—for Lawson, not for the average guard—and shot below 50 percent for the first time in his career, the former North Carolina Tar Heel still averaged 16.4 points per game.
19. John Wall: 7.99
Team: Washington Wizards
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 8.94 UPPG, 1.28 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 42.3 FG%, 78.9 FT%
It's amazing what John Wall has been able to accomplish without a three-point shot. Seriously though, Wall made only three shots from behind the arc last season, and all of them were the direct result of assists.
Wall's scoring game comes from his ability to use his speed and quickness to go around defenders and beat them to the interior of the defense. As his game developed, we're going to watch the No. 1 pick blossom into one of the most potent scoring options in all of basketball.
He's already almost there, even without that all-too-necessary jumper.
18. Rudy Gay: 8.02
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 8.50 UPPG, 3.61 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 45.4 FG%, 79.1 FT%
Rudy Gay is a good enough free-throw shooter that he should attempt to draw more contact when he drives to the rim. With his athleticism, he'd still be able to finish plays around the basket, and he'd actually get to the charity stripe once in a while.
The small forward averaged only four shots per game from the free-throw line, but he made up for it with his jumper, which is nearly unblockable thanks to its high release point and trajectory.
Gay had a fairly high proportion of his points come off assists from his teammates on the Memphis Grizzlies, but he's by no means inept when it comes to creating his own shot.
17. Jarrett Jack: 8.06
Team: Golden State Warriors
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 8.82 UPPG, 1.93 APG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 45.6 FG%, 87.2 FT%
Every once in a while, when you create objective lists, you get a result that makes you scratch your head and recheck the data you entered. That's where Jarrett Jack comes in.
It boggles my mind that he made it in over players like Paul Pierce (No. 24) and Joe Johnson (No. 30), but here you have it.
Jack is surprisingly adept at scoring points without the help of his teammates' passes, and he's remarkably efficient from the free-throw line.
To be fair, Jack did have one of the most underrated campaigns during the 2011-12 season, averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 assists per game for the New Orleans Hornets.
16. Monta Ellis: 8.11
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 9.46 UPPG, 3.56 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 43.3 FG%, 79.6 FT%
So this one probably isn't as surprising. Monta Ellis has developed a reputation as a premier scoring guard for good reason.
He loves to shoot the ball, and he's quite good at getting it to drop through the net whenever it leaves his hands. Ellis might not be the most efficient player in the league, but he's not too terribly ineffective, and he makes up for his misses with three-pointers and charity shots.
I was a bit surprised by the ratio of unassisted-to-assisted points per game because of how much time Ellis spends with the ball, but the numbers don't lie.
15. Dirk Nowitzki: 8.38
Team: Dallas Mavericks
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 5.64 UPPG, 5.44 APG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 45.7 FG%, 89.6 FT%
Only two players in the entire NBA scored more assisted points per game than Dirk Nowitzki did during the 2011-12 season—Kevin Love and Kevin Durant. Apparently there's just something about being named Kevin...or Dirk.
With his devastating jumper that seems to tickle the rafters before it starts to ascend, Dirk has become one of the most reliable mid-range shooters in The Association. His one-legged fadeaway is just brutal for the opposition. It's simply impossible to block.
Dirk has redefined what seven-footers are able to do in this league, and he still has plenty of points left to score in his storied career.
14. James Harden: 8.50
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 5.29 UPPG, 3.26 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 49.1 FG%, 84.6 FT%
James Harden's efficiency shooting the ball is absolutely breathtaking. His beard and mohawk combination is as well.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year finished second in both true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage, which is truly astounding for a guard. He doesn't ever take shots from outside the paint and in front of the three-point arc unless he's wide open.
During the 2011-12 season, Harden made just 16 shots from three to nine feet, five from 10 to 15 and 24 from 16 to 23. Yet he still managed to average just a shade under 17 points per contest.
13. Tony Parker: 9.24
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 11.00 UPPG, 1.73 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 48.0 FG%, 79.9 FT%
Tony Parker is the force that makes the San Antonio Spurs offense run to perfection. The ball is in his hands whenever plays are being made, unless the Spurs are swinging it around for a corner three-pointer.
The French point guard scores the vast majority of his points after creating his own shot. He uses screens almost too effectively to be fair and is quite adept at getting into the lane for a creative finish.
Add efficiency to those shot-creating abilities and you have the reason that Parker earns such a lofty ranking. If he was permitted to take over even more than Gregg Popovich allows, he'd almost certainly be in the top 10.
12. Deron Williams: 9.30
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 9.79 UPPG, 3.26 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 40.7 FG%, 84.3 FT%
I'll be quite curious to see where Deron Williams falls after the 2012-13 season now that he's surrounded with potent offensive options. Without Joe Johnson and with Brook Lopez rehabbing from a foot injury, the offensive onus was on D-Will throughout the season.
As a result, the point guard was forced into taking far too many shots, and his shooting efficiency plummeted.
Even if he averages less than 20 points per game after the move to the Barclays Center—which I suspect he will—he'll still be ranked near the top 10 because of the expected bump in efficiency.
11. LaMarcus Aldridge: 9.60
Team: Portland Trail Blazers
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 8.16 UPPG, 4.70 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 51.2 FG%, 81.4 FT%
LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the rare big men whose shooting range extends well beyond the paint and who can knock down shots from the charity stripe. As evidenced by his 81.4 free-throw percentage, Aldridge doesn't mind at all when defenses get a little bit too physical.
The second-best power forward in basketball finally got the credit he deserved last year when he was selected to the All-Star team, and not much will change during the 2012-13 campaign.
Aldridge will still be a terrific scorer, but he'll also rely on his teammates' passing once more.
10. Carmelo Anthony: 9.76
Team: New York Knicks
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 10.33 UPPG, 3.46 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 43.0 FG%, 80.4 FT%
I was a bit surprised by Carmelo Anthony just barely making the top 10, but too many things in this formula work against his style of play.
Although Melo thrives in isolation situations and dominates with his back to the basket, he also relies on a bunch of catch-and-shoot opportunities to score his points. Therefore, his assisted points per game make up a large portion of his point breakdown.
Additionally, Melo has never been known for his efficiency. He's a volume shooter—a really good one, but still a volume shooter.
9. Kyrie Irving: 10.10
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 10.12 UPPG, 2.52 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 46.9 FG%, 87.2 FT%
Get excited, Cleveland Cavalier fans, because Kyrie Irving is truly the real deal at point guard. This dude is a scoring stud, even though he's still not yet 20 years old.
Irving is almost unstoppable with the basketball in his hands. Even his moves have moves, and it's perilously difficult to get in his way when he has a full head of steam.
His creativity is impressive, and Irving can spin, slice and dice his way through any defense. The ball is under his control a lot, which results in the majority of his points coming from the unassisted variety.
Irving was remarkably efficient as a rookie, shooting the ball well from everywhere on the court. Now imagine what will happen when he plays more than 30 minutes per game.
8. Kevin Love: 10.57
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 7.38 UPPG, 5.88 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 44.8 FG%, 82.4 FT%
No player in the NBA scored more assisted points per game than Kevin Love, who relied on the superb passing of Ricky Rubio to score quite a few of his buckets. For example, he made 105 three-pointers during the 2012-13 season, and 97.2 percent of those resulted from assists.
Love is still a sensational scorer, one who is coming off a season in which he averaged 26.0 points per contest. He can score with post moves, put shots back into the basket after offensive rebounds or step out to the three-point arc and drill his attempts.
It's highly unlikely that Love improves on this No. 8 finish unless he develops so many post moves that he shoots over 50 percent from the field. Even that might not help too much because he'd have to place less emphasis on his perimeter game.
7. Dwyane Wade: 10.65
Team: Miami Heat
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 10.47 UPPG, 3.41 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 49.7 FG%, 79.1 FT%
Dwyane Wade might be plagued by almost constant injuries, but he's still one of the best slashing guards that the NBA has to offer.
It's pretty impressive that he's able to average 22.1 points per game without anything that even resembles a three-point shot. Wade only made 15 triples during all of the lockout-shortened season.
LeBron James definitely makes the Miami Heat better, but he does make Wade take a bit of a backseat as well. The ball isn't in Flash's hands as often, which shifts his ratio of unassisted points and assisted points in the wrong direction for these purposes.
6. Derrick Rose: 11.32
Team: Chicago Bulls
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 12.59 UPPG, 2.14 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 43.5 FG%, 81.2 FT%
The Chicago Bulls point guard might have missed a lot of time due to injuries during the 2011-12 season—a situation that is going to repeat itself during the follow-up campaign, unfortunate as that may be—but he was still one of the most dynamic scorers in the game when healthy.
Rose scores an insane number of points off shots that he created by himself. Only two players in the league had more unassisted points per game than Rose did in 2011-12, and they both have yet to show up in the rankings.
The former MVP could stand to raise his shooting efficiency, but we're really nitpicking now.
5. Chris Paul: 11.53
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 12.32 UPPG, 1.58 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 47.8 FG%, 86.1 FT%
If there's any doubt that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league, there really shouldn't be. Even though he's an insanely good passer and a top-notch defender, CP3 is still a top-five scorer in The Association.
Just look at that ratio of unassisted points per game to assisted points per game. No one in the league has a bigger one.
Paul is unbelievably dynamic with the ball in his hands, despite the fact that it seems as though he's not even trying for the first half of the game. When Paul decides to take over a game, he takes it to another level.
4. Kobe Bryant: 11.97
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 11.53 UPPG, 4.88 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 43.0 FG%, 84.5 APPG
Kobe Bryant relies on a surprising number of passes to get the job done on offense. Even though it seems like he always has the ball in his hands, his teammates still play a vital role in his scoring totals.
The shooting guard takes his position title a little bit too seriously, choosing to shoot almost every time he gets the ball. Obviously I'm exaggerating here, because The Black Mamba is still one of the most deadly offensive players that the league has to offer.
Kobe is another interesting case for 2012-13, much like Deron Williams. How will his numbers change now that he's surrounded by Steve Nash and Dwight Howard?
3. Russell Westbrook: 12.16
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 14.15 UPPG, 2.15 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 45.7 FG%, 82.3 FT%
Russell Westbrook may be a little bit too prone to pulling up and shooting jumpers early in the shot clock, but you've got to be kidding me if you don't think this guy is an offensive powerhouse.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is unfairly athletic. His speed and jumping abilities are virtually unmatched in the current landscape of the league. And trust me when I say that he takes advantages of those gifts.
Westbrook's scoring fills the same role that many players' passing occupies. Defenses have to respect both his jumper and his driving abilities, so they can't key up on Kevin Durant and the other scorers on the Thunder.
2. Kevin Durant: 13.45
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 10.48 UPPG, 5.50 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 49.6 FG%, 86.0 FT%
Kevin Durant may have won each of the last three scoring titles, but he still can't earn the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
There's really only one reason for that: Durant doesn't create shots as effectively as he needs to. He relies on catch-and-shoots from the outside, and although he's quite proficient, that simply isn't as impressive as doing all the work by himself.
As you can see by the distance between Durant and his teammate on the Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of pure scoring scores, Durant is easily one of the best two scorers in the NBA today. He just isn't the absolute best.
1. LeBron James: 14.28
Team: Miami Heat
2011-12 Point Breakdown: 12.97 UPPG, 3.96 APPG
2011-12 Shooting Percentages: 53.1 FG%, 77.1 FT%
LeBron James took his offensive game to another level during the 2011-12 season. The added post moves enabled his efficiency to rise up, and LeBron clearly asserted himself as the best player in all of basketball.
His offense was only part of that, but it was a massive one. You don't find many forwards who can average 27.1 points per game while shooting 53.1 percent from the field and still making some three-pointers. That's an unreal combination of skills.
James is the truest thing we have to a point forward in the league, and that's reflected in the number of unassisted points per game that he scores. Only Russell Westbrook topped him in that category, and the Miami Heat superstar still managed to score nearly four assisted points per game.
Love him or hate him, but don't deny his greatness.