NBA Metrics 101: Identifying the NBA's 10 Best Shooters
Forget about drives to the basket that result in thunderous slams. Clear your mind of post-up moves and alley-oop finishes. Don't worry about touch shots right around the basket.
Shooting—of the actual jump-shooting variety—is the only thing that should concern you.
Pull-up jumpers from outside the paint that keep defenses off balance? Those matter. Triples off the bounce that produce a satisfying swish as they rip through nylon? Those certainly count. Catch-and-shoot jumpers out of the corners? Yep, those are relevant here.
Everything from 10 feet and beyond matters, and objectivity reigns supreme in these rankings, which count down to the league's paragon of jump-shooting volume and efficiency this season.
Those last two words are vital, because we're only interested in what's happened during the first half of the 2016-17 campaign. Anything earlier is irrelevant, regardless of any incongruities between reputation and actual production.
- Look at a player's shooting percentages from 10 to 16 feet, 16 to 23 feet and beyond the three-point arc. Doubling the first two and tripling the third shows how many points per shot he's recording from each zone.
- Subtract the league-average points per shot in each zone (0.820 from 10 to 16 feet, 0.802 from 16 to 23 feet and 1.074 on threes) to determine how many points per shot a player is adding from those ranges.
- Multiply the points added per shot in each zone by the shots per game in that same area to determine points added per game in each zone.
- Add those three products to arrive at points added on jumpers per game.
Points added on jumpers per game determine the rankings. This rewards players who take plenty of attempts and maintain above-average efficiency levels. It's calculated using the following steps:
We made this calculation for every player who has taken a shot in at least 25 games during 2016-17 and featured the 10 highest scores here. No one receives subjective boosts, and only what's been done this season matters.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (1.184 points added on jumpers per game)
During his breakout offensive season, Bradley Beal has become an above-average shooter from every relevant zone. He's just not dominant in any one area and won't be until he's more accustomed to shouldering such a hefty offensive burden.
Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics (1.194)
Defenders might as well give up when Avery Bradley starts getting looks from between 10 and 16 feet. He's hitting a sensational 57.1 percent of those attempts, which has become just as valuable as his vast improvement from downtown (40.9 percent this year, 36.7 in his career).
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (1.249)
It may seem strange to see Stephen Curry listed as a mere honorable mention, but he hasn't been himself. The two-time reigning MVP has seen his percentages dip to 39.5 and 39.7 from 10 to 16 feet and three-point territory, respectively. And perhaps most telling, he's shooting just 31.0 percent on pull-up triples after drilling 42.8 percent—and leading the Association in attempts—one year prior.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers (1.199)
Paul George is more of a scorer than a shooter. He's tremendous when rising and firing from distance, but too large a percentage of his offense (24.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, plus all his free throws) comes from within 10 feet. Remember, we're looking at both efficiency and volume.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics (1.279)
The closest of all the honorable mentions to earning a featured spot, Isaiah Thomas has been an offensive sensation in 2016-17. He's thriving from all relevant zones, which won't come as a surprise to anyone who's watched the Boston Celtics. But much like George, too much of his offense (33.6 percent of his field-goal attempts are from within three feet) comes on his relentless drives to the hoop.
Next up: Channing Frye (1.175), Jae Crowder (1.109), Kyle Korver (1.078), Eric Gordon (1.054), Patty Mills (0.973)
10. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.866
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 1.01
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.203
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.412
If players received boosts for their shooting exploits during crucial moments, Kyrie Irving would rise even higher. But even without any reward for his clutch play, he's established himself as a deadly shooter who can create virtually any look off the bounce.
Irving is a strong mid-range shooter and thrives from beyond the arc. But his ability to hit a scorching 50.5 percent of his two-point jumpers from 16 feet and beyond makes him stand out.
That's usually the most inefficient zone on the court, but not for this floor general.
He knows exactly how to create space as defenders are staggering back to account for his speed, and his ability to gather and fire in a split second keeps them even more off balance. Especially when he's running a pick-and-roll, he can step into his jumper while the bigger opponent sags back and his original assignment trails behind.
9. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.968
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 1.028
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.185
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.6
Chris Paul never takes a shot he doesn't like.
The Los Angeles Clippers point guard is the living embodiment of patience on a basketball court, calmly dribbling until he gets to his desired spot and then throwing defenders off with hesitation dribbles and eye fakes before launching a shot. His ability to change speeds and orchestrate the LAC offense to perfection allows him to attempt plenty of mid-range jumpers, and they're only the ones he wants.
If Paul has a trademark as a scorer, it's his ability to move laterally through the painted area before taking a quick hop-step backward and firing an uncontested jumper. He does it against every opponent, and it's the main reason he's shooting 48.4 percent between 10 and 16 feet, as well as 51.4 percent on even deeper twos.
Age hasn't slowed the 31-year-old in the slightest. Only 9.4 percent of his two-pointers come on the tail end of an assist—his lowest mark since the 2009-10 campaign with the New Orleans Hornets.
8. Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.75
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 1.046
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.26
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.608
Nick Young still isn't a great mid-range shooter, although that changes as he moves closer to the three-point arc.
It's from beyond that arc that he truly thrives.
After hitting just 32.5 percent of his triples in 2015-16, Young has enjoyed a resurgent season under Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton. He's now drilling 42.2 percent of his treys while taking a staggering 6.9 per game—numbers only Ray Allen, Stephen Curry, Dennis Scott (during a season with a shorter arc) Peja Stojakovic and Klay Thompson have ever cleared in a full campaign.
Young's confidence, which bordered on nonexistent under Byron Scott's supervision, is one reason for the surge.
"I don't want to jinx myself," Young said on the final day of 2016, per Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times. "I just get extra shots up every day after practice. Playing with confidence. I think that's the best thing for me."
But a changing style is also relevant. An additional 13.2 percent of Young's triples are coming off assists, as he has accepted a role that involves using screens to free himself for deep opportunities. In previous years, he typically limited himself to nothing more than a rhythm dribble.
In those catch-and-shoot situations, he's posted a 45.7 three-point percentage, per NBA.com.
7. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.886
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 1.072
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.215
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.617
Kevin Durant's job is easier than it's ever been.
The Golden State Warriors have so many talented shooters—Stephen Curry already showed up in the honorable mentions, and one more has yet to appear—that defenders are dragged around by multiple gravitational pulls. It's different than anything Durant experienced with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as he was the constant subject of excessive defensive attention.
Throughout his career, Durant has established himself as a great shooter. He even joined the 50/40/90 club while scoring 28.1 points per game in 2012-13.
But he's never been able to take on a role that allows for this much efficiency. Whether he's creating his own looks in isolation or curling off screens to take uncontested jumpers, he's knocking down everything he sees.
Plus, he's getting to experience what open and wide-open shots—defined by NBA.com as looks without a defender closer than four feet for the former and six for the latter—are like. Durant is hitting 78.6 percent of his wide-open twos and 46.3 percent of his wide-open threes while taking a combined two attempts per game.
6. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 1.0
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 0.926
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.188
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.688
With his terrifyingly quick release, Klay Thompson can get off shots from anywhere. Even when he catches the ball while a defender blankets him, he can move immediately into his shooting motion without dropping his arms, thereby saving the split second necessary to earn a clean look.
"It's so easy, from deep range," J.J. Redick said about Thompson's form almost two years ago, per ESPN.com's J.A. Adande. "His ability to get his shot off, no matter where he catches the ball—down, up high, whatever—it's right into that shot pocket."
He's only gotten more dangerous since then.
Thompson is shooting the lowest percentage of his career from downtown (39 percent), but he's improved as a mid-range sniper. He's grown increasingly comfortable pulling up from inside the arc and dropping home a two-pointer.
From between 10 and 16 feet, he's sitting at 50.0 percent—6.6 percentage points above the career high he established during his rookie season. He's also hitting 46.3 percent of his twos from beyond 16 feet, which is the best mark of his career.
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.894
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 0.986
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.248
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.73
Let's turn to DraftExpress' Matt Kamalsky, who wrote the following about Kawhi Leonard in 2011, when the future NBA star was still playing at San Diego State:
Leonard's most notable weakness is his lack of jump shooting ability. Connecting on just 32% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 28% of his pull-ups last season, the sophomore struggled with his consistency from range. As with all players noted for their hand size, there are questions about Leonard's ability to develop a reliable jump shot. While there is some merit to that stereotype, if will be necessary for Leonard to continue honing that part of his game to the greatest extent possible.
He's honed it.
Leonard has consistently improved his outside touch during his time with the San Antonio Spurs, and his ability to knock down lengthy jumpers now makes him one of the league's five deadliest shooters.
This season, the biggest change has been his willingness to hit deep twos. He's taking more of them than ever and connecting at a 49.3 percent clip that allows him to buck analytical trends. If you can shoot that well, you should be letting fly from that (typically) inefficient zone.
Leonard's touch has improved, but so too has his body control. He plays a stronger game now that allows him to connect on turnarounds and create quick separation from defenders, as he rises above them and uses his high release to great success.
4. J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.62
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 0.986
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.302
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.854
J.J. Redick has long been one of the game's best shooters. Few have had more impressive careers from downtown, and this is now the third consecutive season he's hitting at no worse than a 43.0 percent clip while taking at least 5.6 triples per game.
For perspective, only nine other players (Stephen Curry, Ray Allen, Peja Stojakovic, Mitch Richmond, Klay Thompson, Damon Jones, Kyle Korver, Kyle Lowry and Raja Bell) have matched or exceeded those marks for a single season.
But Redick's game has grown this year.
Though three-pointers remain his specialty, he's also gotten more comfortable shooting from inside the arc, even when he has to take a few dribbles to set up his look. Whereas at least 83.0 percent of his two-pointers were assisted during each of the last three campaigns, that number is down to 79.5 percent in 2016-17.
Even still, the curling three will remain his forte.
Few players are better at running the baseline, passing by a teammate to create separation and pulling up after catching and squaring their body. If you give Redick that look, you might as well run back to the other end of the court without bothering to check whether the ball found twine.
3. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 1.096
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 0.956
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.374
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.885
Otto Porter has steadily improved throughout his career, but he's never shot like this from any of the relevant zones:
|Season||FG% From 10-16||FG% From 16-23||3P%|
"I mean, y'all don't understand he's a shooter?" Kelly Oubre Jr. asked rhetorically, per Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. "He's one of the best shooters in this league, man. So people keep sleeping, we keep getting points and the team keeps getting wins and that's the only thing that really matters."
Opponents refuse to accept Porter's shooting surge as legitimate. They keep letting him line up from the spots of his choosing while they pack the paint against John Wall's drives.
Except Porter has become nearly as dangerous, especially with Wall setting him up. Defenses haven't yet adjusted to what's quickly becoming a pet set for the Washington Wizards: letting Wall handle at the top of the key before finding Porter, who cuts from the baseline and is freed by a screen set by one of the team's bigs. It happens again and again.
2. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 0.896
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 0.8
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.326
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 1.914
A message for NBA defenders: When Kyle Lowry is dribbling up the court, crowd him. If you don't, he'll pull up from beyond the arc and give the Toronto Raptors three points, as he's so often done during his underrated—yes, he should've been an All-Star starter—2016-17 campaign.
Here's Spencer Dinwiddie with a perfect example of what not to do, as he sets up too far inside the arc and can't contest until it's too late. On the flip side, Mason Plumlee and C.J. McCollum will show how you should crowd the Raptors point guard before recovering to your natural positions.
Even that doesn't always work.
Per NBA.com's SportVU data, among the 51 players who have taken at least 50 pull-up triples, Lowry is one of just six to hit at least 40 percent of his looks. He (156 attempts) and Eric Gordon (108) are the only two who are doing so with triple-digit attempts, and that makes him quite the statistical outlier.
But Lowry does more than just shoot off the bounce. Especially from three-point land, he's a deadly catch-and-shoot threat who requires constant defensive attention.
No wonder defenses must live in fear when he's on the hardwood.
1. C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
Points Per Shot from 10-16 Feet: 1.01
Points Per Shot from 16-23 Feet: 0.968
Points Per Three-Point Shot: 1.266
Points Added on Jumpers Per Game: 2.351
C.J. McCollum isn't just the NBA's best shooter in 2016-17. He's adding 0.437 more points per game with his jumper than No. 2 Kyle Lowry is, which is larger than the gap (0.314) between Lowry and No. 9 Chris Paul.
Summing up the 2-guard's shooting in one word isn't a difficult task. "Smooth" has to be the answer.
Everything McCollum does is fluid. No one has been better at driving into the teeth of a defense and rising for a jumper in one quick motion. His high release gives the impression he's elevating even higher, to the point that his pull-up attempts are virtually unblockable.
Even though he's shooting 42.2 percent from downtown, a handful of players are adding more value with their three-point strokes. Kyle Korver and Kevin Durant top him from between 16 feet and the arc, though only by a negligible amount. From 10 to 16 feet, DeMar DeRozan, Shaun Livingston, Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Jokic have his number.
But no one mixes together the zones in stronger fashion. Regardless of where McCollum is shooting from, he's maintaining both his form and efficiency.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.