Okay, I may have been out of line with that headline about Nene Hilario being the best player in the NBA.
But at this point in the season, he is the league's most-efficient scorer.
Granted, not only does being the most-efficient scorer not make you the best player in the league, it doesn’t necessarily even make you one of its better offensive players.
There can be some serious cleavage between being efficient and being good. Unless you are of the opinion that Tyson Chandler was the second-best offensive player in the league last season.
I sometimes take heat from other NBA fans regarding the weight that I give to field-goal percentage in assessing performance. “Field-goal percentage is only a part if it.” they say, “There are also rebounding, assists, turnovers, and steals to consider when doing a statistical evaluation.”
I completely agree. Except at the end of the day, if a team can’t put the ball through the hole they are not going to win. Not very often at least.
Two STATS studies, covering the 1992-1994 and 1998-2002 NBA seasons, concluded that field-goal percentage was the singlemost-important statistic in winning games. Both studies found that the team that shot the higher field-goal percentage had won the game 78.7 percent of the time. I stand by my assertion that making shots matters. A lot.
Simply looking at the stats and seeing that a particular player’s shooting percentages are .421 overall and .401 from three-point land, for example, can be misleading. On the surface, it might seem that he’s pretty lame in two-point range but is the shiznit from downtown.
But if, say, fifty-eight percent of his shots had come from beyond the arc, he is a very efficient shooter. If he can knock down treys at a .401 clip, that is the equivalent of shooting .6015 from two-point range, accounting for the fact that a trey is worth fifty-percent more than a two-point shot. (I am using the actual shooting stats from Raja Bell’s 2007-08 season.)
There is a statistic called Adjusted Field-Goal Percentage (AFG%) which accounts for the extra value of a three-pointer by giving them a 50-percent greater value than two-pointers. This is the category in which Nene Hilario leads the league, although Nene is not a three-point shooter. He just makes an awful lot of his two-point shots. Raja’s AFG% was .538 in ‘07-08, making him one of the top shooters in the league.
As an example, let's say that Hilario shot six for 10 in a given game and that all were two-pointers. His field-goal percentage would be .600. And suppose Raja Bell was also six for 10 but two of his field goals were three-pointers and four were two-pointers. His field goal percentage would also be .600.
But because of the three-pointers, he scored more points, so he deserves more credit.
So you would add four for the two-pointers and three (two three-pointers multiplied by 1.5) to get a total of seven. So he effectively shot seven for 10, and his AFG% would be .700.
But is this the best way of determining who the best offensive player is? Kobe Bryant had an AFG% of .503 last season. Does that make Raja Bell a more effective scorer that the Kobester? And how do guys like Tyson Chandler fit into the discussion?
Let’s start with Chandler. He posted a .623 AFG% last season with an 11.8 ppg average. Is he efficient? Indubitably. Is he a good shooter? Hardly. So is he effective? Yes, but in a very limited capacity.
He is an opportunistic scorer. He gets a very high percentage of his hoops on dunks, put-backs and at very close range. He is not proficient at creating shot opportunities for himself, so attempting to get him more involved in the Hornets' offense would result in a drastic reduction in his AFG% and therefore his effectiveness.
There are some players who are only effective at close range, but capable of creating opportunities for themselves. Shaq is legendary for doing this. He was an offensive superhero, averaging 27.6 points while shooting an AFG% of .577 through the first eleven years of his career.
The only players who come anywhere close to this combination of production and efficiency today are Amare Stoudemire (25.2 ppg / .592 AFG% in ’07-08) and Dwight Howard (20.7 ppg / .599 AFG% in ’07-08).
Stoudemire is most impressive in the fact that he also has a good mid-range jump shot. Although when you’re Dwight Howard and can pretty much dunk from mid-range, who needs a jumper?
Since opportunistic scoring of the Tyson Chandler variety can’t be manufactured, teams must ultimately be proficient at creating scoring opportunities.
Yes, ball movement often creates good looks for shooters. And in a well-balanced offense, this is where guys like Ray Allen, Peja Stojakovic, and Raja Bell come up huge.
But a significant enough percentage of the time, good opportunities don’t present themselves in the flow of the offense. A team’s center can’t get great position on the block or a stingy defense prevents an open look or good penetration. This is where guys like Kobe and LeBron excel. It’s what makes them great.
They are go-to guys. And go-to guys have to consistently create opportunities when none can be found. Yeah, they get their share of open looks and transition buckets, but they are as valuable as they are because of their ability to manufacture.
The yearly league average AFG% for teams tends to fall right around 49 percent. If all opportunistic and open-shot scoring were to be eliminated, this percentage would drop dramatically. So to have a guy like Kobe who can create shots and score 28.3 ppg at a .503 AFG% clip is huge.
It was surpassed only by Stoudemire and LeBron James—who put up 30.0 ppg with an AFG% of .518.
So, as in many other cases, statistics alone don’t tell the whole story. Who the best scorers and players in the league are is always subject to debate. Looking at the combination of Adjusted Field-Goal Percentage and offensive production, while also considering the more qualitative factors is one approach in determining a player’s quality.
And just for fun, here’s a look at the top AFG% for players for the current season, by position, as well as a few notable players:
1. Steve Nash 15.1 ppg .584 AFG%
2. Mike Bibby 16.2 .575
3. Nate Robinson 14.5 .552
4. Steve Blake 11.5 .550
5. Tony Parker 23.1 .549
1. Delonte West 11.4 ppg .606 AFG%
2. Ray Allen 18.4 .579
3. Roger Mason 14.3 .574
4. Raja Bell 10.2 .559
5. Mike Miller 11.5. .554
1. John Salmons 19.2 ppg .542 AFG%
2. Trevor Ariza 9.9 .540
3. Danny Granger 24.4 .533
4. Thaddeus Young 14.1 .528
5. C.J. Miles 10.7 .526
1. Boris Diaw 8.2 ppg .581 AFG%
2. Amare Stoudemire 22.1 .572
3. Carlos Boozer 20.5 .559
4. Pau Gasol 17.4 .556
5. David Lee 14.4 .554
1. Nene Hilario 15.2 ppg .642 AFG%
2. Shaquille O’Neal 14.9 .599
3. Dwight Howard 21.5 .593
4. Emeka Okafor 11.7 .574
5. Chris Kaman 13.9 .571
LeBron James 27.4 ppg .519 AFG%
Kobe Bryant 25.1 .497
Dwyane Wade 28.4 .512
Tracy McGrady 15.6 .459
Allen Iverson 17.9 .436
Paul Pierce 18.6 .458
Chris Paul 20.6 .541
Tim Duncan 20.9 .516
Kevin Garnett 16.5 .511
Yao Ming 18.2 .516