Criteria to land on the list:
High-volume shot attempts, heavy percentage weight on contested shots + high level of early attempts in the shot clock + low-shooting percentage + ultimate green-light shooting mentality = a coveted spot on the Top 5 “Chuckers” in the NBA list.
5. Stephen Curry
How could the MVP and undisputed leader of the world champion Golden State Warriors possibly be on the Top 5 ‘Chuckers’ list? Well, let’s find out.
Curry averages 16.8 shots per game with a usage rate (amount of a team’s possessions in 40 minutes that player accounts for) of 28.5. Now those might not seem like ‘chucker’ worthy numbers, especially since his PER (player efficiency rating) is third in the NBA. But it goes deeper. 56.8 percent of all Curry’s shot allocation occurs within either the very early stage of the shot clock (18-22 seconds) or the early stage (15-18). Now that might not seem like an issue as Curry attempts 4.3 threes in transition situations per game (and we all know a string of Curry three-point daggers can be as lethal as it gets).
However, what about the early shot opportunities that don’t convert? It is a killer to offensive flow and the most efficient offense in the league based on player movement/ball movement. It’s a known fact Curry is as automatic as it comes when left unguarded. How automatic? Automatic to the clip of shooting an adjusted field goal percentage of 73.7 percent and converting at a 1.474 points per possession rate. So to give Curry an uncontested shot (four feet of time and space from nearest defender) is basically like conceding points and you might as well head to the other end of the floor.
However, Curry’s weight of contested vs. uncontested attempts leans on the scale of 53.7 percent contested, where he is still efficient but nowhere near his unhumanly uncontested percentage. On top of that, Curry attempted 1,029 jump shots last season. Of those attempts, 721 of them were tracked as off-balance (body balance finishing outside the direct plane of take off). It’s the highest number for a guard in the league last season.
Curry’s landing on the Top 5 “Chuckers” list is a good thing. I want the best shooter/MVP/world champ to chuck as many shots as possible, especially when uncontested. And with the quickest release in the game (0.4 seconds), chuck away Steph!
4. Josh Smith
When a player of Josh Smith’s caliber and talent gets released mid-season for nothing in return, red flags should be waving frantically. When Smith is on the floor, he has a usage rate of 25.1 (sixth-highest for small forwards) while only holding a PER of 14.92 (17th among small forwards). A high usage rate with a low PER equals inefficiency. Smith averages 13 shots per game over the course of his career and is a 28.5 percent career three-point shooter.
Over the past four seasons Smith’s three-point attempts have become more common while his percentage has dropped. Not the most efficient to say the least, and we won’t even mention his woes at the free throw line. The only bright light on one of the top chuckers in the game is that he isn’t taking a heavy amount of contested shots – actually 60.2 percent of his attempts last season were uncontested. You can either look at that in the light that he is a smart shooter, or from the side that there is probably a reason teams are leaving him open.
As disappointing as the start of Smith’s season was this year in Detroit, Smith showed how valuable he could be given the right situation, which he found in Houston. Smith should be able to continue to build on the positive team value this season in L.A.
3. Brandon Jennings
Jennings has always been known as a flat-out shot maker… and for that matter, a flat-out shot taker. He is the 2010’s version of Allen Iverson; never seen a shot he doesn’t like. Which of course is not always what you want out of your point guard and is the reason he is No. 3 on our list. With a career 35.1 percent three-point shooting and 15 field goal attempts per game, Jennings’ shot allocation is 70 percent contested compared to 30 percent uncontested. When Jennings attempts a contested shot, he is converting at a mere 36.7 percent.
However, on the flipside, when Jennings has four feet or more of time and space he is shooting a scorching 52.4 percent. The challenge is… How do you get a player whose trademark shot is a step-back fade away to even the scale on contested vs. uncontested? Efficiency, that is the key to Jennings’ success and his ticket off this list. An efficient point guard’s job is to make the team function as one unit and to get everyone involved within the offense.
Jennings’ shot clock allocation range speaks the exact opposite. 19.4 percent of Jennings’ shot attempts come within the very early stage of the shot clock – 18-22 seconds remaining on the clock. 18.5 percent of his shots come within the early stage, 15-18 seconds. Nearly 40 percent of Jennings’ shot attempts are coming in early stages of the shot clock; before the offensive flow can take place. A credit that I will give to Jennings: He isn’t afraid to take a big shot. Just like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West; make or miss, the next inch of space Jennings gets you better believe that shot’s going up.
2. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook, the No. 2 ‘chucker’ in the game? Top 3 in MVP voting and one of the biggest ‘chuckers’ in the game? Really? Well, let’s just say if Kevin Durant was healthy last season, Westbrook likely wouldn’t be this high on the list (or Durant would be one unhappy camper if he was). Westbrook accounted for the highest usage rate in the league last season by a landslide (38.2) while averaging a league high 22 shots per game. Of course, the argument will be… Who would you rather have shooting the shots, Westbrook or Kyle Singler? I concur.
However, let’s look at the career stats, all of which Westbrook has played alongside KD. Westbrook averages 17.2 shots 34.0 minutes per game, slightly more than a shot attempt every two minutes. And those shots aren’t exactly going in at an efficient rate either – 43.4 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from beyond the arc.
There is no debate that Westbrook is one of the most dynamic scorers in the game and in transition is virtually unstoppable. However, 28 percent of all his shots come within the very early stages (18-22 seconds on the shot clock), essentially stifling any offensive flow nearly one-third of the Thunder’s offensive possessions. All in all, Westbrook has a reason to be a gunner and has the superstar talent to do so. But can he bring the Thunder to the Promised Land in doing so? To keep the league’s most talented duo in OKC, the gunner Westbrook will have to morph into the playmaker Westbrook.
1. JR Smith
Coming from a player that once attempted an NBA record 22 threes in a game and also attempted another NBA record 17 threes without a two-point field goal attempt in the same month, is it really any surprise who our No. 1 ‘chucker’ is?
JR Smith is a career 42.4 percent shooter (37.2 percent from beyond the arc) averaging 11.2 shots per game. Not bad. That might not sound as dramatic as Westbrook’s 22 attempts per game this past season, but for someone who averaged 26.5 minutes per game over the course of his career and regularly is the sixth man in the rotation, it puts it more in perspective that nearly every two minutes JR is in the game, there will be a shot going up. 8.3 of those attempts are contested. You are probably thinking, ‘Yeah, but JR is the best contested shot maker in the league.’ I would agree with that notion, but only to an extent. It’s only logical the more you attempt contested shots, the more you will make.
However, his skill in circus shot making is also his undoing and at times can be his team’s undoing. Last season with the Knicks, 80.2 percent of his shots were contested. Not exactly efficient. JR is a product of his situation, though. While playing with LeBron James in Cleveland, JR’s contested shot scale lowered to 60.5 percent contested. JR even looked like a great teammate for the majority of his time in Cleveland. A ray of efficiency sunlight for a player who is ready and more than willing to shoot once he steps out of his car in the parking lot.
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsBasketball.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.