VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s Top 10 Plays from 2015
By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com
The NBA has become more aware of shooting efficiency than ever before. Guys like Kobe Bryant, who used to be universally praised for their hero-ball style now have their usage rates and field-goal percentages criticized, while uber-efficient shooters like Kyle Korver (well, 2014-15 Kyle Korver) now have the league-wide recognition necessary to make the All-Star team.
Concurrently, the best shooter in the sport also doubles as the league’s Most Valuable Player. With so much attention being paid to shooting nowadays (helped by a growing interest in fantasy basketball, where overall shooting percentage and three-point efficiency are valuable commodities), avid fans want to know whose shooting touch is hot and whose is not at any given moment.
That’s why for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, writers like myself from interactive data visualization site PointAfter will provide weekly updates and shot charts for notable players as a part of our new editorial partnership with NBA.com.
It only seems natural that for the first edition of this themed collaboration, I’ll recap a few standout shooters (for better or worse) from the first few months of the season at each position group.
Note: All statistics are accurate as of games on Jan. 5.
Best Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Who else could claim the title of best shooter among NBA guards? No one but the reigning MVP, who leads the league in true shooting percentage (67.7 percent) by more than three percentage points.
Stephen Curry is canning at least 45 percent of his looks from both corner-3 zones and on treys above the break. Since 55 percent of his attempts come from beyond the arc, that makes Curry the most efficient and dangerous scorer in the sport.
Worst Guard: Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
Shooting was a noted weakness of Emmanuel Mudiay before he entered the league, but it’s fair to say the Nuggets didn’t think he’d be quite this poor when they drafted him No. 6 overall this summer.
While Curry is shooting at least 43 percent from each of the seven zones in PointAfter shot charts, Mudiay has scraped just beyond 40 percent in one of them – the restricted zone, where his 40.2 percent success rate is far below the league average of 55.6 percent.
To be fair, Mudiay has taken on more ball-handling responsibility than any rookie has in several years – his 27.6 percent usage rate is the highest for a first-year player since Kyrie Irving in 2011-12. Still, the Nuggets would likely appreciate Mudiay becoming more efficient, both shooting-wise and as a distributor – his 1.45 assist/turnover ratio is tied with D’Angelo Russell for the worst rate among point guards.
Best Wing: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant isn’t your typical ‘wing,’ of course. Not every wing is a seven-footer who can back down big men in the paint. But the Durantula is more of an oversized wing than a strapping forward/center, and his shooting in 2015-16 deserves mention somewhere in this article, so this is where he lands.
Durant is second behind Curry in true shooting percentage (64.6 percent) on the back of a career-high 51.7 field-goal percentage and 41.1 percent mark from long distance, his best since 2008-09.
The most notable thing about Durant’s offense, however, has been his ruthless efficiency inside the restricted area. He’s sinking 72 percent of his looks there, well above the 55.6 percent league average and his own 67.2 percent mark in 2014-15.
Like I said, Durant isn’t your typical wing.
Worst Wing: Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City Thunder
This summer, Thunder GM Sam Presti signed Kyle Singler to a five-year, $25 million deal. That decision looks extremely ill-advised right now, as Singler could very well be the worst NBA player getting regular minutes at the moment.
The Duke product formerly renowned shooter (39 percent on 3-pointers in previous two seasons) has fallen off a cliff in 2015-16, converting just 8-for-35 attempts from beyond the arc for a paltry 22.9 percent success rate.
The slump hasn’t been limited to threes – Singler’s overall field goal percentage is 28.6 percent, and he’s only made 8-for-16 attempts at the charity stripe. If Singler has lost his touch for good this year, the Thunder won’t have much use for him. He doesn’t have any other standout skills, and his PER is down to an unfathomably poor 2.1.
Best Forward/Center: Channing Frye, Orlando Magic
Channing Frye isn’t seeing as many minutes as he did in his first season with Orlando, but he’s shooting the rock much better.
His 43.8 percent success rate on 3s – including an absurd 44 percent mark above the break — is just a hair off his career-best mark of 43.9 percent during his breakout campaign with Phoenix in 2009-10. Frye has even made 92.3 percent of his free throws (albeit in a small sample size), which is practically unheard of for a forward.
The former No. 8 overall pick is living up to the four-year, $32 million contract he signed with the Magic in 2014, providing the kind of spacing they need with poor shooters like Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton populating the backcourt.
Worst Forward/Center: Kevin Seraphin, New York Knicks
Kevin Seraphin was never a huge positive on offense during his five years with the Washington Wizards, but he’s sunk to new lows in the Knicks’ pseudo-triangle offense.
After converting 61 percent of his attempts in the restricted zone last year, he’s making just 41.9 percent of his shots there this season. His overall field-goal percentage is 39.3 percent, a ghastly figure for a big man. His 41.8 true shooting percentage ranks dead last among forwards/centers. Even worse, his usage rate is at a career-high 22.5 percent.
Seraphin has been riding the bench much more frequently lately, playing in just one of New York’s last seven games. That’s a good thing for Knicks fans holding out hope for the club’s playoff aspirations. Undersized (6-foot-10), inefficient centers like Seraphin are a bugaboo in the NBA’s analytical circles.
Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.