Metrics 101: Ranking the NBA's Most Valuable Shooters

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 6, 2018

Metrics 101: Ranking the NBA's Most Valuable Shooters

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    Does the sound of a basketball swishing through a hoop ever get old? Does the appeal die away if you've heard it too many times? 

    If you desire answers to those rhetorical questions, you should ask one of the players who'll soon be featured in this countdown of the NBA's most valuable shooters during the 2017-18 campaign. They've all heard the sound of rock ripping through nylon countless times, peppering the opposition with accurate jumpers from all over the court. 

    To be clear, these are not the best "scorers." That's an entirely different conversation and would give more credit to players like MVP front-runner James Harden, who does so much of his damage right around the bucket or at the charity stripe. Here, 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 39.5 percent, which means 0.79 points per shot)
    2. 11 to 16 feet (41.5 percent, 0.83 points per shot)
    3. Two-pointers from at least 17 feet (40.1 percent, 0.802 points per shot)
    4. Three-pointers (36.2 percent, 1.086 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.

    Some of these players rise above the pack because their floaters are always accurate. Others are wedded to the idea of the mid-range jumper and find more twine than tin. Others still can't be left alone from beyond the arc. 

    All of them are adding value with their jumpers every night.

Honorable Mentions

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    15. Darius Miller, SF, New Orleans Pelicans: 71.44

    The New Orleans Pelicans may have put together a flawed roster around their wealthy stars, but players such as Darius Miller have still provided the requisite spacing. Anthony Davis and pre-injury DeMarcus Cousins couldn't torment foes in one-on-one situations without unheralded sharpshooters knocking down plenty of shots and forcing defenders out of the paint—and that's exactly what Miller has done by taking 4.5 triples per game and connecting at a 42.2 percent clip. 

         

    14. Khris Middleton, SG/SF, Milwaukee Bucks: 74.33

    Khris Middleton is the only player listed among the honorable mentions or featured spots who provides negative value from beyond the arc—the byproduct of shooting just 34.0 percent but taking an even five treys per contest. Fortunately, he makes up for his deficiencies (a major aberration, considering his history as a deep shooter) by leading the league in value gained from between 11 and 16 feet. His score of 60.26 in that area is more than 20 points higher than the 39.24 provided by our No. 2 overall finisher. 

              

    13. Kyle Korver, SG/SF, Cleveland Cavaliers: 74.93

    Only 15.9 percent of Kyle Korver's shooting attempts have fallen between three feet and the three-point arc during his first full season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's watched him throughout his lengthy NBA career. Nor should his continued status as one of the league's deadliest long-range marksmen; Korver's value added from downtown (66.23) ranks No. 4, trailing only Paul George, Joe Ingles and two of our top three overall finishers. 

          

    12. Otto Porter Jr., SF, Washington Wizards: 77.94

    Though Otto Porter Jr. has continued to develop and justify the max contract extension he signed with the Washington Wizards this past offseason, his production is starting to come in different fashion. After serving as the league's deadliest spot-up sniper in 2016-17, he's "only" in the 74th percentile this time around. Fortunately for his troops, though, he's improved his effective field-goal percentage on pull-up attempts from 45.2 to 48.3

          

    11. Joe Ingles, SF, Utah Jazz: 78.59

    Joe Ingles has a negative score from between three and 10 feet. Ditto for his work between 11 and 16 feet. He's barely in the positives for the longest two-range zone, though he fires away so infrequently from that inefficient area that his output is rendered almost irrelevant. But then we come to three-point territory, where Ingles connects on 44.4 percent of his 5.6 attempts per game and checks in behind only the No. 1 overall finisher in value added from beyond the rainbow. 

10. JJ Redick, SG, Philadelphia 76ers: 83.59

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    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-2.52

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 9.79

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 32.11

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 44.21

    When JJ Redick is on the floor, the Philadelphia 76ers score 109.3 points per 100 possessions, which would trail only the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors in the league-wide hierarchy. But when the Duke product takes a seat, that offensive rating nosedives to 101.5. This time, it would prove superior to only the season-long mark posted by the lowly Sacramento Kings. 

    Joel Embiid is the lone member of the up-and-coming roster with a larger on/off split, and that's no fluke. Though Redick might not be the "best" player on this team, his three-point abilities are vital to its scoring success. Without him pulling defenders toward the perimeter, the Sixers offense stagnates as the opposition sags off Ben Simmons and sends constant double-teams in Embiid's direction. 

    What Redick does from closer to the paint doesn't matter much, since he so rarely engages in mid-range basketball. He does, however, have a tendency to curl around a screen and dribble into a longer two, which typically tickles twine upon its decent. He's been developing that part of his game for years, but it's recently taken over as arguably his biggest strength. 

    Redick ranks No. 14 in value added from three-point territory, sandwiched directly between Otto Porter Jr. and Marvin Williams. In that longest of two-point zones, though, he sits behind only the league's No. 1 overall shooter, whose name you'll discover soon enough. 

9. E'Twaun Moore, SG, New Orleans Pelicans: 87.15

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    Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: 44.9

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 3.46

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: Minus-1.28

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 40.07

    Though E'Twaun Moore has proved himself a capable perimeter shooter during his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans, his developments around the basket are even more interesting. 

    Throughout the 2016-17 campaign, the Purdue product took 19.9 percent of his field-goal attempts from between three and 10 feet, connecting at a 48.8 percent clip. Those were respectable numbers for a 6'4" guard, but they still pale in comparison to this year's. Not only has Moore fired away from the relevant range on an additional 0.9 percent of his shooting attempts, but he's hitting them 55.8 percent of the time. 

    Take a gander at the five leading scores in value added from three to 10 feet, and you'll quickly see Moore emerging as an outlier: 

    1. Zach Randolph, 49.07
    2. Robin Lopez, 46.69
    3. E'Twaun Moore, 44.9
    4. Karl-Anthony Towns, 38.79
    5. Jimmy Butler, 34.43

    That three big men populate the leading quintet shouldn't come as a surprise, and don't be fooled by Jimmy Butler and Moore both spending time at the 2. The former outflanks the latter by four inches and 45 pounds, preying on adversaries with his size and all-around physical advantages. 

    Without that same luxury in the height and weight departments, Moore has instead seen his touch develop nicely for the Pelicans, allowing him to knock down plentiful pull-up jumpers and frequent floaters in traffic. 

8. Dirk Nowitzki, PF/C, Dallas Mavericks: 87.77

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    Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: 1.48

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 13.04

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 17.74

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 55.51

    "He will at [age] 45," New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about whether Dirk Nowitzki remains a key part of the scouting report when preparing for the Dallas Mavericks, per Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. "The guy's shooting 40 percent from three, 90 percent from the line. That's good numbers if you were 22."

    And the effusive praise wasn't done:

    "He's just a special player. What he's done and the player that he made himself from the first couple of years that he was here all the way up until now is phenomenal. You're still talking about the all-time great players in our league over the history and somewhere along the line really quickly his name's going to come up."

    That all sounds great, except Gentry is actually selling Nowitzki short. 

    The German 7-footer isn't knocking down 40 percent of his three-point attempts; he's hitting a career-best 43.2 percent. Similarly, Nowitzki isn't shooting 90 percent at the stripe, but rather a scorching 90.7 percent that lags behind only his efforts in 2009-10 (91.5 percent). 

    Yes, the power forward is logging fewer minutes than he has since his rookie campaign with the Mavericks, which came all the way back in 1998-99. His 12.5 points per game lag behind the marks he's earned ever since completing that inaugural season. But he's counteracting that volume deficit with incredible efficiency numbers and doing so while taking a heretofore unseen percentage of his looks from three-point territory. 

    Heading into this go-round, Nowitzki had taken at least 30 percent of his overall attempts from triple range on three separate occasions: 30.8 percent each of the last two seasons and 31.3 percent in 2000-01. 

    This year, 42 percent of his looks are worth an extra point. And he's still more accurate than ever. 

7. Mike Scott, PF, Washington Wizards: 90.03

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    3-10 Feet Value Added: 23.1

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 26.39

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 21.53

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 19.01

    If you're surprised by Mike Scott's placement in this countdown, you're not alone. 

    The power forward logged just 10.8 minutes per game for the Atlanta Hawks last season and suited up in only 18 contests. His shot completely abandoned him, leading him to finish the year with a cringe-inducing slash line of 28.8/14.8/87.5. After he bounced between the G League's Delaware 87ers and Long Island Nets, the Hawks traded him and Cenk Akyol to the Phoenix Suns for a heavily protected second-round pick that didn't end up conveying. 

    Not only did Phoenix waive him one day later, but he could only earn a one-year deal worth $1,709,538 with the Washington Wizards this past summer. That's become quite the bargain now that his stroke has returned. 

    "I'm pleasantly surprised that he shoots the ball so well," Washington head coach Scott Brooks admitted in early February, per Candace Buckner of the Washington Post. "I didn't know that he was deadly from 17-18 feet, all the way to the three-point line. So that's been a great surprise."

    With a high-release jumper that always seems to find its intended target, Scott has bounced back admirably, becoming a threat to add points to the scoreboard from any area of the half-court set. He's shooting 52.6 percent on pull-up jumpers, which almost all come from mid-range territory. He's in the 94.1 percentile for points per spot-up possession. And the versatility extends from shot types to location, as well. 

    Scott might not be a leading standout in any of our four categories, but he ranks No. 16 from three to 10 feet, No. 4 from 11 to 16 feet, No. 9 on even longer twos and No. 61 from beyond the arc. Not too shabby for a 29-year-old getting his career back on track but still logging just 18.1 minutes per contest. 

6. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: 94.83

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: 38.79

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 2.88

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 17.5

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 35.66

    Players listed at 7'0" or taller aren't supposed to be this good at shooting. But Karl-Anthony Towns is an exception—befitting a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves who plays offense like he was created in a laboratory. 

    Towns has every tool imaginable. He can stroke jumpers, whether he's pulling up off the bounce or spotting up and awaiting a setup feed. He can hit turnaround fadeaways from the high post, go to work with nice touch shots around the basket or roll to the hoop and kill his forward momentum before dropping a floater. Everything works, given his ludicrous mix of finesse, physicality, touch and creativity. 

    In fact, Towns and E'Twaun Moore are literally the only two players with scores above 30 in each of the two bookend categories. And that's still not what makes this former Kentucky product most unique, since we again have to go back to the realm of 7-footers. 

    Forty-five different players this season are listed with frames of at least 84 inches, though Damian Jones and Marshall Plumlee didn't qualify for this analysis by virtue of never taking shots from at least three feet. Of the remaining 43, 21 have positive scores in total value added as shooters, and Towns blows everyone but Dirk Nowitzki out of the water. Here come the top five outputs: 

    1. Karl-Anthony Towns, 94.83
    2. Dirk Nowitzki, 87.77
    3. Jonas Valanciunas, 47.83
    4. Dewayne Dedmon, 41.4
    5. Kristaps Porzingis, 31.02

    Kristaps Porzingis would've risen closer to the top had he remained healthy, but we can't alter history. We can only break down what's happened, and that means Nowitzki and Jonas Valanciunas are the only other 7-footers providing even half as much shooting value as the Minnesota superstar. 

5. CJ McCollum, SG, Portland Trail Blazers: 96.63

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    3-10 Feet Value Added: 13.44

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 14.04

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 13.33

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 55.82

    With a silky-smooth jumper that allows him to rise and fire with a high release over the outstretched arms of nearly any defender, CJ McCollum is a scoring machine. Few players have more seamless transitions from dribbling routines into the shooting motion than this 2-guard who can throw defenders off with a wide array of moves before elevating vertically and squaring his shoulders and hips to the hoop. 

    McCollum is a phenomenal three-point shooter, though you'd hardly mistake him for one of the league's deadliest long-range marksmen. His 41.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc and 5.9 three-point attempts per outing are both impressive numbers; they just leave him adding less value than six other snipers—three of whom have yet to appear in this countdown.  

    And yet, the Portland Trail Blazers backcourt standout has still outpaced running mate Damian Lillard by a large margin this season (note: as a shooter only). Whereas the point guard checks in at No. 68 overall, the shooting guard takes advantage of his well-rounded play to sneak into the top five. 

    Only five different players have added double-digit value in each of our four categories. Chris Paul is one, though his injuries haven't given him enough opportunities to burst into this countdown, and he hasn't been too accurate from deep in 2017-18. Mike Scott has already appeared. And that leaves McCollum, the next man to appear in our march toward the league's best shooter and our No. 2 finisher. 

    McCollum might not thrive enough in any one area to rest atop the pack, but he's certainly in the conversation revolving around the NBA's most well-rounded jump-shooter. 

4. Kyrie Irving, PG, Boston Celtics: 115.36

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    3-10 Feet Value Added: 15.73

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 18.21

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 26.24

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 55.18

    Kyrie Irving and CJ McCollum have posted comparable scores from three to 10 feet, 11 to 16 feet and three-point territory. Especially in that last category, they're separated by only a sliver. But the Boston Celtics superstar pulls ahead because of his proficiency on long twos. 

    Tune into a Beantown contest, and it won't take you long to see Irving putting a defender on skates with his wizardrous ball-handling. No one in the league (dare I say ever?) can match his dribbling combinations, which see him link together improbable moves in novel fashion to create the tiniest modicum of space. 

    And that's all he needs before finding twine. 

    During the 2017-18 campaign, only 75 players have managed to hit at least 45 percent of their pull-up jumpers, but not a single player has done so while matching the frequency with which Irving fires away off the bounce. In fact, while Irving takes 7.9 such shots per game, Trey Burke (5.3, but only over the course of 18 games), Stephen Curry (7.0) and Khris Middleton (7.4) are the lone men joining him north of five. He mixes together volume and efficiency like no one else. 

    Irving can score from virtually any situation, and this particular analysis doesn't even give credit to his creative finishing habits around the basket.

    He still trails only three players while often serving as the Celtics' sole source of reliable offensive production. 

3. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors: 135.18

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: 1.34

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 23.34

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 23.48

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 87.02

    Only Stephen Curry could check in as the league's No. 3 most valuable shooter and presumably feel twinges of disappointment. I don't want to put any words in his mouth, but it's hard to imagine the greatest marksman in the sport's history feeling satisfied when he trails two players in his pet category. 

    So, what went wrong? What caused him to finish all the way down on the bronze-medal podium? 

    For starters, Curry has missed 15 of the Golden State Warriors' contests while dealing with various injuries. If we assumed health and prorated his score to account for perfect attendance, he'd be just a hair behind the No. 1 finisher. And that means something else is still off. 

    It remains true that the legendary point guard has actually improved his true shooting percentage since winning MVP in unanimous fashion with his offensive exploits, but he's doing so while taking fewer shots. He's also submitting a disproportionate amount of his damage from the charity stripe, where he's tracking toward a career high in attempts while converting 92 percent of his freebies. 

    The difference comes even closer to the hoop. 

    During Curry's two MVP campaigns, he connected on 44.0 percent of his shots between three and 10 feet, constantly showing off a deadly floater that rarely seemed to misfire. This year, that accuracy is down to 41.2 percent, and he's lofting up attempts from that area at the lowest rate of his career. 

    These are still positive numbers, but they explain why Curry has only barely been above average in the first of our four ranges. And in a competition with shooters this talented, that's a tough element to overcome while also dealing with score-limiting injuries.

2. Kevin Durant, SF, Golden State Warriors: 141.79

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: 20.07

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 39.24

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 18.17

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 64.31

    At this point in Kevin Durant's career, he's proved he's one of the greatest scorers in the sport's lengthy annals. Time and time again, he's emerged as one of those offensive studs who can blend together dizzying volume and eye-popping efficiency in seamless fashion, and the 2017-18 campaign has been no different. 

    Need a spot-up bucket? Durant has you covered. Want someone to create off the dribble in a crunch-time situation? No issues there. Whether he's working to gain separation from a defender with or without the rock, this forward is quite adept at ripping through nylon. The same is true if we're talking about close-range looks, mid-range buckets or shots from beyond the arc. 

    Regardless of the situation, Durant knows how to score. And it's that well-rounded play that makes him—rather easily, I should add—the most versatile scorer in this analysis. He might not lead in any of the four categories, but he's near the top of the hierarchy in all of them. 

    From three to 10 feet, Durant trails just 18 players, and the vast majority of those ahead have taken far more attempts. In fact, Al Jefferson, Joe Johnson and Mike Scott are the only contributors with superior scores on fewer tries. Move back a zone, and this future Hall of Famer jets up to No. 2 in the pecking order, lagging behind only Khris Middleton while outpacing everyone else by a significant margin. On the longest of two-pointers, he falls in at a respectable No. 12. 

    Once we look at beyond-the-arc efficacy, Durant checks in behind only Stephen Curry, Paul George, Joe Ingles, Kyle Korver and our No. 1 overall shooter. And yes, that means he's the only player in the league who ranks within the top 20 for each of the four zones. 

    Just imagine what he could do if he wasn't also sharing touches with the other two members of the league's leading shooting trio. 

1. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors: 178.74

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    3-10 Feet Value Added: Minus-3.83

    11-16 Feet Value Added: 28.43

    17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 39.28

    Three-Pointers Value Added: 114.86

    The Golden State Warriors have been so devastatingly effective throughout the last few years that we need a handicap. None of the opposing players know it, so nothing about how they play is going to change in the slightest. But in order to give the opposition a puncher's chance on any given night, we're going to pretend that Klay Thompson isn't allowed to take shots from inside the three-point arc.

    That means we wipe away the slightly negative value from between three and 10 feet. Ditto for his No. 3 finish in the next zone out, as well as his league-leading value added on two-pointers from at least 17 feet. They're now utterly irrelevant to our goal of identifying the NBA's most valuable shooter in 2017-18.

    Astoundingly, Thompson's value added from three-point range alone would still give him the No. 4 overall score, only bumping him behind Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving. He's been that good when firing away from triple territory. 

    Throughout the current campaign, the 2-guard has taken an even seven treys per contest and connected at a 45.0 percent clip—the highest rate of any qualified shooter. That's a dumbfounding amalgamation of volume and efficiency, the likes of which we've only seen from his fellow Splash Brother. Open up the entire NBA archives, and you'll see that the following individual seasons have produced the most deep looks per game from someone connecting on at least 44 percent of his tries: 

    1. 2015-16 Stephen Curry: 45.4 percent on 11.2 three-point attempts per game
    2. 2014-15 Stephen Curry: 44.3 percent on 8.1 three-point attempts per game
    3. 2012-13 Stephen Curry: 45.3 percent on 7.7 three-point attempts per game
    4. 2017-18 Klay Thompson: 45.0 percent on 7.0 three-point attempts per game
    5. 2007-08 Peja Stojakovic: 44.1 percent on 6.8 three-point attempts per game

    Unless you're named Stephen Curry, Thompson's numbers should be unfathomable. And in real life, we actually do get to add his potent work on two-point jumpers into the equation.

         

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com and are current heading into games on March 5.