The only certainty in basketball is that the team with the most points wins 100 percent of the time. Perhaps that’s why scoring is the most overused, misused and underutilized stat there is.
When I was growing up in the 80s, it was easy to just look at who was leading the league in scoring and think, that’s the top scorer. However, as analytics grew, we started paying attention to field-goal percentage. But then we figured out that doesn’t reflect three-point shooting, so we came up with effective field-goal percentage. Then we realized that was insufficient because it ignored free throws, so we came up with true shooting percentage.
Now the well-informed fan won’t just look at scoring, but how efficiently a player got those points. Kobe Bryant’s 22.3 scoring average might exceed Blake Griffin’s 21.9, but give me Griffin’s extra 7.4 true shooting percentage points any day.
Still, we can just look at what a player did and not how they did it. Very different players can have similar numbers. Here’s a bit of a blind player test for you:
|Player||Points||True Shooting Percentage|
There are two pairs of players. Player A and B have similar scoring and true shooting numbers, as do Players C and D.
However, each player is as distinct from his counterpart as he is similar because the manner in which they get their points is different.
Looking at the Sports VU numbers tracked at NBA.com, there are four categories of scoring plays that come in the half-court offense, and how they define each:
- Drives: any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop, excluding fast breaks.
- Pull-Up Shots any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took one or more dribbles before shooting
- Catch-and-Shoot: any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player possessed the ball for two seconds or less and took no dribbles.
- Close Shot Points: Points that are scored by a player on any touch that starts within 12 feet of the basket, excluding drives.
So, we can split these four types up into two groups of two. The first composed of the two inside categories and the second being the shots off the dribble and the shots off of passes.
There is one other type of scoring that is a mainstay of halfcourt offense not specifically included yet: free throws.
For the most part, free throws come on shots off the bounce and/or near the rim.
Revealing our mystery players, now, and how they get the bulk of their points:
- Player A, Kyle Korver, catch and shoot
- Player B, Tyson Chandler, close
- Player C, Kyrie Irving, drive
- Player D, Chris Paul, pull-up.
The goal here is a way to distinguish the pairs beyond the numbers, but not just by trusting in the “eye test,” which is prone to both subjectivity (beauty is in the eye of the beholder) and confirmation bias.
Now, it’s important to note that these primarily represent points out of set offenses. They don’t include things like transition points or putbacks. But if you want a tool to see who is effective out of set plays, and how they get their points, we’ve got something for you.
Introducing Scoring Type Charts
Now, this is where we take a play from our colleague, Seth Partnow’s, book, writing for Nylon Calculus. He used radial graphs to illustrate “point guard types”. Using that same principle, we can look at “scoring types.”
Based on the averages of each scoring type among all rotation players (minimum of 20 games, 15 minutes per game), this is what the average in each scoring type looked like:
The top half of the chart represents points closer to the rim; the bottom half shows points away from it. The right half illustrates assisted points, the left half unassisted.
The darker gray indicates points in that scoring type; the lighter gray represents true shooting attempts (which is to keep free-throw attempts from being overstated).
It’s worth making the distinction here that while these are the league averages, it’s not, technically speaking, the average player. Most role players are specialty scorers who are above average in one area and below average in the others.
Now, let’s look at how LeBron James gets the bulk of his points out of set offenses:
The green indicates points, the red attempts. The further the green extends beyond the red in a particular area, the more efficient the player is at that type.
So, with James we can tell that he’s getting the bulk of his points off the bounce. He’s most effective on drives, and while he gets a decent number of points on his pull-ups, he’s not particularly effective on them.
Now that we have an idea of what the charts mean, let’s look at some of the different scoring types.
Tony Wroten of the Philadelphia 76ers does a good job of driving. In fact, his 8.1 points per game on drives led the NBA. However, he doesn’t do much of anything else, other than miss on catch-and-shoots.
Some players play around the rim and get most of their points off of assisted shots or free throws derived from getting fouled on such shots. See if you can figure out why I call them the 10:10s.
A player who can knock down the catch-and-shoot from deep is an incredibly efficient specialist. See how the scoring type chart reveals the impact of a Kyle Korver:
The Pull-Up Shooter
The pull-up jumper is the toughest shot in basketball. Look how effective Chris Paul is on his:
Most of our attention so far is on players who excel at one area. But there are some who are more multidimensional.
The Pure Shooter
There’s the pure shooter, such as Stephen Curry, who gets the bulk of his points away from the basket, but is lethal either off the dribble or the pass. Note his efficiency in all five areas:
Give Me the Ball
There’s the ball-handler who can score either inside or outside, and gets to the stripe in the process. James Harden for example:
The Inside Man
This is the guy who gets the bulk of his points inside, but gets them both off the dribble and the pass. DeMarcus Cousins was the only player to average at least four points on both drives and close shots.
The Dime Provider
Then there’s the guy who is most effective off the ball, making it easy for his teammates to rack up dimes by feeding him inside or out. Anthony Davis is such a player:
While he was a little inefficient on catch-and-shoots, it’s not so bad when you consider how many of those were from designed long twos. With new coach Alvin Gentry encouraging Davis to shoot more threes, that effective field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoots should come up.
The All-Around Scorer
Only one player in the league averaged at least 2.5 points in all five areas last season. Can you guess who it is?
…Waits for guess…
Did you say, “Jimmy Butler?”
Butler’s not just a two-way player, he’s a five-way scorer. In fact, look how he compares with Carmelo Anthony, who some consider to be the most-complete scorer in basketball:
The Volume Shooter
And of course, people always want to know, “Where’s Kobe?” It’s not pretty, folks:
This actually helps to understand why Kobe Bryant was so inefficient last year. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he had the lowest effective field-goal percentage in the three-point era of any player averaging 20 shots. And we can tell why. So. Many. Pull. Ups.
Scoring types helps us contextualize not just the number of points a player scores, or how efficiently he gets them, but it also tells us where they come from, how he gets his shots, and whether he’s efficient in each area. They help us get the nuance derived from the eye test without the bias such subjective observation is predisposed to.
That doesn’t mean it’s a replacement for actually “watching the games” but it certainly is another tool to balance out our assumptions.
We’re working on adding a tool to our Stats Central page shortly which will allow you to call up a chart for any player or team in the league.