NBA Players Who Still Find a Way to Get Buckets When They're Cold

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2017

NBA Players Who Still Find a Way to Get Buckets When They're Cold

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Everyone in the NBA has cold nights. Some more than others. But the best scorers in the league are the guys who can play through those cold nights and still get buckets.

    Some guys just keep shooting until stuff starts falling. Some have figured out exactly what to do to manufacture points by getting to the line.

    To find out who scores best through the cold nights, we turn to the Player Game Finder over at Basketball Reference.

    In 2016-17 alone, there were 381 individual performances in which a player scored 20 or more points while shooting 40 percent or worse from the field. Fifty-four players did it more than once.

    The top 10 who follow are the league's best cold-night bucket-getters.

10. Stephen Curry

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    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 10

    Stephen Curry's ability to score on cold nights might have as much to do with the three-point line as it does with the free-throw line.

    In six of the 10 games, Curry hit at least four threes, getting him more than halfway to 20 right there. In one game he drilled six treys.

    "First off, you gotta respect the three, cause if you don’t, he’ll light you up from the outside," Isaiah Thomas wrote of Curry for the Players' Tribune. "That’s where everything starts for him."

    And even on the nights where it takes him a while to get started, Curry can still take over a game in an instant.

9. Carmelo Anthony

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    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 10

    Carmelo Anthony has been at this a while. And as someone who's averaged at least 20 points in each of his 14 NBA seasons, it's not surprising that he's figured out a thing or two about scoring when he's off.

    Melo's 30th all time in total free-throw attempts.  This season, he had at least nine free-throw attempts in five of his 10 "Cold-Night Bucket-Getting" games.

    His ability to score, regardless of how hot he is from the field has made him a legend among fellow players.

    "If I had to single one guy out who is the most difficult player to guard in the league, it would have to be Carmelo," Paul Pierce wrote for The Players' Tribune.

    In 2012, Kobe Bryant called Melo the toughest cover in the game in interview with Stephen A. Smith, per ESPN's Ian Begley.

    More recently, Shabazz Muhammad made the same observation, per Business Insider's Scott Davis.

8. DeMar DeRozan

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    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 11

    DeMar DeRozan has become one of the league's best at getting to the free-throw line in recent years. In 2016-17, he got to the line at least 10 times in seven of his 11 "Cold-Night Bucket-Getting" games.

    And over the last four seasons, among players with at least 500 three-point attempts, DeRozan ranks eighth in Free Trow Rate, trailing only James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Danilo Gallinari, DeMarcus Cousins, Lou Williams, Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio.

    “He has a great way of using his eyes and head to get people off the floor and he does a good job of either stepping through or drawing fouls on that," Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas said, per Chris O'Leary of The Star.

    That ability to get people off the floor has helped DeRozan feast at the line. He's been in the top eight in total free-throw attempts in each of the last four seasons.

7. Damian Lillard

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    Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 14

    Perhaps the most impressive "Cold-Night Bucket-Getting" game of the season for Damian Lillard came on November 13 against the Denver Nuggets.

    That night, Lillard was just 7-of-18 (.389) from the field, but he made all 15 of his free-throw attempts in a Portland win. It was one of the 30-best individual performances of the season by made free throws.

    Like Curry, Lillard also had plenty of games where he did about half his damage from behind the three-point line too. In six of his 14 games that meet the criteria, he hit at least three threes.

    Combining the downtown proficiency with an ability to get to the line makes Lillard a nightmare to defend.

6. Jimmy Butler

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 14

    Not counting his rookie season, when he only played 359 minutes, Jimmy Butler posted a career high in Free Throw Rate this season, averaging nearly nine free-throw attempts per game.

    He also posted a career-high True Shooting Percentage (.586), despite shooting just over league average from three-point range. Credit that improved ability to get easy points from the line.

    He's become one of the league's most prolific there. The only players who attempted more freebies than Butler this season? James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

5. Isaiah Thomas

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 16

    Like Lillard, Thomas can score on off nights thanks to both three-point shooting and an ability to get to the charity stripe.

    Among his 16 "Cold-Night Bucket-Getting" games, Thomas hit at least three threes in nine. He topped 10 free-throw attempts in eight, and nine free-throw attempts in 11.

    On an off night, it's a luxury to have two fallbacks. Thomas is one of those rare players who has that luxury.

4. Kemba Walker

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 17

    After a career year in 2015-16, some expected Kemba Walker to come back down to earth a bit this season. Somehow, the opposite happened.

    After posting career highs in Player Efficiency Rating, True Shooting Percentage and Offensive Box Plus-Minus last season, per Basketball Reference, Kemba topped his marks in all those categories in 2016-17.

    His ability to get to the paint, and eventually the line, even on off nights, has grabbed the attention of teammates.

    "That guy finds space when there's no space," Charlotte Hornets forward Marvin Williams told Bleacher Report's Michael Pina. "Even if the paint is packed, he'll sneak his way in there some kind of way. He's the quickest dude I’ve ever seen on a basketball court, no question."

3. DeMarcus Cousins

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 17

    DeMarcus Cousins is now a full-fledged three-point threat. In 2016-17, he posted a three-point percentage (.36) above league average (.358) for the first time in his career. And in six of his 17 "Cold-Night Bucket-Getting" games, he hit at least three threes.

    He also had 11 or more free-throw attempts in eight of the 17 games, and eight or more in 15.

    But the biggest reason Boogie has so many games with at least 20 points while shooting 40 percent or worse from the field might be sticktoitiveness.

    "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," was exemplified well on the night Cousins went 9-of-31 against the New York Knicks. He topped 25 field-goal attempts six other teams out of the 17 that matched the criteria for this list.

2. James Harden

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 23

    This one shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's watched much NBA basketball over the last few years. For four of the last five seasons (including each of the last three), Harden led the league in total free-throw attempts. He's already in the top 100 for career attempts, despite just finishing his eight season.

    He's averaged 799.8 attempts per season over his last five. If he just settled around his career average of 600 for five more years, he'd jump into the top 25 for career attempts.

    Long story short, Harden knows how to get to the stripe.

    “As an opponent, no, I don’t admire it,” Melo said, per ESPN. “As a fan, [I] admire it. Because we as offensive guys, guys who like to score, always try to find tricks that can work in our favor. He found something that’s working for him. So no, as an opponent, I hate it.”

1. Russell Westbrook

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    Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

    Cold-Night Bucket-Getting Games: 31

    As he did with so many other things this season, Russell Westbrook found his way to 20 points almost every night by sheer force of will.

    Westbrook failed to reach 20 points in just eight of his 81 appearances this season. He played over 30 minutes in only two of those eight games.

    In 21 of his 31 "Cold-Night Bucket-Getting" games, he attempted at least 10 free throws. He made at least three threes in nine of those games. He attempted 44 shots in one and topped 30 shots in five.

    "Honestly, guarding Russell Westbrook and him being probably most fierce competitor I’ve ever had to go against, he’s one of those guys that whether he’s playing good or bad he’s coming full speed,” Iman Shumpert of the Cleveland Cavaliers told “You have to be locked and loaded and ready to go.”