Friday 27th January 2023,
The Hoop Doctors

The Ball Stops Here: NBA Scorers, Shooters, Chuckers, and Black Holes

We’ve all seen that player when we’re watching or playing—the selfish chucker that you just know will toss the ball at the basket the second someone passes the ball. Obviously, players in the NBA are more disciplined than players in your local rec league, but there are still players that elicit groans when the ball hits their hands, because odds are that they’re just going to take the shot, whether it’s a good idea or not.

A similar player is the guard that just can’t seem to manage the shot clock. They pass the ball around, but when it gets back in their hands, the decide that the possession clearly isn’t going anywhere, so they’ll fire a shot come hell or high water.

Or how about that player that just is a waste of space on offense? They don’t shoot at all. The ball hits their hands, and their only thought is getting it to someone else.

There are all kinds of players on offense, so let’s look at some stats and see if we can dig up players that fit one or more of the above roles. To do this I looked at possessions and touches and what players did with them.

Possessions

Understanding what I’m talking about in terms of possessions is important, because we normally think of possessions as a team thing, but the way I use possessions below would be possessions where a player is on the floor. In other words, they are—or should be—involved in the team’s offense in some form or fashion.

I’m going to look at the players in the NBA that shoot the ball as part of a possession that they take part in. This will give us an idea as to the players that monopolize their team’s offense by take a lot of shots in team possessions. This is essentially the same as usage rate, but for this exercise, I want to look at the quality of that usage.

Touches

Touches are pretty simple: Every time a player has the ball, it’s a touch. If they receive the ball and then pass it, that’s a touch. If the receive the ball and shoot it, that’s a touch. Obviously point guards touch the ball more than centers. Touches help understand how a player is involved in the offense. If they don’t touch the ball a lot but shoot it at high efficiency, they are, or should be, a central part of an offense as a spot up shooter or dominant player in the post.

It’s important to differentiate possessions from touches. For example, if you look at Luka Doncic, you’ll see that he shoots the ball a lot in Maverick possessions. But he doesn’t shoot a lot when the ball is in his hands. In fact, his field goal attempts per times he touches the ball isn’t even in the top 35 in the league if we set a 1,000 touch minimum. Contrast that to someone like Klay Thompson, who isn’t near the top of possession shot usage, but is near the top in touches—when Klay gets the ball, his job is to shoot, not pass.

I looked at a number of variations based on these two scenarios, and I came up with a few clear groups: Scorers, Shooters, Black Holes, the Scorers that Hurt The Offense, and Chuckers.

The Scorers

These players shoot at high volume, but when they do they score. They shoot from the paint, from the three point line, on drives, and from the mid-range. They are the central offensive weapon on their teams, and that’s a good thing.

These are the players that are top 20 in field goal attempts (FGA) per possession AND in points their teams score per possession. I use points per possession more than points per FGA because it accounts for all the scenarios that can happen in a possession. It accounts for free throws, and also slightly punishes players if they are on the floor during turnovers.

It’s not super precise, but it does get us where we want to go. You could use True Shooting as a metric when combined with FGA/Possession for a similar story, but I like how this looks at team scoring. After all, we want to see how a person show shoots a lot helps or hurts his team.

Strong offensive players on strong offensive teams should dominate this list, but you’ll also see a number of players that are commonly called heliocentric.

Top twenty players in FGA/Poss and also top twenty in Pts/Poss (minimum 1,250 possessions)

Player FGA/Poss Pts/Poss
Luka Doncic 0.304 0.444
Ja Morant 0.302 0.389
Giannis Antetokounmpo 0.293 0.441
Devin Booker 0.288 0.383
LeBron James 0.280 0.350
Joel Embiid 0.280 0.447
Donovan Mitchell 0.275 0.392
Trae Young 0.274 0.357
Jayson Tatum 0.273 0.391
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander 0.271 0.408
Jaylen Brown 0.269 0.351
Stephen Curry 0.267 0.397
Kyrie Irving 0.262 0.343
Damian Lillard 0.260 0.387
Pascal Siakam 0.256 0.351
Kevin Durant 0.253 0.397

Not a whole lot of surprises here. These players all shoot at high volume (at least once out of every four possessions they’re on the floor), but they’re doing so in an effective manner. The players that stand out to me are Luka, Giannis, and Joel Embiid. These players are true weapons.

It’s interesting to note the exclusion of Nikola Jokic. Why didn’t he make the list? Well, Jokic simply doesn’t shoot enough. His FGA per possession is around 50th in the league. That’s still pretty high, but closer to Cameron Payne than Luka Doncic. His points per possession is top twenty, however, at 0.360. This creates an interesting dynamic: Jokic doesn’t take as many shots as his superstar peers, but he delivers on offense when he’s on the floor due to his assists. Similarly, Trae Young is on this list even though his true shooting is poor this year. Why? Because he also delivers in terms of his assists.

This creates an interesting scenario of a player that shoots a lot and a player that doesn’t shoot enough, both contributing possession points. The difference is that one possibly shoots too much and the other doesn’t shoot enough. Remember, this metric is looking at dominant scorers (in the sense they dominate their team’s possessions), not efficient scorers. Trae Young is a dominant scorer, and this metric shows that. Jokic is not. However… Jokic is a dominant offensive player. We’ll look at that story in another column.

It’s also important to note that players on teams with balanced team scoring on the floor at the same time won’t make this list. Zion Williamson, CJ McCollum, and Jonas Valanciunas are all scorers, but none of them dominate Pelicans scoring. They all shoot at about the same clip, with none dominating their offense like Luka does in Dallas.

The Shooters

Shooters are the players that look to do one thing when the ball is in their hands—shoot, and they do it well. Contrast this to the Scorers like Trae, Luka and Giannis. Scorers manage the floor and are involved in the offense when they’re not shooting. Scorers can obviously put the ball in the basket, but they aren’t on the floor solely to be spot up shooters or punish the defense in the paint. They have a more well-rounded offensive game.

Shooters tend to come in three groups: Spot up shooters, shot creators, and paint specialists. The thing they all have in common is that when the ball is in their hands, they are looking to score. Full stop.

Spot up shooters work off ball to get open and when they get the ball, they shoot it. They are the 3 and D sharpshooters that camp in the corner and have a high 3 point field goal percentage.

Shot creators are the players that are able to create their own shot and immediately look to do so when the ball is in their hands. You’ll see a lot of shooting guards and small forwards on this list. They get the ball and go to work.

Paint specialists are the centers and power forwards that get the ball in the post and use their elite footwork to attack the rim.

It’s pretty easy to define Shooters: The players who attempt a field goal at a high percentage of the time they touch the ball are clearly focused on shooting the ball. The ones who do it well? Those are the ones that convert them into points. Like with Scorers, I could have used True Shooting here, but I wanted to be consistent with the “per touch” metric. Additionally, the high usage of touches on this list really does translate to a pretty clear positive outcome using points per touch as the result.

Top Twenty in FGA/Touch and also top twenty in PTs/Touch (minimum 1,000 touches)

Player FGA/touch Pts./Touch
Kelly Oubre, Jr. 0.389 0.444
Klay Thompson 0.384 0.423
Malik Beasley 0.336 0.390
De’Andre Hunter 0.326 0.407
Devin Booker 0.322 0.427
Brook Lopez 0.317 0.430
Lauri Markkanen 0.313 0.430
Jaylen Brown 0.310 0.405
Benedict Mathurin 0.309 0.401
Bojan Bogdonavic 0.304 0.454
Andrew Wiggins 0.301 0.396
Jayson Tatum 0.293 0.421

An interesting name here is the one at the top of the list: Kelly Oubre. When he gets the ball, he’s going to shoot it. He is this season’s very definition of catch and shoot. But that’s far from a bad thing, because he’s quite good at it. The points he generates off those catch and shoot attempts are right up there with Bojan Bogdonavic, who is a blistering shooter this season.

It’s really interesting to see that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum from the Celtics made both lists. I noted earlier that Shooters look to score when the ball hits their hand, and Scorers look to dominate the scoring for their team, but they may not necessarily shoot every time they touch the ball. In Boston, we have two players that are in the unique position of scoring a lot and doing it without the ball leaving their hands. In other words, Boston has two players that get the ball, create their own shot, and then take it.

The Black Holes

Above we’ve looked at the players that score, that shoot, and the players that made both lists that spot up, attack the rim, or create their own shot without passing a lot. All are generally good things because these players are very good at converting opportunities into points.

Now let’s look at the players that are offensive black holes: When they’re on the court they just flat out don’t shoot. Note that there’s an important middle ground here. Kelly Oubre, for example, is a spot up shooter. He won’t touch the ball a lot of possessions, but he isn’t avoiding shooting the ball, either.

This list clearly shows players that avoid shooting the ball or, perhaps worse, aren’t passed the ball during a possession.

Top twenty players with the lowest FGA/possession (minimum 1,250 possessions)

Player FGA/Poss
P.J. Tucker 0.05
Alex Caruso 0.08
Mitchell Robinson 0.09
Reggie Bullock 0.09
Patrick Beverley 0.09
Kevon Looney 0.09
Draymond Green 0.09
Jalen Duren 0.10
Josh Hart 0.10
Ivica Zubac 0.10
Isaac Okoro 0.10
Nicolas Batum 0.10
Kyle Anderson 0.11
Steven Adams 0.11
Austin Reaves 0.11
Grant Williams 0.11
Mason Plumlee 0.11
John Konchar 0.11
Ben Simmons 0.11

This is an interesting list, which is dominated by wings that either don’t get open to shoot or that their team isn’t including in the offense. These are 3 and D guys that don’t shoot the 3. Note: I’m not saying they’re not good at shooting them, just that they aren’t shooting them. It also includes centers that are flat out not involved in their team’s offense.

Going back to Boston: We saw Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum dominate the Boston scoring. As you can see above, when they get the ball, they’re not passing it to Grant Williams, they’re shooting it.

The Scorers That Hurt the Offense

The Black Hole players are either underutilized or avoided in a team’s offense. How about the players that are a key piece in an offense but simply aren’t very good at scoring? These would be the players that have fans scratching their head and saying, “Why was he shooting the ball??”

Let’s define this similar to the Scorers list. This will be players that are top 100 in FGA/Possession but bottom 100 in Points per Possession. We’ll use top 100 because most high FGA players are actually good at it. It simply makes no sense for a team to have a bad player monopolizing the offense, and—honestly—none of the teams in the NBA are coaches so poorly as to focus their offense on bad players.

With that in mind, it’s really important to note how bad this list actually is. Because we are looking at points per team possession while a player is on the floor, they don’t actually have to be the one scoring. Look at Russell Westbrook. He shoots 1 out of 5 Laker possessions he’s on the floor. That’s above the league average, but that still means that 80% of the time other Laker players are shooting when he’s on the floor, and yet the points per possession is extremely low for all of it. In other words, Westbrook’s shooting meaningfully hurts the Lakers total offense. He not only isn’t scoring, the rest of the team isn’t when he’s on the floor either. That’s true for pretty much every player in the list below.

Top 100 players in FGA/Poss and are also bottom 100 in Pts/Poss (minimum 1,250 possessions)

Player FGA/Poss Pts/Poss
Russell Westbrook 0.21 0.23
Josh Giddey 0.20 0.22
P.J. Washington 0.19 0.22
AJ Griffin 0.19 0.23
Scottie Barnes 0.19 0.21
Jalen Smith 0.19 0.23
Marcus Morris Sr. 0.18 0.22
Doug McDermott 0.18 0.23
Reggie Jackson 0.18 0.20
Saddiq Bey 0.18 0.23
De’Andre Hunter 0.18 0.23
Tari Eason 0.18 0.21
Max Strus 0.18 0.20
Tyus Jones 0.18 0.20
Killian Hayes 0.18 0.17
Immanuel Quickley 0.18 0.21
Luguentz Dort 0.18 0.21
Jose Alvarado 0.18 0.21

While this is a bad list, I want to note that we’re pretty far down the list of players that shoot a lot in their team’s possessions. With a minimum threshold of 1,250 possessions, there are only about 190 players eligible. Westbrook is at 80, so it’s not like he is killing the Lakers total offense for the season. In fact, he’s their third weapon behind Lebron James and Anthony Davis. In other words, James and Davis limit the damage Westbrook is doing. In fact, you could actually make the argument that Josh Giddey is doing worse than Westbrook, as he’s no. 2 behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the Thunder in terms of possession usage yet his point production is not good.

The Chuckers

Which brings us to the Chuckers. These are the players that have blinders on and shoot the ball at a high clip and yet simply aren’t very good at it. When fans scream at their TVs and say, “No! Don’t pass it to him!” this is who we’re talking about.

This will be players that have a high FGA per touch (like Shooters) but a low Points per Touch. You may be tempted to just simply look at FGA and points to comprise a list like this, but that just highlights bad shooters. That doesn’t hone in on the truly bad chuckers—the ones who aren’t just bad shooters but also refuse to pass the ball when they get the ball in their hands.

I ran the data and much like the Black Hole list, the good news is that there aren’t any players in the top 50 of FGA/Touch and in the bottom 50 of Pts/Touch. Good job, NBA teams—the 2022-2023 season doesn’t have any egregious inefficient chuckers. Still, there are some players that are at least somewhat chuck the ball. So I looked at the top half of FGA/Touch and the bottom half of Pts/Touch to find them.

Player FGA/Touch Pts/Touch
P.J. Washington 0.243 0.269
CJ McCollum 0.237 0.253
Terry Rozier 0.236 0.249
Max Strus 0.232 0.258
Bobby Portis 0.228 0.268
Bones Hyland 0.222 0.262
Jamal Murray 0.221 0.259
Will Barton 0.220 0.227

As noted, these aren’t awful chuckers, but they’re pretty clearly bad chuckers. Jamal Murray is a great example. He shoots every 4 times he touches the ball, which is not in the top 50 of “I touch it, I shoot it” players. But he’s still in the top 80 out of 190 eligible players, and his pts/touch is bad. Compare the above with the Shooters list. Kelly Oubre jacks it up a lot more often than Murray, but he is twice as efficient at doing so.

Final Thoughts

As with all stat-related articles, you need to complement this with the eye test. We’re not even halfway into the season, so a lot can change. But there are also some interesting thought-starters here. Is Bones Hyland a chucker? How about Jamal Murray? Well, they shoot a pretty significant amount of time when the ball is in their hands. What about their True Shooting %? Murray’s TS is 53.3% Not good. Hyland’s is 54%. Also not good. So even using a truly individual quality stat like true shooting, both players are chucking the ball ineffectively.

How does Trae Young not get on the chucker list when this True Shooting % is 55.3%? Because while he’s not a quality shooter this season, he doesn’t just look to shoot the ball when he has it. He passes and facilitates. His FGA/touch is not in the top 50, and his points per touch is a lot higher than Murray and Hyland.

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