LamarMatic's NBA Blog

NBA’s Top 7 Chuckers of This Season

By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)

While blogging about the Hornets during the 2014-15 season, I realized that I needed a way to put P.J. Hairston‘s trigger-happy approach to basketball into perspective. The rookie would seemingly fire up three-pointers every chance he got and I wanted to put a number to this phenomenon.

Just like that Hairston’s “chucking rate” was born and it still is something that I revisit whenever the Tar Heel puts up a slew of shots. It’s quite the simple number to come up with as all I did was divide his front court touches per game (per SportVU) with the number of field goals he attempts. What you come up with is the number of touches a player makes for every field goal attempt, a sort of a shot-taking frequency.

At the end of the 2014-15 season, I summarized in Hairston’s “Season in Review” piece that he was the second most frequent shot-taker in the NBA at a chucking rate of 1.97. He finished second as Charlie Villanueva lead the league at 1.93, while Shabazz Muhammad (who had lead the NBA during the season) recorded a 2.02 rate for the year. Thus the idea for ranking the biggest “chuckers” in the league was born. (For some reason back then I excluded all non-perimeter bigs from this exercise, although the #1 and #5 spots from the following list deserved a mention in last year’s exercise.)

With us nearing in on the half-way line of the season and there being a reasonable sample size, let’s return to this stat to rank players from the whole league.

Obviously, this is not the definitive method to determine the biggest “chuckers” in the league. Chuck-tastic point guards avoid the list since they are likely to touch the ball every possession as they set up the offense. Guys who play heavy minutes might get saved since they will accumulate more total touches while some bench players throw up more shots per 36 in their limited minutes. Certain guys just have the role of being low-usage floor spacers and shooters.

There also are bigs who only get the ball to finish the possession with a dunk from beneath the rim. Since they are much more likely to only touch the ball in situations where finishing the possession is the right course of action (guys like Brandan Wright and DeAndre Jordan being notable examples) I would say that they deserve to be excluded from this ranking (Enes Kanter came close, yet ended up being an honorable mention).

Thus some players are more likely to end up on the ranking than others. Nevertheless, I find it to be an interesting piece of research to make as there’s a reason why all of the listed players end up in this column.

And, after all, touches per field goal attempts is exactly what “chucking” the ball is according to Jerry Seinfeld. “You’re a chucker. Every time you get the ball, you shoot.

1. Al Jefferson (22.3 front court touches/11.7 field goal attempts per game = 1.91 chucking rate, 25.2 minutes per game)

Compiling the list already gets tricky with the player who ranks first in the league. One could definitely point out that entering the ball to Jefferson in the post is putting him in a position where “finishing the possession is the right course of action”.

Jefferson is following in the footsteps of greats like Patrick Ewing and Moses Malone with the high-usage and the low-assist percentage seasons he has put up so why should he be labeled as a “chucker”!?

Because there also are bigs who have beautifully employed the possibility of passing the ball – that’s why. It’s not as if Jefferson’s touches come at a position where taking the field goal attempt is the only course of action. If the average shot distance of DeAndre Jordan is 3.518, then in Jefferson’s case it’s 9.695 (per the fantastic nbasavant.com).

That distance is no surprise due to Jefferson’s place in the league as one of the last post offense behemoths. Big Al barely cracks the Top-20 in post touches per SportVU, yet he out-leaps everyone when it comes to actually shooting from there as he still leads the league in field goal attempts after post-ups per Synergy, cementing his status as a low-post black hole.

The Hornets going into a more perimeter-oriented direction might have something to do with Jefferson leading the league in this stat. Al’s front court touches and post touches per 36 minutes have been at a decline (Jefferson is touching the ball almost seven times less per 36 this season when in comparison with 2013-14) and this simply might point to a player being used more in less minutes (or him taking more shots with next summer and his new contract in mind).

However, if you go back and look at the data from Jefferson’s previous two years with Charlotte the difference is not all that big. The Mississippian had a chucking rate of 2.00 in 2013-14 and followed it up with 1.93 last season.

Big Al, rightfully is in the first place on this list.

2. Charlie Villanueva (13.1 touches/6.3 attempts = 2.08 chucking rate, 12.1 minutes)

Charlie V does get some benefit of the doubt due to his job description. After all, the reason why he’s still an active NBA player is the long-range touch he has.

That being said, the Dominican is using that benefit to the fullest. If this wasn’t such a three point-happy era, the Mavericks might have not picked him up as a veteran floor spacer after his 40-million marriage with Detroit failed miserably.

There still is some oomph of a former small forward there. Villanueva can move around and will occasionally get to the rim and finish. However, he’s one of the three players in the league to have a free throw attempt rate lower than 0.05 (number of FT attempts per FG attempt) and for the fourth year in a row threes take up more than a half of his field goal attempts. Those are the signs of a player who’s mostly out there just to shoot threes.

And that’s something Villanueva will do whenever he gets a piece of daylight, whether the choice seems right or a bit premature:

The huge problem this season though is that he’s made only 25.5% of his three-pointers, which is down from 37.6% last year. His on/off stats also aren’t encouraging as Villanueva has posted the worst net rating out of all Dallas’s rotation players. At least his effective field goal percentage is better than the next guy’s…

3. Andrea Bargnani (13.5 touches/6.4 attempts = 2.11 chucking rate, 13.9 minutes)

..and that’s because Bargs is so dedicated to turning every pick-n-roll into him sliding over 18 feet away from the basket and waiting for the pass. 44.9% of his shots come between 16 feet and the 3-point line (38.6% have been made, per basketball-reference) and it begs the question whether his efficiency wouldn’t at least somewhat improve if he took a step or two backwards.

Him dialing back his chucking rate could help as well. Heck, forget my ranting and just take it from professor Zach Lowe, who recently did one of his great weekly likes and dislikes on Andrea Bargnani, popping long 2s like an addict:

“Remember when Andrea Bargnani at least pretended to be a passable 3-point shooter? Now he exists to enter silent, meaningless Brooklyn games, catch passes, and barf up long 2-pointers almost the instant the ball hits his hand. He is the new Byron Mullens, the big man who triggers his shooting motion before he even grips the rock.

Bargnani has somehow taken just nine 3s all season, the sad end-point of a years long decline in his 3-point accuracy. He’s a better shooter from 20 feet, but he’s making only 42 percent of his long 2s, and defenses don’t pay him much attention. The threat of his jumper certainly isn’t opening up anything better for the Nets, even during a recent uptick in his play. The Nets are worse when Bargnani is on the floor [worst net rating on the team], and he barely ever passes. Bargnani averages just 0.7 potential assists per game, per SportVU data, one of the lowest marks in the league for any rotation player.”

With this Lowe pretty much summarizes the case for Bargnani as a true chucker. Only few people can be compared to the one and only Byron Mullens. Not to also mention the fact that not passing the ball either could be a filter for an even better and updated list of chuckers (per SportVU, a “potential assist” is a pass by a player to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist).

4. Serge Ibaka (24.5 touches/11.6 attempts = 2.11 chucking rate, 32.1 minutes)

Finally. Our first positive tale of this column.

Just like Bargnani, Ibaka lives in the long two area (Serge has taken 38.7% of his shots between 16 feet and the 3-point line, a career-high). Only difference is that the Congolese big is good at making them.

Al Horford (48.7%) is the only player in the NBA who has been more precise at such mid-range jumpers than Ibaka (47.8%) (among players with at least 100 attempts). It might have seemed odd a few years ago but we’re at a point where Serge is one of the most consistent and reliable pick-n-pop options in the whole league.

Despite his frequent shot rate, he rarely strays away from taking what the defense (and drives by Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook) gives him. A whooping 89.2% of his shots come after 0 dribbles and he’s made 50.7% of them this season. It’s a testament to him just playing his role and not having earned the negative connotation the word “chucker” has.

The only concern is that he’s taking almost twice as less threes as he did last year and seemingly has turned those chances into those specific long twos despite being quite accurate from downtown. If I were Billy Donovan I’d certainly try to guide Ibaka away from some slips of the screen to the mid-range area and turn them into pops out behind the three-point line.

Josh Martin from Bleacher Report actually asked him about this and here’s what Ibaka replied:

“B/R: You’re taking about half as many threes per game this year as you did last year. What’s been the difference for you?

SI: It’s just different because I’m not really for three now this year. Last year, I was so obsessed with shooting threes. This year, I feel like I’m just going to play basketball. Wherever the ball will catch me, if I’m in the triple line, I’m going to shoot. If I’m at the two-point line, I’m going to shoot. I’m still working on the triple line too.”

Here’s to some more triples by Ibaka.

5. Brook Lopez (34.6 touches/16.2 attempts = 2.13 chucking rate, 34.1 minutes)

Both Brook Lopez and Al Jefferson making this list allows us to understand what kind of a team-leading player is most likely to end up with a high chucking rate.

While the last three bigs made the cut due to a high frequency of field goals off pick-n-pop situations, Bropez and Big Al have a usage rate which is just high enough (and an appropriately low assist percentage) for them to excel with a high chucking rate.

It thus proves just how often the offensive-minded Lopez gets the ball to attack the basket himself, whether it’s by design or not. Given the circumstances (the team he is playing on and his skillset), his chucking rate is not necessarily a knock on him but rather a descriptive measure.

As far as spreading the ball around is concerned Lopez is actually a worse offender than Jefferson. Jefferson has been around an assist percentage of 12% his last five seasons, while Lopez has recorded a 6.2% during that same time frame, per basketball-reference.com.

Meanwhile, SportVU’s valuable “AST to Pass% Adj” stat (which is the percentage of passes by a player that are assists, free throw assists or secondary assists) also points towards Lopez’s peer on this list as a higher percentage of Al’s passes turn into potential assists.

The twin plays the most minutes and receives the most touches out of everyone in this list, to boot. So no matter what’s your stance on Lopez’s game, he’s quite the score-first player once he touches the rock.

(Side-note – something all of these players (besides Lopez) have in common is a low free throw attempt rate. Brook could potentially leap a couple of spots if his 2.49 shooting fouls drawn per game were taken into consideration. That, however, begs the question whether too many of those shots don’t come in scenarios where fouling is a necessity, per example, when trying to defend Lopez under the rim.)

6. Shabazz Muhammad (13.6 touches/6.4 attempts = 2.17 chucking rate, 18.1 minutes)

Muhammad touches the ball the least out of all the players listed in this top-7, however, when he does so he has one thought in his mind and that is punishing the man who is guarding him.

Bazz’s game is unusual considering that he’s a one-and-done shooting guard who was drafted in 2013. Muhammad’s three-point attempt rate has been on the rise since his rookie year (during which he attempted a lowly 8.9% of his field goal attempts from long-range) but his game still primarily consists of using his body to score around the basket.

He’ll hang around the paint and pass unsuspecting victims for offensive rebounds. Sometimes he’ll straight up attempt to out-muscle them for position near the basket.

That being said, there’s a skillset to all of his brute force. Muhammad can pull off a sweet floating lay-up after hitting his man in the chest during that particular drive. His soft touch manifests itself best on hooks from the post. That’s where Minnesota will look for him on purpose if Muhammad is matched up against a weaker guard:

His success in the post hasn’t been limited just to the last season when he first shone there in real NBA minutes. Muhammad ranks in the 98th percentile among offensive post-up players this year thanks to a 54.5% field goal percentage and 28.6% free throw frequency, which ranks him fourth in the league among players with at least 20 post-up possessions.

With all of these good vibes in mind, you also have to acknowledge the fact that the UCLA Bruin has so far displayed the tendencies of a Quintin Dailey-like gunner of the bench. Muhammad’s on track to become the first rotation guard in NBA history to sport a usage rate higher than 20%, yet have an assist percentage under 4%. I guess that’s the manner in which a perimeter player has to play in to make this top-7.

7. Andrew Nicholson (14.4 touches/6.6 attempts = 2.18 chucking rate, 18.2 minutes)

Andrew Nicholson, rejuvenated under coach Scott Skiles, is not quite like the other bench bigs on this list.

Nicholson, who always has had at least some funky skills and a hook shot in him, has attempted 13.0% of his field goal attempts this season off of more than 3 dribbles. The Canadian’s efficiency on those shots has been staggering up to this point as he has made 56.5% of such attempts.

The fourth-year forward doesn’t mind going on his own dribble-heavy journey while in search of a shot:

Additionally, he might have found himself staying power in the league by adding a more regular three-point shot to his arsenal. He has re-distributed his looks between 16 feet and the three-point line (a third of Nicholson’s shots came from this area in his first two seasons) to the more effective shot from long-range.

The 26-year-old has knocked down 38.7% of his three-point looks and isn’t gun-shy about taking them with a 35.0% three-point attempt rate which will be sometimes be visible early in the possession.

From time to time you’ll see opposing bigs altogether dismiss the task of closing out as Nicholson will be completely open for a shot from downtown.

Nicholson like many other young or reserve bigs isn’t much of a creator for others which certainly explains him landing here. But due to the type of shots he takes I cannot avoid listing him either.

Honorable mentions:

Gerald Green (21.8/9.9 = 2.20), Enes Kanter (17.9/8.1 = 2.21, 62.5% of his FGA come from under the basket though), DeMarcus Cousins (44.2/19.6 = 2.25), Rudy Gay (35.3/15.6 = 2.26), Ryan Anderson (30.2/13.3 = 2.27).

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