Best and Worst Shooting Performances of the NBA Postseason so Far

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Best and Worst Shooting Performances of the NBA Postseason so Far
USA TODAY Sports

The common mantra you hear is how a player can shoot his team into a game or out of a game. They won because of him, or they lost because of him. Are those notions real?

Let’s look at some of the best and worst shooting performances from this postseason so far.

First, on a side note, we know there are many aspects of the game, and it is fully acknowledged that shooting is not all there is to a quality basketball performance. That, however, doesn’t mean we need to look at every aspect of the game in order to focus on one single facet.

Parts can still be analyzed independently. Just as a low assist total wouldn’t degrade a great shooting game, neither does a high assist total annul a poor shooting game. It may matter in terms of his overall game but not in terms of his shooting.

We can look at the game as a whole and break down into its individual facets. But for the purposes of this article, we are only concerned with analyzing shooting.

In doing such analysis, some criteria need to be set. True shooting percentage does as nice of a job as anything of measuring a player's overall shooting efficiency. It factors in three-point percentages and the ability to get to the line.

True shooting percentage is a metric devised by John Hollinger and is described in this way:

True Shooting Percentage—what a player's shooting percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers. True Shooting Percentage = Total points / [(FGA + (0.44 x FTA)].

(The second part of that above formula is what are known as “True Shooting Attempts,” which are the equivalent number of attempts a player uses when combining field-goal and free-throw attempts. That will be important later; just keep it in mind, for now).

True shooting percentage does have one problem. It ignores the idea that as players take more shots, they demand more defensive attention, which pushes their shooting percentage down. Klay Thompson’s true shooting percentage of 95.5 percent in Game 2 of Golden State's first-round series with the Denver Nuggets is absolutely insane. But it came on 11 shots, mostly on the strength of going 5-of-6 from three.

How does that square with teammate Stephen Curry’s playoff-best 44 points on 61.3 percent, which came in Game 1 of Golden State's Western Conference semifinals matchup with San Antonio?  

It’s not realistic to think that if Thompson had kept shooting, he would have scored at the same rate, so this is the issue. How do you balance better percentages with higher point totals. Multiplying the shooting percentage by the point total gives us a nice balance. 

The idea is that a low true shooting percentage will compensate for a merely high point total, but it won’t replace it. Neither does a massive scoring sum mask bad shooting. Both are accounted for. The formula worked surprisingly well to the eyeball test with no visibly "guffawable" results.

Here are the top 10 results based on true shooting times points.

Rk

Player

Date

Tm

Opp

Result

TS%

Pts

TS%*PTS

1

Kevin Durant

4/29/2013

OKC

HOU

L

84.1%

38

31.9

2

Matt Barnes

5/3/2013

LAC

MEM

L

97.9%

30

29.4

3

Stephen Curry

5/6/2013

GSW

SAS

L

61.3%

44

27.0

4

James Harden

5/1/2013

HOU

OKC

W

85.2%

31

26.4

5

Stephen Curry

4/28/2013

GSW

DEN

W

85.2%

31

26.4

6

Kevin Durant

5/7/2013

OKC

MEM

L

68.5%

36

24.7

7

Nate Robinson

4/27/2013

CHI

BRK

W

69.9%

34

23.8

8

Kevin Durant

4/27/2013

OKC

HOU

W

57.4%

41

23.5

9

LeBron James

4/21/2013

MIA

MIL

W

85.2%

27

23.0

10

Ty Lawson

4/26/2013

DEN

GSW

L

64.1%

35

22.5

 

What we have are high-scoring, highly efficient shooting nights. LeBron James' insane 27 points on 11 field-goal attempts is in there but isn’t trying to overshadow Curry’s very efficient 44-point night either.

Interestingly, the teams for the players with the best shooting performances have an overall playoff record of 5-5. It’s pretty strong evidence that regardless of how well a player shoots, and no matter how high his scoring total, he can only do so much to help his team win.  

Regardless of whether the team won or lost though, the individual performances merit respect. Let’s zoom in on a few of these performances by checking out some remarkable shot charts.

First, let’s take a gander at the No. 1 shooting performance of the postseason so far, Kevin Durant’s celestial 38 points on a true shooting percentage of .841.

The only places Durant wasn’t hitting from are where he wasn’t shooting from, but this is often the difference between a great shooting night and a poor shooting night—knowing when and where to take your shots.

Of course, sometimes you just get ridiculously hot, and even the sun hangs its head in defeat, such as when Matt Barnes put in this Barnes-burning performance. Note the particular ridiculousness from deep.

When it comes to pure liquid-molten-lava hot, though, the best performance from deep this postseason goes to Klay Thompson. Watch him as he drains three after three.

His teammate, Stephen Curry has the best scoring total in this year’s playoffs with 44 points. Here’s his shot chart. Note how well he spreads out his shots. When you can hit from everywhere, do hit from everywhere.

Of course people have bad days too. To determine the worst shooting performances I used slightly different criteria, so as not to reward people for throwing up excessive shots and racking up points through a plethora of possessions.

For that, I looked at a new spin on true shooting percentage. Rather than just going by the percentage, I determined the number of “wasted possessions,” which represents how many possessions a player wasted by not scoring over what a player with a .500 true shooting percentage would have scored using the same number of attempts. (The league average is .534, so that’s generous).

To determine that, I calculated the difference between points and true shooting attempts (from above) and divided by two or (TSA-PTS)/2. Again, the results meshed nicely.

Here are the 10 most woeful shooting performances of the postseason so far.

 

Rk

Player

Date

Tm

Opp

Result

PTS

TSA

Wasted Possessions

1

Nate Robinson

5/13/2013

CHI

MIA

L

0

12.0

6.0

2

Dwyane Wade

4/25/2013

MIA

MIL

W

4

13.8

4.9

3

Jeff Teague

5/1/2013

ATL

IND

L

7

16.4

4.7

4

Brandon Jennings

4/23/2013

MIL

MIA

L

8

16.8

4.4

5

Joe Johnson

5/4/2013

BRK

CHI

L

6

14.4

4.2

6

J.R. Smith

5/7/2013

NYK

IND

W

8

15.9

3.9

7

Corey Brewer

4/30/2013

DEN

GSW

W

4

11.9

3.9

8

Kevin Martin

5/1/2013

OKC

HOU

L

3

10.9

3.9

9

Carmelo Anthony

4/28/2013

NYK

BOS

L

36

43.8

3.9

10

Andre Miller

4/26/2013

DEN

GSW

L

7

14.3

3.7

 

Here we do see that a horrible game does seem to have more impact on losing than a great game does on winning—though there are three players in the bottom 10 whose teams notched wins in spite of their shooting futility, so it's not absolute.

Before beating up on Nate Robinson, (we’ll save the worst for last), let’s look at a few of the other abysmal performances.

Carmelo Anthony, coming in at No. 9, is a perfect example of what I mean by a player racking up points by using a massive number of possessions. He used 44 in the loss against the Celtics, far and away the most any player has used this year.

His shot chart reveals all—as in "all" the places he was firing from. At least, he was an equal opportunity misser, not just picking and choosing from where to hoist bricks. The 25 missed field goals is the most by any player this postseason.

Players can be ridiculously hot one day, then ice cold a few days later. Kevin Durant’s closeout (or should I say closedout) performance against the Memphis Grizzlies was horrid. It’s as though that game didn’t care about the fact he also had the most efficient game in the postseason.

In fact, if we include turnovers in our wasted possessions formula, Durant had the third most team-detrimental night of the playoffs. And according to Elias, you could make the argument that no one has ever had a worse elimination game.

Durant is the only player to commit at last seven turnovers and make less than 25 percent of his shots from the field on at least five attempts in a game in which his team was eliminated from the playoffs. (The NBA began tracking individual turnovers in 1977-78.)

Here’s a look at that shot chart.

This really suggests two things: One, don’t assume if he had been ridiculous that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have won. When he had his great night, they lost too. So there’s that.

The second thing is that you can’t define a player by a single game, or their worst performances, as is the habit of some irascible critics. No player “is” who he is in his worst moments, nor is he who he “is” in his best moments. He is the amalgamation of all his moments: good, bad and in between.

For further evidence, witness Dwyane Wade’s woeful evening in which he scored just four points on nearly 14 true shooting attempts. The Heat won.

And now we move to this year’s worst performance, which is actually the worst performance in the history of the playoffs! We are speaking of Nate Robinson’s 0-for-12 night against the Miami Heat. How bad was it for the Bulls?

The Chicago point guards who played were actually outscored by Derrick Rose, who didn’t suit up all season. Neither player scored a point for his own team. However, Marquis Teague inadvertently tipped a shot in for the Heat, so Rose won the shootout zero to negative two!

Robinson didn’t just have an awful night, he had an “ohful” night.  Per Elias, he was the first player since the advent of the shot clock to attempt 12 field goals and remain scoreless.

Here’s a look at his shot chart. This is not what Bulls fans intend when they say, “see red.”

And if that’s not enough for you, here are all twelve misses in all their ohful glory.

Pointing back to our lesson for the day, Robinson is on the good list as well. Players have good days. Players have bad days. Players have in-between days.

We just need to remember that most of the time, regardless of which type of performance it is, there is almost always a yesterday and a tomorrow.

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