What makes a basketball player a “shooter”?
I’d argue that, to qualify as a “shooter”, a basketball player has meet the following criteria:
- they have to be good (ie: accurate on the shots that they take)
- they have to like to shoot (ie: they shoot a lot)
Given that definition, it should be easy to find the NBA’s shooters, as well as the NBA’s “wannabe shooters”. To identify the shooters, all we have to do is find the players who both shoot and score at an above average rate. Similarly, we can identify the wannabe shooters by finding the players who take a lot of shots despite scoring inefficiently.
This season, the average NBA player has a True Shooting percentage (TS%) somewhere around 53.5%, given the following positional averages:
- PG: 53.2%
- SG: 53.5%
- SF: 53.9%
- PF: 53.1%
- C: 54.4%
- Average: 53.6%
This season, the average NBA players takes around 16.5 field goal attempts per 48 minutes (FGA/48), given the following positional averages:
- PG: 16.9
- SG: 17.5
- SF: 16.4
- PF: 16.1
- C: 15.0
- Average: 16.4
Let’s be a little bit more selective and move that FGA/48 figure up to 18. That leaves us with 100 NBA players this season (minimum of 400 minutes played). How many of these players who like to shoot are actually shooting better than average?
Thirty-seven, if we are generous and use 53% as our cut-off for true-shooting percentage. Topping the list are the following 15 players:
Most of those names are not surprising, although I must admit to being surprised at the appearance of Amaré Stoudemire and JaVale McGee, albeit for different reasons (accuracy and shooting rate, respectively).
In contrast, the following 15 players are at the very bottom of the 100 player list:
Once again, most of this list is not surprising to me, with the exception of Kevin Love and John Henson (accuracy and shooting rate, respectively). Kevin Love’s appearance on this list can probably be explained by the fact that he broke his shooting hand not once, but twice this season.
But I’d like to look at these lists in another way: by team.
Of course this analysis is rather shallow. First of all, it doesn’t account for differences in shooting rates. For example, Kobe Bryant creates more wins for his team than O.J. Mayo does for his — even though Mayo has the better TS% — because Kobe takes more shots while remaining very similar to Mayo in terms of TS%. Second of all, this analysis lumps all players in two broad categories and makes no attempt to differentiate within the two groups. For example, in our list, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are “above average”, but so are Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, and Andray Blatche, even though those three barely meet our “above average” qualifications. Third of all, we decided to ignore positions when we averaged the positional averages, but it’s not really fair to compare guards with centres when centres shoot almost a full percentage point better. And fourth of all, this analysis does not control for minutes played. Having a wannabe shooter who doesn’t play many minutes — John Henson, for example — is much better than having a wannabe shooter who plays a ton of minutes — Monta Ellis, for example. But I think this analysis gives us a decent idea of the types of shooters each team employs.Dallas, Golden State, Indiana (who knew), and Miami don’t let their inaccurate shooters take a lot of shots. Indiana barely joins this first group, as their two players (Paul George, 53.7%; David West, 53.5%) are right around average. Toronto, Charlotte, Washington, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Detroit don’t let their accurate shooters take a lot of shots. In particular, Toronto and Charlotte seem to have major problems with this, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise to dedicated NBA fans.
And of course, while it is the most important aspect of basketball, shooting is not the only aspect of basketball; there is also gaining possession, preventing loss of possession, and both individual and team defense. So a team could attempt to make up for playing many wannabe shooters by playing several players who are good in those other areas. A team could also attempt to make up for playing wannabe shooters by also playing several players who shoot efficiently, although less frequently. But it would be a lot more simple if teams just played shooters who are actually good at making the ball go in the basket.