Metrics 101: Exposing the NBA's Least Valuable Shooters
They also happen to be All-Stars, and one has a chance to claim the first MVP of his career. After all, those with the league's worst scores in this analysis don't have to be bad players; they can easily make up for their errant attempts by thriving in other facets of the game.
It's also worth noting the least valuable shooters aren't necessarily the "worst" shooters. Those falling into the latter category either don't take shots away from the basket or fail to get onto the floor at all. You have to be somewhat talented just to have the attempts necessary to work your way toward this article's pole position.
As was the case last season, we're not concerned with free-throw abilities or work at the rim. Everything else is fair game and separated into four different zones:
- Three-to-10 feet (NBA as a whole shoots 39.9 percent, which means 0.798 points per shot)
- 11-to-16 feet (41.2 percent, 0.824 points per shot)
- Two-pointers from at least 17 feet (39.9 percent, 0.798 points per shot)
- Three-pointers (35.5 percent, 1.064 points per shot)
By calculating every player's points per shot for each of the four zones, then subtracting out the league average, we arrive at their points gained per shot in each spot, 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 struggle from beyond the arc.
None of them are adding value with their jumpers, even if they might earn star designations through their work elsewhere.
10. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brooklyn Nets: Minus-50.762
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-18.517
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-10.585
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-0.798
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-20.862
Though the Brooklyn Nets have taken a massive stride forward in their quest for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, that quantum leap can't be credited to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The 24-year-old forward has continued to play solid, versatile defense, but his offensive game has trended in the wrong direction after a junior year filled with improvement.
Perhaps unable to find a rhythm while working with fewer minutes in the rotation employed by head coach Kenny Atkinson, Hollis-Jefferson has experienced across-the-board regression. He's even struggling around the rim (54.5 percent from within three feet) and at the free-throw stripe (65.0 percent), though neither of those zones factors into our analysis.
Nearly half his shots come right at the bucket, which is good news for both Hollis-Jefferson's percentages and a Brooklyn offense that can muster just a rotation-worst 104.2 points per 100 possessions while he's on the floor. But even with his diminished volume, he's been so ineffective from each of our four zones that he registers among the league's least valuable shooters.
The three-point shooting (20.0 percent on 0.9 attempts per game) is particularly problematic, especially when coupled with an inability to connect on any type of mid-range jumper.
Dishonorable Mentions: Jonathon Simmons (minus-49.992), Aaron Gordon (minus-48.15), Kevin Knox (minus-46.047), Kelly Oubre Jr. (minus-44.513), Eric Bledsoe (minus-43.3)
9. DeAndre' Bembry, Atlanta Hawks: Minus-54.174
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-17.854
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-8.469
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-3.583
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-24.268
DeAndre' Bembry has carved out a larger role in the rotation of the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks, and deservedly so.
That said, his growth has come through continued intensity on the point-preventing end, ball-handling skill that allows him to initiate pick-and-roll sets and the athleticism necessary to finish plays around the basket. Shooting 59.3 percent at the hoop while taking 48.1 percent of his field-goal attempts from within three feet is nothing to sniff at.
But more minutes haven't changed one simple truth: Bembry can't shoot.
A 6'6" wing who fills a small scoring role for the Hawks, this 24-year-old doesn't typically let fly from mid-range territory. But he still subtracts plenty of jump-shooting value when he's either kept from the hoop and forced to attempt a creative shot from the paint or compelled into a three-point hoist by the large gap between himself and his primary defender.
Only 20 players have worse scores from between three and 15 feet, as Bembry is taking 1.9 shots per game and splashing at a futile 26.2 percent clip. From beyond the arc, his 29.2 percent shooting on 2.2 tries per contest leaves him ahead of just 31 players.
But it's that combination that's most cumbersome, as only a dozen players—four of whom will soon appear in this ignominious countdown—have sunk below scores of minus-15 in both categories.
8. Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets: Minus-54.428
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-18.966
11-16 Feet Value Added: 2.942
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 0.417
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-38.821
Eric Gordon is a great example of the limitations inherent to our methodology. By focusing only on the results of shots, we're admittedly neglecting the impact that simply taking deep attempts can have.
The Houston Rockets score an additional 5.2 points per 100 possessions with this 2-guard on the floor, which leaves his individual swing trailing only the marks earned by James Harden (6.1) and Kenneth Faried (11.7 in a relatively small sample). That's not just a fluke resulting from many minutes alongside sterling offensive contributors, as evidenced by Gordon's 1.23 offensive real plus/minus—No. 15 among the 108 men qualified by ESPN as shooting guards.
His ability to handle the rock and take pressure away from Chris Paul and Harden is valuable in and of itself. So too is his willingness to fire away 8.6 times per game from outside the rainbow; even if one heave after another clangs off the iron, defenders still can't just leave such a shot-happy player with an impressive history wide-open on the perimeter.
But a lot of heaves have gone clanging off the iron.
Gordon is shooting just 32.3 percent from three-point territory in 2018-19—the third-worst mark throughout NBA history among the 24 qualified seasons featuring at least eight deep attempts per game. Given his extreme volume and shocking inefficiency, this guard has subtracted so much jump-shooting value from beyond the arc that only six men have fared worse in the category.
7. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: Minus-56.046
3-10 Feet Value Added: 2.472
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-13.874
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-5.843
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-38.801
Much like Eric Gordon keeps driving lanes open for James Harden with his willingness to fire away from downtown, Joel Embiid clears paths for Ben Simmons and the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers offense. He's even explained this exact effect, nonplussed by his shoddy percentages when veering too far from his dominant spots on the low block.
"I don't like shooting threes," the big man claimed after a late December victory over the Toronto Raptors, per 973espn.com's Michael Kaskey-Blomain. "I only do it because of the spacing that we have, and sometimes I have to take them. I have to be on the perimeter getting guys open because of all of the attention that presents to me. But I don't like shooting threes. I only do it because I gotta make it work."
But at some point, Embiid might need to start playing more to his strengths.
Since that game against the NBA's Canadian representatives, the towering center has taken 4.3 triples per contest and found nylon 32.2 percent of the time. At the time of his statement, those numbers stood at 3.8 and 27.6, respectively.
But even with the improvements, Embiid remains one of the league's least valuable jump-shooters from distance, checking in ahead of only seven players because of his combination of volume and inefficiency. That's not acceptable for an offensive dynamo who can thrive around the basket and shows off a nice face-up game from many mid-range locations.
Dominant as Embiid already is, he might be capable of doing even more. Of course, he and the Sixers would have to balance whether individual gains are worth potential team-wide regression.
6. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks: Minus-56.154
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-2.135
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-4.464
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-11.058
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-38.497
Even though Trae Young has gradually improved throughout his rookie campaign and is now playing much better offensive basketball for the Atlanta Hawks, he got off to quite the ice-cold start while making the transition to the sport's highest level. His early-season numbers are still dragging down the totality of his efforts.
Dating back to his final game of 2018—a 16-point performance against the Indiana Pacers during which he went 4-of-6 on his treys—Young has taken 6.5 triples per game and drilled 37.7 percent of them. That still can't match what he did during his record-setting freshman season at Oklahoma, but it would be good for a score of 10.697 in our three-point category, placing this former Sooner well within the green.
And yes, that underscores how unabashedly awful he was before that midseason turning point.
Prior to that aforementioned loss in Indianapolis, Young was taking an even five attempts per game from downtown and hitting just 26.1 percent of them. His value "added" would've checked in at minus-49.193 at that stage of the season—worse than all but two players have fared up to this deeper point of the campaign.
Fortunately, rookie seasons are supposed to be more about progress than pure production.
5. Trey Lyles, Denver Nuggets: Minus-60.13
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-8.18
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-3.88
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: 6.441
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-54.511
The Denver Nuggets' 2018-19 efforts have been magical for almost everyone involved. Malik Beasley has blossomed into a key piece. Monte Morris has grown into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Paul Millsap looks revitalized. The team as a whole has endured plenty of injuries and remains in the hunt for the Western Conference's top seed.
But Trey Lyles is an exception, primarily because he can't stop taking shots from the perimeter, particularly when he's spotting up on the left wing.
Lyles is adept at letting fly from two-point range, even if those deep jumpers not worth an extra point are antithetical to the stylings of so many modern-day offenses. He's 10-of-17 on the year when shooting twos from at least 17 feet, and his 10-of-29 performance one range in isn't too putrid, though it does fall below league-average accuracy levels.
When he takes a step out to position himself beyond the arc, though, disaster ensues.
Some players try to shoot themselves out of cold slumps and eventually start connecting. Others stop firing away and play more to their strengths. Lyles falls into a third category, one comprised of marksmen who aren't really marksmen and refuse to admit as much.
That's the only possible explanation for hitting at a miserable 25.4 percent (27th percentile throughout the league) but still letting fly 6.4 times per 36 minutes (75th percentile). Among the 391 qualified individual seasons in league history featuring that many deep attempts per 36 minutes, literally no one has been more inaccurate.
Lyles' lack of playing time on a deep Denver roster is the lone element saving him from even worse placement.
4. Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves: Minus-66.002
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-17.888
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-1.646
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-6.737
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-39.731
"Josh is a one-of-a-kind talent in this league. Not many people can match his heart and determination to be great. The league better get ready to see Josh Okogie for 10-plus years," Karl-Anthony Towns recently said about his young teammate on the Minnesota Timberwolves, per Sporting News' Thomas Schlarp.
But if that statement will eventually become a prophetic one, the Georgia Tech product will need to improve his shooting chops rather dramatically. Though his indefatigable motor and defensive intensity make him a valuable role player during his rookie season, his ceiling will remain limited if he can't keep the opposition honest when spotting up on the perimeter.
This isn't to take away from his out-of-nowhere efforts during this inaugural campaign. Truly. A 20-year-old taken outside the lottery is contributing to a playoff contender in the Western Conference during his first go-round, even surviving a regime change and continuing to carve out minutes. Even if that's partially the result of injury-aided opportunities, that already makes for a success story.
But Okogie flat-out can't shoot.
Combining all the zones (he's taken minimal attempts from outside the paint but inside the three-point delineator), he's hoisted up 248 shots and connected on just 66 of them—"good" for a 26.6 field-goal percentage. That so many come from downtown is beneficial...but only kind of when he's hitting no more than 26.8 percent of those deep looks.
Mid-range improvement would be nice. Three-point strides may prove necessary.
3. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves: Minus-67.902
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-13.303
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-21.874
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-22.889
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-9.836
Kudos to Andrew Wiggins for gradually improving his three-point marksmanship:
- 2014-15: 31.0 percent on 1.5 attempts per game
- 2015-16: 30.0 percent on 2.3 attempts per game
- 2016-17: 35.6 percent on 3.5 attempts per game
- 2017-18: 33.1 percent on 4.1 attempts per game
- 2018-19: 34.1 percent on 4.7 attempts per game
Then again, those numbers still aren't great. He remains well below the league-average three-point percentage (35.5 percent), and he refuses to veer away from those perimeter attempts in favor of either passes or basket attacks.
But at least he's better from outside the arc than from just inside it. The rest of his shooting hasn't followed the same trajectory, leaving Wiggins as the Association's least valuable shooter on deep twos, the second-least valuable shooter from between 11 and 16 feet and the 33rd-least valuable shooter from three to six feet.
That's a brutal combination, but the constant brickage hasn't deterred this 24-year-old from continuing to settle for contested jumpers that come nowhere near maximizing his vaunted athletic abilities. If he'd only commit to playing the right way—or maybe stop fancying himself a volume scorer so he could instead work on his lackluster facilitating skills—he'd finally make good on the hype that, to this point, has remained unfulfilled.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: Minus-77.105
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-20.101
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-10.702
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-0.653
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-45.649
Giannis Antetokounmpo's inability to connect on jumpers—which might even be changing after he's hit his 2.8 three-pointers per game at a 58.8 percent rate over his last six appearances—doesn't hold him back. He's still such a ridiculous force for the Milwaukee Bucks that he can take advantage of any defensive scheme and force his way into close-range attempts, sagging defenders be damned.
But he does miss quite a few jumpers, which means we have to highlight him all the same.
Obviously, Antetokounmpo is a bona fide MVP candidate who may well end up holding the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. He still hits just 32.3 percent of his shots between three and 10 feet, 29.8 percent of his looks from the next zone out and 24.3 percent of his triples. Maybe he takes those attempts to keep adversaries somewhat honest. Perhaps he's trying to complete his already fearsome arsenal. Either way, those numbers detract from Milwaukee's dominant offense.
Antetokounmpo just makes up for it with his unabashed excellence at the hoop.
This isn't part of our analysis, but do note the aptly nicknamed Greek Freek has added 100.581 points of value from within three feet, and that doesn't even include his work at the free-throw stripe (72.0 percent on 9.1 attempts per game). Not only does that lead the league, but it outpaces the combined efforts of No. 2 Ben Simmons (44.311) and No. 3 Rudy Gobert (44.066) with room to spare.
Again, his placement here is factual, even if it has almost no bearing on his overall effectiveness.
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Minus-141.515
3-10 Feet Value Added: minus-36.618
11-16 Feet Value Added: minus-37.401
17-Plus Feet Two-Pointers Value Added: minus-1.342
Three-Pointers Value Added: minus-66.154
Russell Westbrook does plenty of good for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He's a dominant rebounder out of the backcourt, a gifted passer who can find open teammates while bursting through traffic, a tremendous athlete with finishing skills around the hoop and a defender who can, when engaged, provide positive value against a number of different opponent archetypes.
But he's also been a miserable shooter in 2018-19.
No one has provided less value from three to 10 feet than Westbrook (minus-36.618), who's connected on just 14 of his 81 attempts (17.3 percent). Next up are Zach LaVine (minus-34.157), Willie Cauley-Stein (minus-29.236) and Justin Holiday (minus-26.697).
No one has provided less value from 11 to 16 feet than Westbrook (minus-37.401), who's connected on just 41 of his 145 attempts (28.3 percent). Next up are Andrew Wiggins (minus-21.874), Ben Simmons (minus-21.056) and Blake Griffin (minus-19.996).
No one has provided less value from beyond the three-point arc than Westbrook (minus-66.164), who's connected on just 68 of his 254 attempts (26.8 percent). Next up are Trey Lyles (minus-54.511), Stanley Johnson (minus-48.02) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (minus-45.649).
His ineffectiveness in any one area is troubling enough. Were Westbrook perfectly neutral in all other areas, his shooting from three to 10 feet alone would've placed him at No. 28 in this countdown, sandwiched between Malik Monk and Josh Jackson. Count just his three-point errancy, and he'd move behind only Antetokounmpo and Wiggins.
But you might also notice that his name is the only one appearing multiple times as we run through the worst of the worst in those three zones. Coming up short across the board, as opposed to experiencing utter futility from just one range, is nothing short of devastating in this particular competition.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @fromal09.