Witness Shooting Percentage as the new Batting Average of the NBA

It’s difficult for a basketball statistic to match up to the insight and elegance of baseball’s batting average.  In basketball, there are so many moving parts and interdependent aspects to each play that it’s difficult for mainstream shooting statistics to give a precise correlation to the quality of an individual player.  For example, what if a player is a ball hog and shoots at a very low percentage but also scores a lot, does that define greatness?  Or what if a big man never leaves the block and takes a limited amount of low risk shots and is a one dimensional scoring threat, is that great?

But this season, shooting percentage just may be the new batting average when it comes to telling a crystal clear story.

Shooting percentage does have so much potential to show the really effective players. This is why a new stat has become in vogue called “effective field goal percentage” (eFG%).   But even more than any fancy statistic, just basic shooting percentage is defining the MVP race this season because Lebron James has an absurdly high shooting percentage that is shattering every norm of what we expect for this statistic.

This is why Lebron should win MVP….again!

Batting average in baseball is such a sacred and precise statistic.  If just those three batting average numbers for any player are provided, it tells a story that every baseball fan immediately understands.

Batting average defines how each player hits mano a mano against a pitcher who stands sixty feet and six inches away.  Unlike other sports, there are no screens or assists or blocks that influence the dynamic between the pitcher and the batter.  A batter can’t decide how far or close he will hit from the pitcher. Throughout history, the best hitters have had high batting averages.  There are many other meaningful stats now in baseball such as slugging, OBP, OPS, etc.., but batting average has such a powerful simplicity to it.

What is the statistic in basketball that tells the most simple and powerful story?  Often, points per game receives the most attention, and the player who leads in this is called “the scoring champion”.  The scoring champion does deserve a lot of praise, but points per game does not tell the story of how many shots that player is putting up per game.  Last year, Carmelo Anthony won the scoring title.

This is where shooting percentage comes into play.

This statistic measures how often a player shoots and scores from the floor.   However, unlike batting average, shooting percentage is usually meaningless because the players who take the easiest shots with the least degree of risk have the highest percentage.  Case in point:  take a look at the leaders in shooting percentage and you can see some of the weaker players in the league on that list.  For example, remember Andres Biedrins?  His career shooting average is .594.  Compare that to Michael Jordan’s career shooting average of .497.

Often you will see bigs like Biedrins with astronomical shooting because their shots are often within 10 feet.  Right now, DeAndre Jordan is leading the NBA in shooting percentage at .663.  Is he MVP?  I’m not sure DeAndre is going to be selling a lot of “Jordan” shoes anytime soon.

When you look at the leaders in shooting percentage, the top five are usually centers—which makes the statistic uniformly inapplicable to all players. Basketball shooting percentage has rarely meant a lot without breaking into positional comparisons….until this season.

Yes,  Keven Durant..aka…”The Slim Reaper”, aka…“the Durant-ala” is having an epic year.  His points per game total is 31.8, which is way more than anybody else.   Also, Lebron’s statistics in terms of points per game, rebounds, and assists are all below what he averaged last season, and they are all actually below his career averages.  You would think Durant has a real shot at being MVP.

However, Lebron’s shooting percentage is off the charts!  He has the fourth best in the league.  And for someone who has made 88 out of 237 3 pointers so far this season, it’s not like he is relying on layups and 5 foot jumpers.

If you compare Lebron’s shooting percentage to Durant’s, it’s not even close, even though Durant is above .500, which is great for a shooter.

In simple field goal percentage, Lebron is in 4th place and KD is in 23th place.

It is too bad that shooting percentage still does not tell as large as story on its own as does batting average. For example, how do you take into account the location of the shot?  But the stats geeks are working on this.  eFG% is a shooting percentage that factors in extra points scored by 3 pointers

Durant is lights out this season beyond the arc as well and eFG boosts Durant’s standing greatly. In their league eFG% ranking this season, Lebron is number 4 and KD is 15.  Lebron and Durant are both having MVP caliber seasons, but Lebron’s shooting percentage is just mind boggling.  It is startling to see that of the top five in field goal percentage, Lebron is the only player who does not play center!

It’s too bad that even with stats like eFG, the shooting percentage stat is still not as telling as batting average. Who knows from where all the 2 pointers were taken?  There are stats that track that, and it could be very soon that a shooting percentage stat becomes mainstream that is even more specific than eFG–and this could then really rival batting average.

But for now, Lebron’s performance in shooting percentage clears up any confusion of NBA stats and what they mean.

Yes , NBA fans may be getting sick of seeing the same guy win MVP again.  But Lebron’s shooting percentage when compared to the number of three pointers he has taken is approaching Ted William’s achievement of batting .400.

Lebron: you got my vote.  Now President Obama can just hope that you are as productive in getting people to sign up for ObamaCare as you have been in the NBA.


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