NBA Metrics 101: Exposing the League's Least Valuable Shooters

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2018

NBA Metrics 101: Exposing the League's Least Valuable Shooters

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    These are not the NBA's worst shooters.

    The worst shooters usually don't play, and it's impossible to rack up missed looks when you're glued to the pine. Plus, some of the league's worst shooters severely limit themselves and rarely test their range; Clint Capela, as one of many examples, has taken just 11 attempts from at least 10 feet during the 2017-18 season. 

    On the contrary, these gentlemen don't let their low percentages keep them from lofting plenty of shots. Mixing some semblance of volume with damaging efficiency levels leads to their status as the league's least valuable shooters. 

    We're not concerned with free-throw abilities or work at the rim, but everything else is fair game and separated into four different areas:

    1. Three-to-10 feet (NBA as a whole shoots 39.4 percent, which means 0.788 points per shot)
    2. 11-to-16 feet (41.7 percent, 0.834 points per shot)
    3. Two-pointers from at least 17 feet (40.1 percent, 0.802 points per shot)
    4. Three-pointers (36.1 percent, 1.083 points per shot)

    By calculating every player's points per shot for each of the four zones, then subtracting out the league average, we can easily arrive at their points gained per shot in each place, as compared to a perfectly average marksman. Multiply those numbers by their attempts in the relevant area, and you have value added (or, in this case, subtracted). 

    Some of these players fall behind the pack because their floaters are appalling. Others are wedded to the idea of the mid-range jumper, despite finding more tin than twine. Others still struggle from beyond the arc. 

    None of them are adding value with their jumpers, even if they might earn star designations through their work in other facets of the game. 

Dishonorable Mentions

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    15. Brandon Ingram, SF, Los Angeles Lakers: minus-48.29

    Though he's shown flashes of breakout ability for the Los Angeles Lakers, Brandon Ingram is still being asked to do too much—perhaps out of sheer necessity. He's one of the few players on the roster who can consistently create his own looks, so he's overextended on the offensive end and forced into plenty of ill-advised shots that depress his percentages. Especially if the Lakers land a marquee free agent this offseason, this should be his last time showing up near the bottom of a shooting ranking. 

          

    14. Draymond Green, PF, Golden State Warriors: minus-50.06

    Look, there's a reason the Golden State Warriors' opponents often decide to neglect Draymond Green when he's floating around the perimeter. They need to focus their attention on the Dubs' many other star presences, and letting Green loft up triples is an advisable strategy. After all, more than two-thirds of his negative value comes from downtown, where he's connecting at a 30.1 percent clip. 

           

    13. Lonzo Ball, PG, Los Angeles Lakers: minus-50.66

    Take solace in the fact that Lonzo Ball is actually trending in the right direction after a horrifying start to his professional career. Prior to going down with his first sidelining injury, the first-year point guard was averaging 10.0 points while slashing 34.9/29.7/48.0. In six games since returning (including a lengthy absence for another malady), he's posted 10.8 points per contest, shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from downtown—including a 3-of-6 showing from deep against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 23. 

    Progress, not perfection.  

          

    12. Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: minus-51.49

    Yes, Andrew Wiggins scores a lot of points. No, he has not become a bastion of efficiency, instead succumbing to temptation as he hoists plenty of contested jumpers from the worst spots of the half-court set. Whether he's spotting up or isolating a defender, Wiggins has yet to learn how he can best pick his spots, and, in spite of sterling finishing abilities around the basket, his 50.7 true shooting percentage is on pace to be the worst mark of his four-year career. 

          

    11. De'Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings: minus-52.61

    Shooting struggles often go hand-in-hand with rookie campaigns, and De'Aaron Fox hasn't proved an exception for the Sacramento Kings. He's been inaccurate from each of the four relevant areas, hitting only 31.6 percent of his shots between three and 10 feet, 30.6 percent of his looks between 11 and 16 feet, 35.0 percent of even longer twos and 32.7 percent of his triples. 

10. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards: Minus-56.6

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    Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-10.55

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-17.48

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-27.08

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-1.49

    For years, John Wall has served as an All-Star point guard for the Washington Wizards with one glaring weakness: He can't shoot three-pointers with any hint of consistency. Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, he'd taken 2.7 triples per game throughout his career but connected at a 32.1 percent lifetime clip. 

    Prior to going under the knife to repair his left knee, Wall was changing that narrative. Not only was he knocking down a career-best 35.8 percent of his looks from beyond the arc, but he was also doing so while taking an even 4.0 attempts per game—more than he's tried in any season other than 2015-16 (4.3).

    Unfortunately, that still wasn't enough to pull him out of the shooting doldrums. 

    Perhaps because he's struggled to remain healthy all year and hasn't created the same type of separation from pesky defenders, his percentages from all over the half-court set have plummeted. In 2016-17, he connected on 36.4 percent of his shots between three and 10 feet, 37.6 percent of his looks from the next zone back and 38.9 percent of even longer twos. This go-round, those respective numbers have fallen to 31.6, 29.3 and 29.7 percent. 

    Wall still does plenty of good for the Wizards, and thinking the team is somehow stronger with Tomas Satoransky (who's been undeniably impressive) and Tim Frazier leading the point guard rotation remains steeped in faulty logic.

    But his shooting in non-Morey areas has been legitimately detrimental. That much is purely factual. 

9. Spencer Dinwiddie, PG/SG, Brooklyn Nets: Minus-57.52

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    Oscar Baldizon/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-18.27

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-7.16

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-6.47

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-25.62

    Many elements of Spencer Dinwiddie's game have helped spark his rise to prominence for the Brooklyn Nets.

    If this were a competition revolving around the ability to drive toward the hoop and either finish plays inside of three feet (58.0 percent) or keep your eyes up in search of a teammate roaming free (Dinwiddie's 1.8 driving assists per game rank No. 6 in the NBA), this 24-year-old would fare rather well. Ditto if we were analyzing free-throw shooting or pure passing ability, especially when accompanied by an ability to keep turnovers in check. 

    But this is about shooting outside the restricted area during live action, a weak spot for the Colorado product. 

    Dinwiddie rarely takes two-point jumpers, and that's a good thing. He's not particularly skilled at tickling twine when he rises and fires from a mid-range zone. But it's more troubling that he's proved so inefficient on touch shots just outside three feet (27.6 percent from three to 10 feet) and insists on taking 5.7 triples per game when he's knocking down just 33.6 percent of them. 

    That last part yields the majority of the negativity in this particular analysis. The NBA as a whole shoots 36.1 percent from long-range this season, and Dinwiddie checks in well below while taking more deep attempts per contest than all but 29 qualified marksmen

8. Blake Griffin, PF, Detroit Pistons: Minus-57.86

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    Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-2.23

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-11.33

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-20.53

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-23.77

    Blake Griffin didn't exactly prove himself a mid-range sniper for the Los Angeles Clippers this season before a blockbuster trade sent him to the Motor City, but a changing shot profile with the Detroit Pistons hasn't allowed him to improve. He isn't finishing nearly as many plays around the hoop—11.2 percent fewer of his attempts are coming within three feet—and he's forgotten how to put the ball through the hoop from three-point territory. 

    Fortunately, we do have good news. 

    Griffin was Awful—yes, with a capital "A"—on deep twos during his Clippers tenure, hitting just 20.5 percent of his looks from at least 17 feet. That portion of his game has improved dramatically since he threw on a different uniform, and he's knocked down 35.7 percent of those takes with Detroit. 

    But that's where the positives end.

    He's still a net negative from that area on the season, since eight games aren't enough to pull him out of the doldrums. In fact, only John Wall has provided less value on these deepest of two-pointers. And since his three-point percentage has plummeted to a putrid 29.4 percent with the Pistons, he's not doing enough away from the basket to counterbalance the other holes in his game. 

    Fear not, Detroit faithful. A growing sample will probably change much of this. But still, it's not like Griffin was a lights-out shooter before the trade, either. 

7. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons: Minus-59.26

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-42.12

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-9.83

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-0.8

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-6.51

    Andre Drummond's shooting from 11 feet and out is mostly irrelevant, considering how infrequently he calls his own number from those zones. He's operating on the perimeter more than ever this season, but that's largely because the Detroit Pistons are taking advantage of his growing playmaking skills and asking him to serve as a secondary distributor. 

    The big man is 0-of-6 from downtown this season, and all but two of those attempts have been end-of-quarter heaves. Seriously, he's taken shots from 34, 37, 53 and 65 feet during the 2017-18 campaign. 

    Though we can't write these looks off as easily, Drummond is 0-of-1 on two-pointers from at least 17 feet (a 19-footer against the Indiana Pacers) and 3-of-19 from between 11 and 16 feet. Those don't add up to provide massively negative scores, though the cumulative effect still pushes him closer to the bottom of the pile. 

    The real issue—and this should in no way negate the massive strides he has made in so many areas this year, which combined to make him a deserving All-Star out of the Eastern Conference—has been his inability to connect on touch shots just outside the restricted area. Only four players this season have scored at minus-25 or worse from the three-to-10 range: our No. 1 overall finisher (minus-30.75), our No. 2 overall finisher (minus-33.26), Brandon Ingram (minus-37.94) and, in a class of his own, Drummond (minus-42.12).

    Per NBA Savant, shooting 28.6 percent on floaters doesn't help. Nor does registering only 0.82 points per possession (41.8 percentile) on post-up attempts. And those are just two of many examples. 

6. Stanley Johnson, SF, Detroit Pistons: Minus-61.33

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-22.55

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 0.51

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-4.11

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-35.18

    Since Stanley Johnson is the third consecutive member of the Detroit Pistons in this countdown, we'll give faithful fans of that franchise a bit of reprieve. Rather than focusing on the off-putting performances from this 21-year-old small forward (see: 0-of-13 outing to start the season), we'll instead highlight just how much better he's played in recent outings. 

    Since the Jan. 29 blockbuster that sent Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley to the Los Angeles Clippers for Blake Griffin, Johnson has taken advantage of a newfound opportunity to settle into the starting five. Over the course of his last 11 outings, dating back to a Jan. 30 showing against the Cleveland Cavaliers in which he dropped a 26-spot, the up-and-comer is averaging 13.0 points while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from downtown. 

    Those numbers still aren't eye-poppingly positive. But they're palatable, and that's all the Pistons need from Johsnon while he continues to demonstrate his devastating defensive discipline. So long as he isn't a glaring shooting liability, he's a player who aids the winning process in plenty of other avenues. 

    Of course, he's been a liability for much of the year.

    That much is unavoidable, and it's why he registers as the sixth-least valuable shooter for the 2017-18 campaign. Even after his recent improvements and the accompanying confidence gains, he still sits at No. 463 in value added from three-to-10 feet (out of 468 players with at least one relevant attempt) and No. 441 in three-point value added (out of 451 players). 

5. Marcus Smart, PG/SG, Boston Celtics: Minus-61.85

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-14.69

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-7.16

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 0.32

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-40.32

    Though Marcus Smart always seems to overcome his shooting limitations in key situations, those limitations do exist. They've made him one of the league's worst three-point marksman, as he's now following up a 2016-17 campaign in which he took 4.2 triples per game and connected at a 28.3 percent clip by posting respective numbers of 4.5 and 30.0. 

    That second mark is actually a bit generous—the product of rounding making a figure look more palatable. Though 29.99 percent and 30.00 percent contain only negligible differences in this particular context, round-number bias and the starting digit lead to vastly differing psychological effects.

    Why do you think companies are so eager to price items a penny below an even dollar amount? It's the same concept. 

    In Smart's case, he's technically shooting 29.95 percent from beyond the arc, and that puts him in miserable territory. Among every qualified player in NBA history who's connected on fewer than 30 percent of their deep attempts, only 13 have been willing to fire away more frequently—troubling for this combo guard and his Boston Celtics. 

    The 23-year-old does provide plenty of positive value with his indefatigable defensive intensity and playmaking acumen, but he's always working his way out of a hole. That shooting is unabashedly detrimental and severely curtails his overall ceiling, particularly while he's providing more negative three-point contributions than all but six players in the league—three of whom have yet to appear in this countdown. 

4. Josh Jackson, SF, Phoenix Suns: Minus-62.63

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: 6.28

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-14.66

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-7.32

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-46.93 

    Josh Jackson would be one of those players who's providing even less value from beyond the arc than Marcus Smart. 

    The Phoenix Suns rookie small forward has been playing much better basketball since late January, and he's now averaged 16.2 points and 5.9 rebounds while slashing 43.5/27.5/69.2 over his last 14 appearances—seven of which he started. But the very fact that those percentages represent progress is troubling in and of itself. 

    Throughout Jackson's inaugural season at the professional level, he's been able to hit just 26.7 percent of his three-point attempts while taking 2.8 per game. That's...less than ideal. Among the 149 players hoisting at least 2.5 treys per contest, these are the five worst percentages: 

    1. Josh Jackson, 26.7 percent
    2. Mario Chalmers, 27.0 percent
    3. Dennis Schroder, 28.3 percent
    4. Norman Powell, 28.8 percent
    5. Russell Westbrook, 29.1 percent

    So what saves this first-year forward from even more ignominious placement? 

    He's still filling a relatively minor role with the Suns, which prevents him from shooting enough to catch the "leaders" in this particular competition. 

3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, PG/SG/SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks: Minus-63.77

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-7.9

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-12.81

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-19.96

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-23.1

    In spite of his placement here, Giannis Antetokounmpo should still be thought of as a second-tier MVP candidate. The work he's done for the Milwaukee Bucks is admirable, as he's consistently proven he doesn't actually need an effective jumper in order to have a monumental impact on the proceedings. Accordingly, he sits at No. 5 in Basketball-Reference.com's NBA MVP Award Tracker, trailing only James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James. 

    It still doesn't mean he can shoot. 

    That may seem like a strange thing to say about the positionless stud averaging more points per game than anyone in the NBA not named James Harden or Anthony Davis, but then you see the numbers: Of his 27.6 points per game, 6.8 come from the charity stripe—irrelevant for our purposes. Another 12.9 points per contest come within three feet, which leaves just 7.9 per outing from the areas with which we're concerned. 

    And he struggles from them. Immensely. 

    Antetokounmpo shoots just 37.6 percent between three and 10 feet. That number drops to 34.8 percent for each of the two-point zones further away from the basket. And when he steps beyond the arc (something he does just 1.7 times per game), he can only rotate the rock through the rim at a 28.1 percent clip. 

    The Bucks should be thanking their lucky stars the lanky Greek Freak hasn't yet needed to rely on that shaky jumper. 

2. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder: Minus-95.09

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-33.26

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-1.46

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-5.34

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-55.03

    Free advice for Russell Westbrook: Enough with the PUJITs, already. 

    Far too frequently, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard grabs a defensive rebound and jets down the court before deciding to take an ill-advised pull-up jumper in transition. The shot will inevitably clang off the backboard before falling harmlessly into the outstretched mits of the opposition. On the season as a whole, Westbrook is shooting 27.1 percent on pull-up triples, but that's apparently not enough incentive for him to break this troublesome habit. 

    Unfortunately for OKC, he hasn't been much better in spot-up situations, either.

    Westbrook's overall three-point percentage is a miserable 29.1 percent. Combine that with his penchant for lofting up shots (4.4 per game from downtown), and you have a recipe for the least valuable contributions from beyond the arc, outpacing Pascal Siakam (minus-53.86 value added) by a slim margin.

    But the trouble doesn't stop there. 

    Westbrook is still pushing close to another season-long triple-double, and his aggression helps spark the Thunder's offense. He should just stop taking floaters and short jumpers, because they've given him nearly as much trouble as his three-point woes. In fact, only Brandon Ingram (minus-37.94) and Andre Drummond (minus-42.12) have provided less value between three and 10 feet. 

    Breaking news: This dynamic floor general is by no means a perfect player. 

1. Dennis Smith Jr., PG, Dallas Mavericks: Minus-99.09

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    Barry Gossage/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-30.75

    11-16 Feet Value Added: Minus-22.32

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-5.41

    Three-Pointers Value Added: Minus-40.61

    It's time for the positive spin, as brought to you by Mavs.com's Bobby Karalla:

    "It usually takes even the best players a while to develop [the three-point shot], anyway—way longer than the length of a rookie season. Some of the very best point guards in the NBA were 20 years old during their rookie campaigns; the 3-point shooting numbers of Mike Conley (33.0 percent), John Wall (29.6), Chris Paul (28.2), and Russell Westbrook (27.1) don't look terrific in retrospect, but today Conley and Paul are two of the best shooters at that position in the league, while Wall is an All-Star mainstay and Westbrook is polishing off his MVP trophy.

    "From a statistical standpoint, Smith is actually a pretty strong spot-up shooter. He's connected on 38.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, per NBA Stats, a better mark than Damian Lillard's (33.1) this season and nearly as good as All-Star Kyle Lowry's (40.2). That number indicates that when Smith has the chance to get his feet set, he can knock down 3s at a really high level. Shooting off the dribble, however, is another thing entirely. Smith has shot 27.7 percent on the much more difficult pull-up 3s this season. Concepts like shot selection and understanding the balance between scoring and passing as a point guard have certainly contributed to that mark, and those are qualities that can take a long time for even superstars to nail down. But Smith's high catch-and-shoot accuracy gives you reason to believe that with another couple years of work, he can develop a much more consistent, reliable outside shot off the bounce."

    The future should still be bright for this rookie point guard, and the Dallas Mavericks have already realized they should be trying to get him more opportunities in catch-and-shoot situations. But a point guard will eventually need to become proficient scoring off the bounce, and Dennis Smith Jr. isn't there. 

    Not even close. 

    Despite playing fewer than 30 minutes per game, the N.C. State product sits ahead of only four players in three-point value added. Russell Westbrook, Brandon Ingram and Andre Drummond are his lone inferiors between three and 10 feet. From 11 to 16 feet, only Dwyane Wade and Ben Simmons have been less valuable. The longest of long twos are Smith's lone respite, and he's still checking in with red figures. 

    Again, this could change, and it's important to avoid viewing this as a condemnation of his future in the NBA. But so far, the widespread nature of his shooting woes force him into the least valuable spot. 

       

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball ReferenceNBA.comNBA Math or ESPN.com and are current heading into games on February 26.