Beyond Points: Which Players Have Emerged as NBA's Deadliest Scorers?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2014

Beyond Points: Which Players Have Emerged as NBA's Deadliest Scorers?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Scoring is the most glamorous aspect of the NBA game. 

    When you see highlights in the wee hours of the morning, they're normally filled with players raining in three-pointers, completing rim-smashing dunks and alley-oops, crossing over the opposition and dropping the subsequent attempt or hitting game-winning looks.

    You have to put up points in order to win games, and scoring is the method behind the madness. 

    It's too bad all the ways we measure scoring are severely flawed. 

    Points per game is terribly misleading, as it completely ignores efficiency. Looking only at the efficiency metrics doesn't allow you to take volume and usage into account. The one-size-fits-all stats like win shares, RPM and player efficiency rating take more than scoring into consideration. 

    Let's change that. 

    Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta and I have worked together to come up with Scorer Rating, which should henceforth be your ultimate tool for evaluating point-producing players in the Association. We've already done the same for rebounding (available here and here) and passing (available here and here), so consider this yet another tool in your arsenal. 

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.

What Is Scorer Rating?

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Scorer Rating looks past the glamorous points-per-game statistic that pervades so many discussions centering around the NBA's best scorers.

    That's certainly a large factor, but it's by no means the only one. Efficiency comes into play, as does a player's ability to create his own shots. The player's team is drawn into the question too, both for a pace adjustment and because not all missed shots should count the same. 

    Essentially, Scorer Rating answers the following inquiry: How many points per game would the player in question—as an individual—contribute to a team with a league-average pace by using only his scoring ability? 

    At the heart of Scorer Rating are two types of buckets—assisted and unassisted. The player in question should receive full credit for the latter, as he did all of the work that led to the basket, but we're only giving him half-credit for the former, as he required the help of a teammate. 

    Admittedly, dividing assisted points per game by two is an approximation, simply because not all assists are created the same. If a player is left alone on the elbow without moving, a teammate hits him with the pass and he makes the shot, he's doing far less work than if he uses multiple off-ball screens, cuts through the teeth of the defense and finishes an alley-oop. 

    But we're working with the data we have at our disposal, and thus it's necessary to make that type of approximation. 

    Basketball-Reference.com provides us with the numbers that show how often players used assists, so we can arrive at the necessary figures by applying the percentages to the volume of the shots they made from different areas of the court. From there, unassisted points per game are added to half of a player's assisted points per game. 

    Then we turn to the two other factors.

    First is a weighted version of missed shots, which factor in how successful a team was when corralling offensive rebounds, as well as the overall per-possession production of the offense.

    Not every missed shot is the same, because some risky shots are taken when teammates are in position to grab a rebound and create a second chance in the event of a misfire. Likewise, a missed shot that results in zero points for the Los Angeles Clippers is not the same as an attempt that clangs off the rims and creates a scoreless possession for the Philadelphia 76ers, as the former has much higher per-possession expectations and results on a typical trip down the court. 

    Then there's free-throw shooting, which is geared in such a way that it weighs against the expected outcome of the average possession. If the results of a player's average set of free throws are higher than the team's points per possession, trips to the stripe are beneficial. But if they're lower, that's detrimental. 

    Kelly will delve into more details on those two factors in his corresponding article on Scorer Rating, but the basic principle is that the success of the team has to factor into the decision-making of the player in question. 

    Finally, to arrive at Scorer Rating, a pace adjustment was put into place to boost the score of players on slower teams and take away some of the success of players on quicker squads. You can view the full formula here.

    Just as was the case with both Passer Rating and Rebounder Rating, do note that a reasonably strong correlation between the metric and the more traditional per-game number is a good thing. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel; just provide more finishing touches to it. With that in mind, you can see how all 149 qualified players (10 points per game and 20 games played) stacked up during the 2013-14 season here

30-26: Holiday, Knight, Ellis, Parker, Howard

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    30. Jrue Holiday: 6.34 Scorer Rating

    Injuries limited Jrue Holiday to just 34 games during his 2013-14 season with the New Orleans Pelicans, but he only needed 34 outings to assert himself as one of the best scorers in the NBA. He didn't do so by scoring with ridiculous volume or efficiency, but rather by creating so many of his own looks with the New Orleans Pelicans. 

    Holiday is a great player to start our countdown because he truly highlights how important it is to score off the bounce. The floor general is the highest-ranked of the three players in the top 40 who failed to score 15 points per game, but he deserves placement nonetheless. After all, he needed assists on only 16.2 percent of his made two-pointers, fewer than all but three of the 149 analyzed players. 

    29. Brandon Knight: 6.52

    Brandon Knight doesn't create as many of his own looks as Jrue Holiday, nor is he as efficient from the field. But he ranks higher than his fellow floor general largely because he gets to the charity stripe with greater frequency and is more talented at knocking down three-pointers for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    The first-year Buck only shot 32.5 percent from downtown, leaving plenty of room for improvement, but he did connect on 1.5 triples per game. Seeing as he often took those deep looks off the dribble, that's not a terrible set of numbers, though—once more—there's plenty of ability for Knight to get better. If he can do so while maintaining his career-best free-throw rate, he'll start living up to the hype that existed when he first joined the NBA out of Kentucky.  

    28. Monta Ellis: 6.55

    Monta Ellis plays an incredibly glamorous and fun brand of basketball, but circus shots and creative finishes through traffic don't always result in premier levels of efficiency. Neither does a game virtually devoid of perimeter shooting, though it was Ellis' ability to eschew deep jumpers that allowed him to find such success during his first go-round with the Dallas Mavericks. 

    The other problem in Ellis' resume, essentially what keeps him from earning the higher placement you might have expected, is Dallas itself. Because the team's offense was so dominant but had trouble securing offensive rebounds, each missed shot counted against Ellis a little bit more than normal. 

    27. Tony Parker: 6.56

    Just as was the case with his passing, Tony Parker is once more hurt by the San Antonio Spurs being greater than math. You'd think a point guard scoring 16.7 points per game and shooting 49.9 percent from the field would fare even better than the No. 27 spot in these rankings, but the Spurs' distribution skills work against Parker's individual prowess. 

    During the 2013-14 season—which was actually a bit of a down year for the ring-bearing 1-guard—Parker required assists on 32.5 percent of his two-point makes and 96 percent of his successful three-point conversions. For most positions, that would be stellar, but not for a spot in the lineup typically tasked with abundant control of the rock. 

    26. Dwight Howard: 6.58

    It's hard for big men to thrive in Scorer Rating, even though they're often efficient scorers. After all, there's typically been less focus on scoring centers in recent years, and they don't tend to create many of their own looks, which severely depresses their scores in this metric. 

    Such is the case for Dwight Howard, even though he averaged 18.3 points per game while shooting an impressive 59.1 percent from the field. The Houston Rockets center did need assists on only 51 percent of his makes from inside the arc, which is a fantastic mark for a 5, but it doesn't stack up against the guards. Of course, Howard also has his free-throw shooting (54.7 percent on nine attempts per game) to blame for his relatively low score. 

25-21: DeRozan, Jefferson, Lawson, Davis, George

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    25. DeMar DeRozan: 6.73

    This first-time All-Star is only getting better, as he posted a higher true shooting percentage (53.2 percent) for the third consecutive season and did so while creating more looks for himself than ever before. In 2011-12, 63 percent of DeMar DeRozan's made two-point buckets were assisted, and that number dropped to 52.7 percent in 2012-13. This season, though, DeRozan needed dimes on just 46.5 percent of his makes. 

    However, the key for continued improvement centers on his three-point shooting. He has a confident stroke, but the ball doesn't always swish through the bottom of the net for the Toronto Raptors. His 30.5 percent shooting on 2.7 attempts per game from downtown gave him two career highs, and those numbers must keep getting better for this 25-year-old 2-guard. 

    24. Al Jefferson: 6.88

    Now we come to the master of the left block himself. Al Jefferson was the No. 1 source of scoring for the Charlotte Bobcats, and so much of the offensive strategy revolved around getting him the ball in his sweet spot, giving him space and allowing him to torture opponents with his impressive footwork, fantastic touch and innate understanding of moves and countermoves.

    That said, he still wasn't the best scoring big in the NBA. He only created 38.9 percent of his buckets for himself and often had trouble getting to the charity stripe, which is usually a great way for players to boost their worth as scorers. Among the 30 players featured in this article, only Tony Parker and Jrue Holiday spent less time at the free-throw line during the average game.  

    23. Ty Lawson: 6.92

    Speed, speed, speed. Ty Lawson has always had an impressive set of wheels, but he finally figured out how to control his dribble while changing directions in high gear during the 2013-14 season, which paid massive dividends for his offense game. 

    Coming off screens, darting around defenders and working his way through the teeth of defenses, Lawson asserted himself as one of the most dangerous scorers in the NBA with the ball in his hands, even if he doesn't always get put in that group of players. Only 12 percent of his makes from inside the arc were assisted, a lower number than any of the other 148 players who qualified for these rankings. 

    22. Anthony Davis: 6.99

    Although he was one of 20 players to average at least 20 points per game during the 2013-14 campaign, Anthony Davis finds himself just outside the top 20 in Scorer Rating. It's not his shooting from the charity stripe or the field holding him back, especially because the New Orleans Pelicans were such a great offensive rebounding team, but rather the amount of looks he can create for himself. 

    So many of Davis' points came off feeds from his teammate—66.7 percent of them, in fact—that his overall resume just isn't quite as impressive as the other volume scorers in the Association. As he continues developing back-to-the-basket skills and honing that increasingly deadly mid-range jumper, this 21-year-old big man should only move up the rankings. 

    21. Paul George: 7.07

    When Paul George heals from the devastating leg injury he suffered training with Team USA, one of two things needs to happen.

    First, he could show off a new-and-improved jumper, one that allows him to score for the Indiana Pacers with far more efficiency. But if that's not in the cards, he has to get even more aggressive, developing a post-up game and attacking the hoop with reckless abandon. Given the nature of his injury, the first option might be more conducive to success, as there's inevitably going to be a bit of a mental block when he begins driving through the trees of a defense upon his return. 

    Either way, shooting 40.2 percent from 10-16 feet and 39.2 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point arc isn't going to cut it in George's quest to become a truly elite two-way player. 

20. Mike Conley: 7.11 Scorer Rating

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 8.74

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.69

    Talk about a career season for Mike Conley

    During his seventh go-round with the Memphis Grizzlies, the southpaw averaged 17.2 points per game (a career high), and did so while knocking down 45 percent of his shots from the field (a career high) and taking 3.8 free-throw attempts per game (a career high). While his three-point percentage did dip to 36.1 percent, that occurred in conjunction with a career-high four attempts per game from beyond the arc. 

    Get the point yet? 

    This version of Conley—the best one yet—was a huge source of offense for the Grizzlies, and he thrived while creating plenty of looks for himself, just as he has throughout his time in the NBA. Conley has required assists on fewer than 30 percent of his made two-point attempts during each of his seven seasons and checked in at 24.3 percent during the 2013-14 campaign. 

    In order to improve, though, he'll have to work on that outside game. Though Conley's numbers from deep are pretty solid and come with him creating a solid percentage of his own looks, he could stand to get more efficient, even if that means passing up some of the shots he took off the bounce. 

19. Blake Griffin: 7.17

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 6.27

    Assisted Points per Game: 5.91

    If this past season did anything, it proved once and for all that Blake Griffin was so much more than a dunking machine. 

    But if you're still maintaining an increasingly flimsy grip on that ill-founded belief, how about Griffin's post-up numbers? The Los Angeles Clippers power forward might not have a visually appealing game while on the blocks, using violent spins, weird angles and a devastating combination of strength and athleticism, but it works. 

    According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Griffin used post-up plays on nearly a third of his offensive finishes and averaged 0.95 points per possession in that situation, which ranked him No. 34 throughout the entire Association. 

    The Oklahoma product and former No. 1 pick does require assists on plenty of his makes. His mid-range game is still developing, even if his face-up work has become increasingly threatening for the opposition. And above all else, his 24.1 points per game overrate him rather significantly. 

    However, you still can't make the mistake of referring to Griffin as anything less than an elite scoring machine for the Clippers. Dunking is part of his game, but it sure doesn't represent the entirety of his work. 

18. Damian Lillard: 7.19

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Unassisted Points per Game: 9.19

    Assisted Points per Game: 3.48

    What Damian Lillard was able to do from beyond the arc during his sophomore season with the Portland Trail Blazers was absolutely ridiculous. 

    On the surface level, Lillard looks impressive enough.

    After all, he shot 39.4 percent from beyond the arc while taking 6.8 attempts per game. Only Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson made more deep looks than this particular 1-guard, and Curry was the only player to loft up more attempts. 

    In fact, Basketball-Reference shows that of the 17 players who took at least five attempts per game and connected on 39 percent or more of them, Curry and Ryan Anderson (who only played 22 games) were the two players who turned to the three-ball with more frequency. 

    But he looks even better when you dig deeper. 

    Only 59.6 percent of Lillard's triples were assisted during the 2013-14 season, which was actually higher than the mark he posted during his Rookie of the Year campaign. That's an elite mark for any player, much less such a high-volume shooter from the outside. 

17. Dirk Nowitzki: 7.25

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 6.54

    Assisted Points per Game: 5.46

    Let's just universally agree to avoid doubting Dirk Nowitzki's ability as a scorer. 

    Ever. 

    The German 7-footer just continues to put up points in bunches, and his trademark flamingo fadeaway—the one when he leans back, kicks out his leg to create space and shoots while falling away—allows him to slow down the pace of a game, take his time and create his own looks. Those mid-range jumpers are dangerous for the opposition and highly beneficial for Nowitzki because he can always create them on his own. 

    Unfortunately, his shot-creating range doesn't extend all the way beyond the arc. Nowitzki make 131 three-pointers this past season, and 94.7 percent of them required a feed from a teammate, which has a way of depressing his overall Scorer Rating. 

    Additionally, he has the same aspect of the game working against him that Monta Ellis did. Because the Mavericks scored 1.112 points per possession, each empty trip that Nowitzki caused with a missed shot hurts him more than it does the average player, as the league-wide mark for points per possession was only 1.067. And with Dallas' offensive-rebounding crew falling nearly a point below the NBA's average offensive rebounding percentage, he's not saved by second-chance opportunities, either. 

16. Kevin Love: 7.31

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 6.16

    Assisted Points per Game: 6.59

    Kevin Love's knack for getting to the charity stripe certainly helps him out. The former Minnesota Timberwolf and current Cleveland Cavalier made 8.2 trips to the free-throw line during the average game and connected on those looks 82.1 percent of the time. 

    The three-point prowess helps as well, though requiring assists on 85.8 percent of his triples puts a damper on the statistical benefit. 

    In fact, Love's overall dependence on set-up passes and his relative inefficiency both hinder the stretch 4 rather significantly. Love shot only 45.7 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from beyond the arc this past season. While his 59.1 true shooting percentage is a solid figure, it's less impressive when the amount of shots he created (or lack thereof) is factored into the equation. 

    If we accept points per game as the standard by which scorers are rated by the general public (and we should, as it's the most common number, due both to its ease of calculation and prominence in the media), then we can compare a player's rank in Scorer Rating to his rank in points per game. The bigger the difference, the more "overrated" the player's scoring game is. 

    Klay Thompson—who ranked No. 29 in points per game and No. 96 in Scorer Rating—checks in as the most overrated point-producer in the league. But among the top 20 scorers in terms of points per game, only Blake Griffin (No. 6 in points per game and No. 19 in Scorer Rating), LaMarcus Aldridge (No. 8 and No. 36), DeMar DeRozan (No. 10 and No. 25) and Al Jefferson (No. 11 and No. 24) are more overrated than Love. 

    And if you're curious, Jordan Crawford, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas and D.J. Augustin check in as the five most underrated scorers. 

15. John Wall: 7.52

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 10.82

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.31

    John Wall is a blazing presence on the court, capable of whisking past virtually any defender while maintaining control of the rock. However, that doesn't always turn out well for him, as it's tough to set his feet, square his body and launch an on-target shot when he's operating at max speed. 

    That outside shot has long been the biggest knock for Wall, even if it was much-improved during the 2013-14 campaign. He knocked down 35.1 percent of his attempts while taking 3.8 per game (both career highs) and did so despite receiving assists on only 65.7 percent of his makes from beyond the arc. 

    Therein lies the key for Wall. 

    He might be out of control at times and definitely struggles with his percentages. Nevertheless, he generates plenty of offense—even looking past his penchant for finding open teammates—because he's so good at creating looks for himself off the dribble. 

    Over the course of the 2013-14 season, only 17.6 percent of Wall's makes inside the arc were assisted. How good is that? Well, you tell me. 

    Ty Lawson, Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday were the only players to top him in that category. 

14. Rudy Gay: 7.87

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Unassisted Points per Game: 9.94

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.83

    It's amazing how much a midseason trade can change things. 

    With the Toronto Raptors, Rudy Gay was an ineffective volume scorer, firing away from downtown with reckless abandon and holding back his team. It wasn't until he was traded that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan started handling the ball more, and the Raptors surged up the standings in the Eastern Conference. 

    But with the Sacramento Kings, Gay eschewed three-point attempts, focused on using his size and athleticism and began to thrive once more. He was quite good on offense in Sacramento, and that portion of his season pushed him well up these rankings. 

    During the part of the year he spent north of the border, Gay earned a Scorer Rating of 5.34, one that would leave him ranked No. 42 in the Association. But with the Kings, his Scorer Rating was a stellar 8.7, which would push him up to No. 8 in these rankings. 

    That's a humongous difference, and it bodes well for his future that he's still in the better location for his talents. 

13. DeMarcus Cousins: 7.88

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 7.77

    Assisted Points per Game: 4.44

    When it comes to scorers, DeMarcus Cousins was the class of his position. 

    Though there are still flaws in his overall game that have prevented him from taking sole possession of the center crown in the Association, there's no denying just how good he is at putting the ball in the basket. Cousins, who averaged 22.7 points per game for the Sacramento Kings, doesn't have the trademark efficiency of most dominant big men but is a versatile scorer who thrives with the ball in his hands. 

    The biggest reason for Cousins' improvement this past season was his growing confidence in his mid-range game. Whereas he struggled on long two-pointers as a third-year player, he was significantly more comfortable during his fourth go-round with the Kings. 

    In 2012-13, Cousins shot 32.4 percent from between 10 and 16 feet. One zone back, from 16 feet out to the three-point arc, he connected on only 33.2 percent of his attempts. Together, those two areas comprised 31.6 percent of his offense. 

    But this past season, the former Kentucky standout took slightly fewer shots from those areas (31.1 percent of his offense) and was far better. He raised his 10-to-16-foot percentage up to 39 percent, and the deeper zone saw him shoot 42.3 percent. 

    Expect this 24-year-old to keep getting better. 

12. Dwyane Wade: 7.89

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 8.7

    Assisted Points per Game: 3.42

    Dwyane Wade's "decline" was the subject of much discussion throughout the 2013-14 season and the ensuing postseason, but Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn't have any of it. 

    "I'll go to bat in that foxhole with Dwyane any day," Spoelstra told DeAntae Prince of SportingNews.com after the 2014 NBA Finals drew to a close. "It's funny how the narrative changes within a matter of days. Keep it in perspective. Ten days ago people were saying Dwyane was playing at the highest level he's played at in the last three years."

    The demise of this future Hall of Famer was indeed largely overblown, but Wade was most certainly not vintage Wade for large portions of his final season paired with LeBron James. More selective with his shot than ever before, the 2-guard scored less than 20 points per game for the first time since 2003-04—his rookie season. 

    Additionally, he was more reliant on his teammates than he'd ever been, as you can see from the chart below: 

     %Assisted (Two-pointers)%Assisted (Three-pointers)
    2003-0434.181.3
    2004-0525.130.8
    2005-0633.469.2
    2006-0727.523.8
    2007-0828.345.5
    2008-0925.329.5
    2009-1027.926.0
    2010-1137.033.3
    2011-1240.913.3
    2012-1343.835.3
    2013-1442.977.8

    Was Wade a hindrance during the 2013-14 campaign? Absolutely not, especially seeing as he nearly ranked as a top-10 scorer. 

    But he wasn't prime Wade, either. 

11. Russell Westbrook: 7.93

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 10.98

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.77

    Love him or hate him, Russell Westbrook is going to be a dynamic scorer either way. 

    Does he take bad shots? Certainly, as he's far too confident in that pull-up mid-range jumper. 

    "If they give me a 15-footer, I'm gonna make that nine times out of 10, so I'm gonna shoot it," Westbrook said this past season, courtesy of a tweet from ESPN.com's Royce Young.

    No.

    No, he's not going to do that. 

    In fact, while I can't tell you exactly what he shot on 15-footers, Westbrook connected on just 44.4 percent of his attempts from between 10 and 16 feet. I'm fairly certain that number didn't rise all the way to 90 when you get more specific with the distance. 

    It's this overconfidence that holds Westbrook back from an efficiency standpoint, though it also makes him dangerous. This floor general is quite unpredictable, and defenses still can't risk him catching fire on this jumpers. When he rises into the air (and when Westbrook shoots, he really does rise), there's always some momentum-related danger. 

10. Eric Bledsoe: 8.13

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 10.69

    Assisted Points per Game: 1.4

    In the portions of the season surrounding his knee injury, Eric Bledsoe proved he was worthy of the massive hype. 

    The young point guard displayed a love for the crucial moments, thrived in so many different offensive sets, excelled in transition and began living up to that "Mini LeBron" moniker that has been bestowed upon him in the past. The ball was often in his hands, and he had no trouble scoring off the bounce. 

    In fact, only Ty Lawson needed assists on a lower percentage of two-point makes, as Bledsoe created 87.4 percent of his shots. However, this 24-year-old scorer might be the absolute best at creating offense for himself, as we have to factor in the three-point shooting. 

    Only 44 percent of Bledsoe's triples came off a teammates' feed; meanwhile, Lawson required assists on 61.1 percent of his makes from beyond the three-point arc. That more than makes up for the 0.6 percent difference from the shorter—and less valuable—zone. 

    The key for Bledsoe in 2014-15 isn't shooting better. It isn't asserting himself as a leading scorer. It isn't creating more of his own looks. 

    It's staying healthy. 

9. Chris Paul: 8.18

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 10.91

    Assisted Points per Game: 1.72

    Chris Paul is just ridiculous. 

    The league's best point guard thoroughly dominated Passer Rating and is also within the top 10 for Scorer Rating. It's increasingly difficult to find knocks in his game, unless they're ill-founded ones about his lack of playoff success or legitimate—but meaningless—ones about his inability to block shots. Hell, he's even one of the better rebounders at his position. 

    But this is about his scoring, and his scoring alone. 

    Paul is one of the best in the business at creating his own looks, something he does capably no matter where he is on the court. Those head fakes, hesitation dribbles and carefully thought-out movements when he's controlling the rock all create space, and he can pull up and get off his shot before a defender has the ability to close the gap. 

    Sure, Paul sometimes over-dribbles at the end of games and can force his hand, but he's still remarkably good at playing in the flow of an offense and taking what's given to him, often doing so as aggressively as he can within the constraints of Doc Rivers' system. 

    If he were given free rein to take over as a scorer throughout the game, you'd likely see him rank even higher. He just doesn't need to. 

8. Kyrie Irving: 8.5

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Unassisted Points per Game: 11.28

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.72

    Kyrie Irving is an interesting case. 

    In many ways, the hype has outpaced the production, as he's played for losing teams, been quite inefficient and had inordinate amounts of trouble both staying in front of his man and tracking his assignment off the ball. But if anything, his scoring ability might be a little bit underrated, and the rest of his game should look significantly better now that he's set to be surrounded by more talented teammates. 

    Irving scored 20.8 points per game this past season, placing him at No. 15 on the points-per-game leaderboard (tied with Anthony Davis). However, he ranks all the way up at No. 8 according to Scorer Rating, leaving him as the ninth-most underrated scorer among the 30 players featured in this article. 

    Why? Because he's so good with the ball in his hands. 

    Irving's handles are nearly unmatched throughout the entire NBA. Jamal Crawford might have some arguments if I called them the very best, but if they aren't there, they're pretty darn close. And Irving uses them quite well, as he's able to turn around defenders, create space and elevate for an easy look whenever he so chooses. 

    The former No. 1 pick actually scored 11.28 unassisted points per game in 2013-14, which was more than any player outside the top quartet of scoring machines. 

7. Isaiah Thomas: 8.73

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 10.28

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.63

    Is Isaiah Thomas the most underrated player in the NBA? 

    There's a serious case to be made. 

    Thomas, who checks in at No. 7 on the Scorer Rating leaderboard, scored the 19th-most points per game during the 2013-14 season, so he's already underrated in that regard. And when you couple that with the unfortunate fact that he isn't talked about as a guy who scored 20 points per contest, despite contributing more than that during his final season with the Sacramento Kings, well, you can see why I'd make such a claim. 

    The diminutive point guard who was once Mr. Irrelevant isn't a particularly efficient shooter from the field, but he knocks down a ton of three-pointers, gets to the charity stripe often (and converts his looks at an 85 percent clip) and creates an abundance of opportunities for himself. 

    Plus, it helps that the Kings were dominant on the offensive glass but still didn't score more than 1.057 points per possession, thereby mitigating portions of the negative impact of his misses from the field. 

    Thomas probably won't fare quite as well in Phoenix, as he won't have control of the ball as often, but there's still no doubt he's already asserted himself as one of the best scorers in basketball. 

6. Goran Dragic: 9.29

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    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 11.2

    Assisted Points per Game: 2.47

    Only three players in the NBA scored 20 points per game, averaged at least five dimes during the typical contest and shot over 50 percent from the field during the 2013-14 season: Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Goran Dragic. 

    Technically, the passing doesn't matter here, but let's still just take a second and marvel at the incredible offensive exploits of this Phoenix Suns point guard. 

    If you look here, you'll see a chart featuring the effective field-goal percentage of every 20-plus scorer since 2000 correlated with the percentage of his buckets that were assisted. Even with all those data points, Dragic's last season still stands out. 

    Very few players have ever been this efficient (56.01 effective field-goal percentage) while creating so many looks for themselves (28.06 percent assisted). 

    That's just insanity. 

    So, how can Dragic get better? 

    He can improve in one of two methods: getting better at drawing contact and putting himself at the charity stripe rather than slithering around awaiting defenders, or just putting even more of an emphasis on his scoring. Every player left in the rankings scored at least four additional points per game. 

5. James Harden: 10.12

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Unassisted Points per Game: 10.92

    Assisted Points per Game: 3.27

    The amount of time James Harden spends at the charity stripe is simply jaw-dropping. 

    During his latest season with the Houston Rockets, the bearded shooting guard went to the free-throw line 9.1 times per game, converting his attempts at an 86.6 percent clip. That's a tremendous way to boost efficiency, as Harden relies on drawing contact and earning whistles to cancel out his misses and his utter disdain for mid-range shots. 

    He shot 45.6 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc, giving him an effective field-goal percentage of 52.9 percent. To put that in perspective, the No. 20 qualified effective field-goal percentage last season belonged to Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez—55.1 percent. 

    But when free-throw shooting is factored in—turning effective field-goal percentage into true shooting percentage—Harden moves all the way into fifth place. Only Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan ranked ahead of him among qualified players, leaving no doubt this 2-guard is a remarkably efficient scorer. 

    "Although he may always have his offensive warts—shot selection, for instance—there are but a small handful of players who can call Harden a peer on that end of the court," wrote Bleacher Report's Dan Favale this offseason. 

    His passing certainly lends itself to that status, but it's his scoring doing the heavy lifting. 

4. Carmelo Anthony: 10.48

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 12.46

    Assisted Points per Game: 4.5

    Carmelo Anthony's offensive arsenal is beyond reproach, between his devastatingly effective post-up work, his stellar mid-range shooting, his ability to make tough jumpers and his knack for connecting on open shots from the perimeter. 

    Last season, he did enough to shed the "inefficient volume shooter" label so commonly associated with him, though his work went largely unnoticed due to the overall dysfunction of the New York Knicks. Anthony actually knocked down 45.2 percent of his shots from the field and 40.2 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, doing so despite drawing plenty of attention from opposing defenses. 

    So why does he only come in at No. 4? 

    Anthony doesn't have any serious flaws on his resume, and he actually only trails the next player in the rankings when it comes to scoring unassisted points. However, those efficiency numbers, while much improved, still don't stack up next to the remaining players. 

    The New York forward's true shooting percentage checked in at 56.1 percent this past season, the highest mark Anthony had posted since the 2007-08 season. However, the worst of the three players left in the countdown had a 61 percent true shooting percentage, which is more than a single step past Anthony's result. 

3. Stephen Curry: 10.89

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Unassisted Points per Game: 13.51

    Assisted Points per Game: 3.28

    There has never been a shooter quite like Stephen Curry. 

    Not only did he lead the league with 261 made triples during the 2013-14 campaign, but he did so while shooting a ridiculously impressive 42.4 percent from beyond the arc. And not only did he post those numbers, but he did so while requiring assists on less than half of his makes. 

    In fact, let's take a look at the top shooters in the league (sorted by three-pointers made) and see how they fared in terms of the percentage of their deep makes that were assisted: 

    1. Stephen Curry, 261 makes and 45.6 percent assisted
    2. Klay Thompson, 223 makes and 94.6 percent assisted
    3. Damian Lillard, 218 makes and 59.6 percent assisted
    4. Gerald Green, 204 makes and 83.8 percent assisted
    5. Wesley Matthews, 201 makes and 94 percent assisted
    6. Kevin Durant, 192 makes and 54.7 percent assisted
    7. Jose Calderon, 191 makes and 84.8 percent assisted
    8. Kevin Love, 190 makes and 85.8 percent assisted
    9. Kyle Lowry, 190 makes and 63.7 percent assisted
    10. Randy Foye, 189 makes and 75.7 percent assisted. 

    Impressive, right?

    But let's peer at this through a different lens. 

    Among the 149 players who qualified for these rankings, only Rajon Rondo (26 makes), Russell Westbrook (68), Eric Bledsoe (50), Brandon Jennings (154) and Kyrie Irving (123) required assists on a lower percentage of their made triples. None of their numbers stack up next to Curry's total, and not a single one shot even 36 percent from beyond the arc. 

    The Golden State Warriors sharpshooter is simply in a class of his own. 

2. LeBron James: 12.55

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 12.34

    Assisted Points per Game: 4.55

    LeBron James' Scorer Rating is 15.24 percent better than Stephen Curry's even though they're separated by only a single place in the countdown toward No. 1. 

    Meanwhile, Curry's Scorer Rating was 15.24 percent better than a 9.45 Scorer Rating, which would come closer to Goran Dragic (No. 6 at 9.29) than James Harden (No. 5 at 10.12). That, in a nutshell, shows how James starts a tier occupied only by himself and the top finisher, even if Curry and the rest of the elite scorers are quite impressive. 

    He doesn't do so by relying on offensive rebounds to cancel out the negative value of his missed shots. The Miami Heat were better than only the Los Angeles Lakers on the offensive glass, after all. He also has to overcome the Heat scoring at such a high rate, which makes his misses even more impactful. 

    It's just all about picking the right shots. 

    James has an improved jumper, a deadly set of post skills and an incredible brain that can process when, where and how to make the proper play at all times. It's one of the ways he managed to shoot a career-best 56.7 percent from the field, making it just the latest time he'd upped his percentage. James has actually done that every season since shooting 47.6 percent in 2006-07. 

    Is 60 percent coming soon?

    Now just imagine if this four-time MVP could connect on his shots from the charity stripe at a higher rate. If his 75 percent shooting at the line had risen to even 85 percent, his Scorer Rating would've jumped to a league-best 13.3. 

    In fact, 82 percent from the stripe—a reasonable improvement if that's been an offseason focus—would've put him in the No. 1 spot. 

1. Kevin Durant: 13.03

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Unassisted Points per Game: 12.19

    Assisted Points per Game: 5.57

    This Kevin Durant character is pretty good. 

    Not only did he lead the league in scoring by a pretty wide margin, but he did so with incredible efficiency. Though Durant might not have submitted his name for the 50/40/90 club once more, he did come pretty close by shooting 50.3 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from beyond the arc and 87.3 percent from the charity stripe. 

    That was all good for a true shooting percentage of 63.5 percent, which left him trailing only Kyle Korver (65.3 percent) and LeBron James (64.9) throughout the entire realm of qualified players. 

    James was slightly better at creating his own looks and just barely more efficient, but Durant posted his numbers while scoring 4.9 more points per game. That's a big difference when working in the stratosphere of the NBA scoring ranks, and it shows through Durant's score, which really isn't even that close to James' Scorer Rating. 

    James, Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony were the only players to post more unassisted points per game. Kevin Love, Al Jefferson, Al Horford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Ryan Anderson and Klay Thompson topped him in assisted points per game. 

    But the combination of the two categories—as well as the other factors that go into Scorer Rating—thrusts Durant out at No. 1.