Exposing the NBA's Worst Shooters so Far

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2021

Exposing the NBA's Worst Shooters so Far

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Identifying the NBA's worst shooters is a process overrun with subjectivity. Statistics are always part of the calculus, but which ones? And how are they weighted? And how do you account for the level of difficulty on field-goal attempts? Or the context of a player's role? And experience?

    Our approach to ranking the league's least valuable shooters doesn't pretend to address all those issues. It is instead an attempt to spot the players who are currently faring the worst from the perimeter without letting too much interpretation creep into the fold.

    Of course, this decision is an interpretation in and of itself. Nobody's perfect. 

    This specific approach will measure how much value a player has added—or, in this case, not added—on mid-range jumpers, corner threes and above-the-break triples relative to the rest of the league.

    To get there, we've come up with the average points generated per shot from all three areas. We've then mined every player's average points generated per shot from those areas, subtracted the leaguewide average and multiplied the difference by the number of field-goal attempts from each range to help account for volume.

    When all's said and done, we have three different scores for every player. Those marks are combined to form what we'll call "Total Shot Value Added." From there, we've plucked out the 10 lowest scores, and voila: Here we are.

    Again: This method has its limitations. It doesn't account for role difficulty, and some will argue we should include free-throw accuracy in addition to live-possession shooting. Based on the names churned out, though, this ends up being an accurate snapshot of the league's least valuable shooters to date.

    Whether these players are still this low by season's end is up to them.

10. Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-16.84

    Markelle Fultz's place on this list won't hold if recalibrated in a few games.

    Volume is part of the equation, and he's out for the year after tearing his left ACL. (Prayer-hands emojis all over.) If we were to bounce him from the process, the next player up would actually be his teammate, Dwayne Bacon.

    Overall, though, Fultz's position isn't difficult to accept. He has been a total non-threat from the perimeter for most of his career. His mid-range game only started rounding into form last year when he dropped in 41.6 percent of them, including 50.0 percent after the All-Star break.

    Those same shots were not falling through eight appearances this season. He will finish the year with a 21.4 percent clip from mid-range (6-of-28), and his 28.6 percent mark on above-the-break threes (4-of-14) only helps solidify his place among the 10 worst shooters so far.

9. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

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    AJ MAST/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-17.52

    Domantas Sabonis' inclusion comes as a fairly large shock when viewed against the backdrop of his entire performance. He has, by and large, crushed it under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren. But the expansion of his shot profile hurts here, along with a cold streak from mid-range.

    More of Sabonis' looks are coming as above-three-break threes. His 31.6 percent conversion rate on those attempts (12-of-38) yields just 0.95 points per shot, a mark far enough below the league average of 1.07 to do some damage.

    Whether he can beef up his efficiency from long range matters. It doesn't matter nearly as much as his mid-range rut. He has drained just one of the 17 shots he's attempted in between the paint and the three-point line. For the math enthusiasts at home, that's a mind-meltingly low 5.9 percent success rate.

    On the bright side: Sabonis has been good anyway, and his arctic-cold efficiency from mid-range shouldn't hold.

8. Robert Covington, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-19.53

    Robert Covington's cameo is absolutely a shock—in theory. He isn't known for his lights-out sniping, but the relatively low degree of difficulty on his outside attempts generally lends itself to both sides of the three-and-D label.

    Not so much this year.

    Though nearly 60 percent of Covington's long-range looks have qualified as open (defender between four and six feet away) or wide-open (defender six-plus feet away), he's downing just 29.2 percent (19-of-65) of his above-the-break triples. His efficiency from the corners is somehow even worse, checking in at 21.4 percent (3-of-14).

    This should normalize. Probably. Maybe.

    If and when it does, Covington's climb will be solely tied to his efficiency on (mostly) no-dribble threes. He has taken just four mid-range jumpers all year.

7. Darius Bazley, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-21.17

    Darius Bazley's struggles from the perimeter this season are hardly inexplicable. Growing pains are, well, painful, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to groom him for a larger role.

    Extra volume is no doubt a culprit, but the increase in shot difficulty is the primary driving force behind his basement clips. More than 37 percent of his made baskets are going unassisted, a demonstrative rise from last year's 27.2 percent. Pull-up jumpers have gone from accounting for under 10 percent of his attempts as a rookie to more than 20 percent now.

    As you might expect, the returns aren't great.

    Bazley is shooting 35.7 percent from mid-range (5-of-14) and under 29 percent on threes above the break (14-of-51) and in the corners (6-of-21).

    Significant improvement isn't a given. This is Year 1 of Darius Bazley, unleashed. But his efficiency this season, particularly early on, isn't nearly as important as the Thunder trying to let him branch out. What he's doing now could merely be part of the learning curve on the road to a more expansive offensive armory.

6. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-21.86

    Plenty of people could have predicted Pascal Siakam's appearance if they thought long enough about who would populate this list. He has pieced together better performances since his frostbitten start, but he's still not playing anywhere near well enough to offset his stay at what the Toronto Raptors can only hope was rock bottom.

    Mid-range jumpers aren't necessarily holding Siakam down. His 0.81 points per shot are close enough to the league average of 0.83.

    His three-point efficiency is a different story.

    Siakam is shooting 26.5 percent on above-the-break triples (13-of-49) and 21.4 percent from the corners (3-of-14). Depending on how you look at it, the latter is either more concerning or potentially less troubling. Corner threes were his first foray into outside marksmanship, and he shot better than 40 percent on those treys in the previous two seasons.

    Will that number normalize? Is it a harbinger of how far he's tumbled since the back half of last season? I'd lean toward the former. This all feels like an extension of Toronto's continued attempt to make him its systemic fulcrum. That doesn't render how he's played—or, more specifically, shot—encouraging, but it's at least a possible explanation.

5. Gabe Vincent, Miami Heat

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-21.93

    Can Gabe Vincent plead "I'm a two-way player with minimal NBA experience thrust into an actual role for the Miami Heat thanks to injuries and the health and safety protocol"?

    He sure can.

    Vincent sits on the low-volume end of the spectrum, but he's still taken enough threes that this doesn't seem egregious. More specifically, he has attempted 41 triples from above the break...and made only 10...for a whopping 24.4 percent clip.

    His looks from the corners (2-of-10) and mid-range (1-of-5) are both sparse and don't do a thing to help. He didn't give Miami any rosier shooting last season through nine appearances, but he converted 37.7 percent or more of his treys in three of four years at UC Santa Barbara.

    This is all to say: Vincent's place here might not hold by virtue of improvement or less playing time. But it also could.

4. Aleksej Pokusevski, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-27.03

    Aleksej Pokusevski's appearance is borderline uplifting. It means the Thunder see it fit to play him enough that he can, statistically, rank among the league's worst shooters.

    Unflattering efficiency should be the expectation for a 19-year-old, who also happens to be the NBA's youngest player. He has tantalized with moments of fluidity—and therefore clarity—off the dribble, but he's still an ultra-slender seven-foot kid trying to find his way in a league teeming with much stronger and more explosive athletes.

    Anyway, Pokusevski is shooting 27.3 percent from mid-range (3-of-11) and 12.1 percent on above-the-break threes (4-of-33). That's not good. But he's fun to watch. Promise.

    And this doesn't mean he's fated to be a bad player. Triple-double promise.

3. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-28.84

    Certain spots within this exercise align so perfectly with the eye test it hurts. This is one of them.

    Anthony Edwards' shot selection is as advertised, but he's arguably under more control from the perimeter than at the rim, where he is both incredibly strong and infinitely wild. Fewer of his looks should probably be coming from mid-range, but 22 percent is not unreasonably high. He also isn't only bombing away off the dribble from downtown. Over half his long-range looks come as spot-up opportunities, though he does fire the more-than-occasional YOLO triple.

    Really, Edwards' shots just aren't falling. He's at 25 percent from mid-range (6-of-24) and 28.3 percent on above-the-break treys (17-of-60). His 5-of-19 clip from the corners isn't doing him any solids, either.

    Shoring up his feel in the half-court should go a long way. But this isn't only about his shot selection and decision-making. He's a rookie. And rookies struggle.

    For now, this is more so something to monitor than a red flag.

2. RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-31.49

    RJ Barrett's appearance isn't going to sit well with New York Knicks fans. And I hear them. Just know that I don't make the rules.

    Well, actually, I do. But I didn't make them with the intention of punishing him.

    Barrett is having a nice sophomore campaign, one replete with many offensive detonations that elevate his prospective ceiling. He's even knocking down more of his mid-range jumpers, on roughly the same volume.

    "Better" cannot be confused with good. He's hitting just 38.2 percent of those mid-range looks (13-of-34) while continuing to be an afterthought from beyond the arc. It feels like he's cobbling together more 2-of-3 and 2-of-4 nights, but only one player who must not yet be named grades out as a less valuable option from both the corners and above the break, where Barrett is shooting 27.8 percent (10-of-36) and 20 percent (7-of-35).

    These numbers can and will put a damper on Barrett's second season if they hold. They do not erase the progress he's made as a finisher, floater-range threat and free-throw shooter.

1. Kelly Oubre Jr., Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: Minus-45.52

    Sounds about right.

    Kelly Oubre Jr. has started to emerged from what looked like a bottomless pit, but he's not doing nearly enough to make up for his brick-laying out of the gate—some of which persists now. His 30 percent clip from mid-range (3-of-10) is actually a high point. He's shooting 23.7 percent from the corners (9-of-38) and 17.4 percent on above-the-break threes (8-of-46).

    The good news? There's no way this sticks, at least not to this extent. RJ Barrett or Anthony Edwards, among others on this list, have a better chance of topping everyone over time. Oubre has never been the most dependable shooter, but his career 32.9 percent clip from deep is way better than what we're seeing now.

    In some ways, the trek back to normal has kind of, sort of started. Oubre found nylon on just 16.7 percent of his wide-open threes over his first 11 games. That number has "jumped" to 30.8 percent in five appearances since.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering Monday's games. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.