Spotlighting the NBA's Best Shooters

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 2, 2021

Spotlighting the NBA's Best Shooters

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    After ranking the NBA's worst-performing shooters of the 2020-21 season so far, it's only right we shift the focus to the very best.

    So, consider the focus shifted.

    Our approach remains the same. We will measure how much value a player has 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.

    At the end of it all, we'll have three different scores for each player. Those marks are combined to form what we'll call "Total Shot Value Added." From there, we've plucked out the 10 highest scores, and presto: We've got rankings.

    This method admittedly has its limitations. It doesn't account for shot difficulty, and some will argue we should include free-throw accuracy in addition to live-possession shooting. But the names this approach spit out pass the sniff test from start to finish, so we're comfortably soldiering forward.

10. Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 31.12

    Tobias Harris has gone from a punchline among Philadelphia 76ers fans to, quite literally, one of the most valuable shooters in the league.

    His standing is anchored by a scorching-hot 46.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. He's canning 56.3 percent of his corner triples (9-of-16) and 44.1 percent of his attempts from above the break (30-of-68). He's also converting a tidy 48.0 percent of his mid-range jumpers.

    More than a few people will be waiting for his efficiency to come crashing down. Others will merely claim head coach Doc Rivers is the king of maximizing players named Tobias Harris. Maybe the reality lies somewhere in between.

    Or perhaps this is just Harris' new normal.

    It has become trendy to note how much more decisive he looks. It's true. But the Sixers are also carving out more space for him to operate. More than 43 percent of his field-goal attempts outside 10 feet are coming with defenders at least four feet away, up from just 38.9 percent last year.

9. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 34.75

    Khris Middleton has been reliably molten from the perimeter for, like, forever. This season is no different.

    He's shooting 47.6 percent from mid-range and 44.7 percent on above-the-break threes. His efficiency from both areas is absurd when coupled with his volume. He ranks in the top 12 of mid-range attempts and hovers around the top 30 of triples attempted outside the corners.

    This is not an exercise Middleton will ever win without accounting for self-creation. Too many of his buckets come from scratch, and he needs to up his three-point volume even more.

    That's part of his charm, though. He doesn't necessarily dominate across any one area. He provides net-positive shooting value from every outside spot on the floor.

8. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 34.97

    I'm just going to say what we're all thinking: Holy crap.

    Steady is the subtle offensive dominance from the Orlando Magic's only star, but scant few could have predicted this finish. Though Nikola Vucevic has always stretched defenses outside the paint, he's never once been billed as a lights-out marksman. To end up here while the Magic are decimated beyond comprehension and fielding one of the league's clunkiest offenses is truly impressive.

    Mid-range volume provides Vucevic with some nifty cushioning. Bradley Beal is the only player who has attempted more of those two-pointers, and Vooch's 43.6 percent clip gives him plenty of breathing room above the Association's average.

    And yet, his three-point shooting is doing the real heavy lifting. Only 10 players have taken more triples outside the corners (125), and he's nailed 44 percent of those looks.

    The end result? Vooch currently grades out as the fourth-most-valuable shooter on above-the-break threes.

    Again: Holy crap.

7. Wayne Ellington, Detroit Pistons

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 39.45

    Don't worry. You haven't stumbled into a wormhole that takes you to the 2017-18 season. Wayne Ellington belongs here.

    Short on proven shooting, the Detroit Pistons are giving him both regular minutes and the greenest light. He's responded by downing 50.5 percent of his threes, including a gnarly 52.8 percent of his above-the-break treys.

    Buy the dip if Ellington's percentages start to hit a snag. He is 33, and the Pistons offense should not be trusted. But his track record speaks for itself. He has swished under 37 percent of his threes just twice since 2013-14.

    What he's doing now is basically what he's always done, albeit on varying degrees of volume.

6. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 43.15

    Well, duh.

    Kevin Durant has been one of the greatest shooters alive since approximately birth. It should come as no surprise that he places inside the top six of an exercise that rewards the marriage of volume and efficiency. He would probably be even higher if he didn't miss three consecutive tilts while in the league's health and safety protocols.

    Granted, there is something especially sweet about this inclusion.

    He didn't play in an NBA game for roughly 18 months after rupturing his right Achilles during the 2019 Finals. That he's returned from a devastating, potentially career-altering injury and immediately recaptured MVP form is further proof of his anomalous megastardom.

    Anyway...Durant is putting down 50.5 percent of his mid-range jumpers and 43.2 percent of his above-the-break threes. Corner triples aren't a huge part of his arsenal, but he's shooting 5-of-8 (62.5 percent) on those, too.

5. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 43.50

    Jaylen Brown's three-point excellence shouldn't catch anyone off guard. He had cleared 38 percent in two of the past three seasons prior to 2020-21.

    Then again, he's presently finding nylon on 45.2 percent (42-of-93) of his above-the-break triples. Yowsa. That is definitively not normal. He drilled 34.4 percent of these same looks last season.

    Brown is partnering this long-range uptick with a mid-range explosion. He probably takes too many in-between twos, but he's knocking them down at a 54.5 percent clip—third-best among everyone who has taken at least 40 such shots.

    Corner threes are actually dragging Brown down at the moment. His 12 attempts aren't much, but he's hit just four of them.

    This might be a situation in which we should prepare for a comedown. At the same time, getting a leap from a fifth-year player under the age of 25 hardly goes against the grain. This could be Brown's new status quo. And if it is, the Boston Celtics would have another top-25 player on their hands.

4. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 43.69

    Paul George would have a chance to win this entire shindig if he didn't miss two games while in the league's health and safety protocols—and if he wasn't shooting under 25 percent from deep over his past three appearances.

    It says a lot about his performance so far that he hasn't dropped outside the top five. Small samples are noisy. They facilitate wild swings. Two missed games and a mini stretch of cold three-point shooting are enough to warp returns.

    Except, not for George.

    He's still shooting 40.7 percent on above-the-break threes (46-of-113) and a ridiculous 64.3 percent from the corners (18-of-28). It likewise doesn't hurt that he's sinking 48.1 percent of his mid-range jumpers.

3. CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 44.78

    Never mind the numbers for a second. CJ McCollum's blistering shot profile this season is best illustrated through his absence. He has missed the past five games while recovering from a hairline fracture in his left foot and still places inside the top three.

    Now, about those numbers...

    McCollum was throwing flames from all over the court prior to his injury. He's shooting 43.3 percent on 120 above-the-break three-pointers and 50.0 percent on 22 corner looks. His mid-range touch remains divine, only more so. He's dropping in 53.1 percent of those jumpers against a league average of 41.6 percent.

    Whether McCollum will forfeit his spot in the top 10 remains to be seen. He's slated to miss at least four weeks. Chances are he'll tumble out of this group if we run it back sometime before then.

    Of course, given the way he's shot thus far, it won't matter. He'll just make a triumphant return once he rejoins the Portland Trail Blazers rotation.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 48.21

    Any catch-all jump-shooting metric that doesn't result in Stephen Curry comfortably lording over every other player in the league is inherently flawed. Bake in the level of difficulty on his attempts and he probably lands in the No. 1 slot.

    Still, second place is pretty good...for us. It means we haven't completely and utterly botched these rankings. (Sobs in cheap champagne.)

    If there were ever a season in which Curry could slip outside a ranking of shooters that doesn't account for shot quality, this would be it. The Golden State Warriors offense is, shall we say, not pleasant—light on spacing and quality decision-making. Curry's diabolism can only even uplift it so much. The offense is about league-average when he's on the floor. (It ranks in the 2nd percentile of efficiency without him.)

    Because Steph is Steph, he's shooting 41.9 percent on a league-leading 198 attempts from above the break. He's also pouring in 54.9 percent of his mid-range jumpers—the second-best mark among every player with at least 40 such attempts, trailing only LaMarcus Aldridge.

    That he's climbed to No. 2 is very Stephen Curry of him. He started the season 4-of-20 from three and has turned in a handful of uneven performances. As always, though, his peaks are unparalleled in both their height and the frequency with which he reaches them.

1. Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Total Shot Value Added: 54.61

    Joe Harris' first-place finish shouldn't rub you the wrong way unless you're in the Steph-or-nothing camp.

    Among the 55 players who have attempted at least 75 above-the-break threes, nobody comes close to matching Harris' 50.0 percent success rate. The distance between him and second-place Jayson Tatum (46.8 percent) is comical.

    Harris is actually shooting better on above-the-break threebies than his corner triples. The thing is, he's still torching twine on 46.2 percent of the latter. If you ever needed more evidence that he is the perfect complement for the Brooklyn Nets' trio of ball-dominant megastars—Kevin Durant is more like ball-dominant adjacent—you shouldn't anymore.

    Make no mistake, Harris can do other stuff. But incandescent three-point shooting is his primary business.

    And business is booming.

                 

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.

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