While going through an impromptu refresher course on Jimmy Butler’s sophomore season, as I am wont to do, I came across an interesting trend. Of the dozens of players whose Offensive Rating clocked in above 120, there were only 12 who played at least 1000 minutes. For the unaware, Offensive Rating is essentially the points scored by a player per 100 possessions. An ORtg of 100 would equal a player scoring 1 point per possession, or a 2 point basket every other possession. An ORtg of 200 would equal said player scoring 2 points every time he touches the ball, which is essentially impossible for any extended period of time outside of a statistical model. With this in mind, 120 is a high enough offensive rating to be impressed with, especially in the extended minutes these 12 players have seen.
This is not to say that these are the best offensive players in the league. This is merely a sampling of the myriad paths players in this league take towards the almighty temple of efficiency. Plenty of guys who had ORtgs between 110 and 119 are arguably better scorers and cornerstones of a potent offense. I had to make the cutoff somewhere, and 12 is as good a number as any. Sadly, there were a number of players who would easily have made this cut if injuries and relative playing time hadn’t gotten in the way. Chris Wilcox and Chris Andersen were chief among them. Without any further adieu, I’ll start breaking down these twelve players and identify where they stand in three separate categories, based on how they generated their offense: At Rim Finishers, Spot Up Shooters, and Foul Drawers.
These players will be ordered by their Offensive Rating. All averages per 36 minutes. Other pertinent stats will be listed with the player in question.
Player #1: Tyson Chandler
Offensive Rating: 133 Minutes Played: 2164 Points: 11.5 Shooting Splits: .638 FG/.694 FT/ .671 TS/ .638 eFG
Shots Taken: 6.7 FG/0.0 3Pt/ 4.3 FT Usage Rate: 13.0 Distribution: 36% Jumpshots 74% Assisted 23.2% Fouled
Tyson Chandler is, unsurprisingly, the best finisher on this list, or at least the most prolific. With only 36% of his shots coming on jumpers, he scores primarily in the paint, and primarily on easy dunks, primarily as a finisher off the pick and roll or after making himself available in the scrum, as 74% of his points came after being assisted. His foul drawing rate is absurd, yet his limited number of possessions (a remarkably low 13.0 usage rate) restricts his appearances at the foul line to only 4.3 per game (which still qualifies him for 4th on this list). His percentage at the foul line is solid if not particularly lethal, limiting even more the effect his incredible foul drawing rate has on his game.
What does this all mean? It means that while he’s not a guy you could conceivably throw the ball to 15-20 times a game and expect high-level production, Chandler’s still an incredibly efficient finisher in the paint, consistently near the top of the league in field goal percentage. He’s one of only seven players on this list to hit the 2,000 minute mark last season, further illustrating the longevity and consistency of what he offers offensively. As a former Defensive Player of the Year winner, his offensive contributions could be seen as secondary and relatively unimportant. Instead, he’s the most efficient offensive player in the NBA, further demonstrating the incredible value he provides to the Knicks.
Player #2: Chris Paul
Offensive Rating: 127 Minutes Played: 2335 Points: 18.3 Shooting Splits: .481 FG/.328 3PT/.885 FT/.594 TS/.526 eFG
Shots Taken: 13.2 FG/ 3.6 3Pt/ 5.0 FT Usage Rate: 22.6 Distribution: 84% Jumpshots 22% Assisted 6.8% Fouled
Any doubts you ever might have had about CP3′s claim to the Iron Throne of Point Guards should be shelved right here and now, lest you take umbrage with what I’m about to say: Chris Paul is statistically impossible. 84% of his shots come off jumpers, and yet he’s not a particularly great shooter, specifically from deep, where his .328 rate on 3.6 per game seems to drag his efficiency down a bit (to say nothing of the relative worth of three pointers compared to two pointers). He’s by no means a bad shooter, but at first glance it seems a little difficult to glean where exactly his efficiency comes from. These statistics have nothing to do with passing or running an offense, the two things CP3 is perhaps most known for. He’s a high-level foul shooter, but doesn’t get to the line all that often, with his 6.8% foul drawing rate ranking 8th of the 12 players profiled.
So how does it he do it? Looking at the amount of shots he takes, nearly 10 shots a game came from inside the arc, yet only 16% of his shots on the season were not jumpshots. Knowing what we know about how he plays, it’s safe to say that Chris Paul is the best shot creator in the NBA. Using only the above video as reference, it becomes very apparent that his proficiency in the midrange game is due to two things: his lethal dribbling ability and his reflexive, almost robotic ability to square his shoulders on every shot. CP3′s reputation, especially through those without any sort of inclination towards more than the surface level statistics, is of a “true point guard” who prefers to make plays for his teammates rather than himself. He’s not seen as the sort of shot creator other high-level point guards are, specifically Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry. Still, he’s on this list and they aren’t. He’s not Rajon Rondo. He can and will create his own offense if need be, and he’ll do it while being incredibly efficient with the least efficient shot in the sport.
Player #3: Steve Novak
Offensive Rating: 125 Minutes Played: 1641 Points: 11.7 Shooting Splits: .414 FG/ .425 3Pt/ .909 FT/ .602 TS/ .587 eFG
Shots Taken: 9.4 FG/ 7.7 3Pt/ 0.7 FT Usage Rate: 13.0 Distribution: 99% Jumpshots 94% Assisted 1.4% Fouled
There are three players on this list with an ORtg of 125. By no means am I claiming that Steve Novak is the best among them. He’s simply the best example of the exact opposite of both Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul. 99% of his field goals were jumpers, and 94% of his made baskets came off of assists. He is a spot up shooter. This is not news. What is news is how striking his numbers really illustrate the value of the three point shot. He shoots a poor .414 from the field, doesn’t get to the line, rarely shoots inside the paint and yet ranks as one of the most efficient players in the league. This is entirely due to his marksmanship. Hitting 42.5% of his 7.7 attempts from deep per 36 minutes would leave him with nearly 3.3 makes from deep, resulting in a little under 9.9 points per game. With a usage rate so low, Novak essentially produced 10 points for almost no cost. He’s an entirely one-dimensional player, but he fulfills that single dimension so thoroughly that the Bargnani trade looks even worse than it did when it happened. He’s better at shooter than Bargnani is at anything. Here’s to hoping he remains a rotation player in Toronto, who will surely be in need of some high-efficiency, low usage shooting with the wing players they’re trotting out there.
Player #4: LeBron James
Offensive Rating: 125 Minutes Played: 2877 Points: 25.5 Shooting Splits: .565 FG/ .406 3Pt/ .753 FT/ .640 TS/ .603 eFG
Shots Taken: 16.9 FG/ 3.2 3Pt/ 6.7 FT Usage Rate: 30.2 Distribution: 65% Jumpshots 40% Assisted 13.5% Fouled
It shouldn’t be a surprise that LeBron is a great (and greatly efficient) offensive player. Nor should it be a surprise that the bulk of his production comes from his greater than 70% shooting percentage at the rim (would have an exact figure if the NBA’s stats page felt like working). What is mildly surprising is just how good a jump shooter he’s become. He takes a significantly smaller amount that he did in Cleveland, hitting at a higher rate than could have been dreamed possible just three short years ago. 40% from deep is no small feat, and when factored in with his nigh unstoppable ability to get into the lane and the high amount of fouls he draws simply by being so physically dominant, LeBron is fairly close to flawless offensively. Even his foul shooting, often the target of derision, clocked in at a respectable 75.3% last season.
His usage rate is the highest in this group of players and the fifth highest in the NBA as a whole last season (trailing Melo, Westbrook, Kobe and Kyrie), and he was assisted on only 40% of his baskets, second lowest among this group. Similarly to Chris Paul, LeBron’s efficiency despite heavy usage and reliance on isolation speaks to how dominant he really is. He’s an unstoppable juggernaut running roughshod over the terrified countryside and he’s not even 30 years old yet. This might not be going away any time soon. Imagine if he were a great free throw shooter. He’d have destroyed us all by now.
Player #5: Greg Smith
Offensive Rating: 125 Minutes Played: 1110 Points: 13.7 Shooting Splits: .620 FG/ .623 FT/ .636 TS/ .620 eFG
Shots Taken: 8.9 FG/ 0.0 3Pt/ 4.2 FT Usage Rate: 14.7 Distribution: 15% Jumpshots 75% Assisted 19.9% Fouled
Greg Smith scores his points in a way quite similarly to Tyson Chandler: at the rim. An impressive 85% of his shots came on shots not classified as “jumpshots,” and he drew fouls an even more impressive 19.9% of the time. Where Chandler operates out of the pick and roll and uses his immense size to deter potential defensive adjustments, Smith moves away from the paint entirely, picking his spots and waiting for the defense to be drawn to teammate, generally James Harden on another foray into the paint. Smith gets a fair amount of work on put backs and tip ins, but primarily seems to function as a secondary option in the pick and roll, which he uses to great effect as a more viable option off the catch than Omer Asik, whom he’s able to use as a shield of sorts to get to the rim unnoticed.
Part of this is, assuredly, due to his status as a relative unknown. It’s entirely conceivable that he just doesn’t appear on scouting reports. The Thunder seemed to have an idea of how to get rid of him in the playoffs, which is disconcerting. With the addition of Dwight Howard, however, it stands to reason that Smith will get more than his fair share of open looks near the basket. He presents himself well to passers, has good hands, and is generally a powerful finisher. He has next to no jumper to speak of, and his post moves when forced to score on his own are rudimentary, but he’s got more than enough to stick in this league and prove that his efficiency last season was not a fluke.
Player #6: Jose Calderon
Offensive Rating: 124 Minutes Played: 2160 Points: 13.8 Shooting Splits: .491 FG/ .461 3Pt/ .900 FT/ .616 TS/ .594 eFG
Shots Taken: 10.6 FG/ 4.7 3Pt/ 1.3 FT Usage Rate: 17.0 Distribution: 92%/83% Jumpshots 57%/58% Assist 2.2%/2.5% Fouled
First things first: the splits on the second line of Calderon’s stat line refer to his shot distribution in Toronto followed by in Detroit. Ok then, now that that’s done, I can talk about just how good of a shooter Calderon is. Not only does he have the highest three point percentage of anyone on this list, he’s an elite free throw shooter (despite not getting to the line all that much) and maintained a .616 True Shooting % despite taking at least 83% jumpshots. That’s stupendously high, and it’s not as though he barely shoots. 10.6 field goals per 36 ranks him 4th on this entire list. Calderon gets his fair share of shots up, and he hits them at a remarkably high rate. Add in his career 4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, and Jose becomes one of the most well-rounded offensive point guards in the NBA. Something of a poor man’s Steve Nash.
Unfortunately, just like Steve Nash, the next person he defends will be the first. Interestingly, he was the only player on this list to have a negative point differential. He was also the only player on this list not to reach the playoffs. While playing for two bad teams certainly didn’t help, perhaps his infamously bad defense had something to do with being on such bad teams in the first place (it didn’t). All this being said, Calderon is cheap, intelligent, and hyper efficient. If the new Mavs fail, it almost certainly won’t be his fault.
Player #7: Nick Collison
Offensive Rating: 123 Minutes Played: 1583 Points: 9.4 Shooting Splits: .595 FG/ .769 FT/ .624 TS/ .595 eFG
Shots Taken: 6.7 FG/ 0.1 3Pt/ 1.8 FT Usage Rate: 11.5 Distribution: 41% Jumpshots 79% Assisted 10.6% Fouled
Nick Collison is perhaps the most interesting player on this list. As an offensive product, he’s probably the least polished guy on this list. He’s not a bad shooter, but he rarely shoots, as evidenced by jumpshots only accounting for 41% of his shots. The majority of his offensive contributions come from tip ins and garbage plays, more so than even Greg Smith. He draws fouls at a respectable rate, and is a very good free throw shooter, which is tribute to how well he positions himself off ball and reacts to what the rest of the offense is doing. Rarely is Nick Collison in a bad spot. He has the third lowest usage rate of anyone on this list, and easily the lowest for a post player. His 79% assisted rate ranks very highly, even in the presence of big men like Chandler and Smith, who rarely create for themselves. Collison is every bit an offensive role player, but his role is to convert at a high rate and never take shots he doesn’t need to take. Taken next to how good a defensive player he is, it’s even more remarkable that Kendrick Perkins is the starter in OKC. Collison is significantly better in pretty much every regard. Then again, you already knew that, or else you probably wouldn’t be reading here.
Player #8: Kosta Koufos
Offensive Rating: 122 Minutes Played: 1817 Points: 12.8 Shooting Splits: .581 FG/ .558 FT/ .585 TS/ .581 eFG
Shots Taken: 10.1 FG/ 0.0 3Pt/ 2.1 FT Usage Rate: 14.5 Distribution: 17% Jumpshots 75% Assisted 8.3% Fouled
Kosta Koufos is a different animal than the other centers on this list. While his jumpshooting and baskets assisted percentages are par for the course, the sheer volume of shots he puts up separates him from the others. He seems to subsist a great deal more off of quick post ups and his back to the basket game than either Smith, Chandler, or Collison. His usage rate isn’t much higher, which in the end makes him a similar sort of player: a finisher around the rim and a bailout option for his more isolation oriented teammates. He’s not a very good foul shooter, nor does he get to the line all that much, but his size is an asset.
At the expense of under-discussing Koufos’ effect, this brings me to an interesting idea. Why is it that the basketball community seems not to care about too many so-called “traditional” post ups in comparison to hero ball isolation? While a guy in the post is significantly closer to the basket and stands a better chance of converting, it can still drastically slow the offense. How much better would Dwight Howard be if he agreed to be more of a pick and roll threat? The idea that big men who don’t operate out of the post are somehow less effective is just silly, even if guys like Brook Lopez can be legitimate offensive forces while operating with their backs to the basket.
Operating out of the high post is different, opening up a bevy of passing and cutting options if the big man in question is a good and alert enough passer. This is not to say that a guy taking 20 mid range shots is going to be any near as effective as a guy taking 20 shots in the paint, just that running isos and dumping it into the post are similar philosophically, both dependent on simplifying the game and shrinking the floor to remove the other eight players and rely on your guy beating their guy. I’m not trying to say that it’s bad basketball, just that an over-reliance on it can severely limit a team’s efficiency. Notice how only Koufos (and perhaps LeBron) could be considered legitimate post up threats? Just food for thought that I’m not entirely sure I thought out all the way.
Player #9: Kevin Durant
Offensive Rating: 122 Minutes Played: 3119 Points: 26.3 Shooting Splits: .510 FG/ .416 3Pt/ .905 FT/ .647 TS/ .559 eFG
Shots Taken: 16.5 FG/ 3.9 3Pt/ 8.7 FT Usage Rate: 29.8 Distribution: 81% Jumpshots 52% Assisted 16.9% Fouled
There’s nothing about Kevin Durant’s offensive profile that should surprise you, and yet, it’s still incredible to look up and see a guy with a 29.8 usage rate hitting the fabled 50/40/90 mark, which to this day is the second highest usage rate among any member of the 50/40/90 club (Larry Bird hit the 30 mark in 1988). He’s a shooter at heart, and in practice, as his 81% jumpshot rate ranks 5th among the twelve players profiled, and his .416 percentage from deep on nearly 4 attempts per game results in around five easy points per game. In fact, that seems to be KDs modus operandi: brilliance by accumulation. He gets to the foul line a lot, and is an excellent free throw shooter. He’s a prolific and deadly three point shooter, just as he is a dependable threat from mid-range. He doesn’t take an overwhelming amount of shots at the rim, but he’s generally effective when he does. There’s not one singular thing Kevin Durant does that leads to his high level efficiency on the offensive end. It’s everything. He does everything, and he does it well enough that to pressure him into attacking from a different angle is simply picking another blade for him to gut you with. Trying to deter Kevin Durant’s stoic, gradual domination is like trying to fight through a pit of snakes with your hands. No matter which way you attack, you’re going to get bit.
Player #10: Shane Battier
Offensive Rating: 122 Minutes Played: 1786 Points: 9.5 Shooting Splits: .420 FG/ .430 3Pt/ .842 FT/ .623 TS/ .608 eFG
Shots Taken: 7.3 FG/ 6.4 3Pt/ 0.8 FT Usage Rate: 11.0 Distribution: 91% Jumpshots 96% Assisted 2.7% Fouled
Shane Battier understands his role better than perhaps anyone in the NBA. He is the very definition of a spot-up shooter, taking 91% of his shots from outside the paint and having 96% of his makes assisted. He almost never gets fouled, though he is a good foul shooter. His three point percentage is higher than his vanilla field goal percentage, and he obviously understands this, taking 6.4 of his 7.3 field goals per 36 from behind the arc. This results in over 8 points per 36 minutes, almost the entirety of his 9.5 points per 36. His usage is the lowest of the 12 players profiled here, which makes sense when you remember that essentially all of his minutes came next to LeBron James, one of the league leaders in usage. There’s no need for Shane Battier to be doing anything on offense other than spotting up and letting loose. In the video clip linked above, that’s exactly what he did. Despite shooting well under 30% from deep in the playoffs, Battier spent all his time on the court positioning himself for open looks, which in Game 7, he hit. No hesitation, no attempts to open up the rest of his game, no wasted effort that could be better used utilizing his still decent defensive skills. Shane Battier is essentially the perfect role player at this stage of his career, maximizing his utility without slowing up the offense in any way.
Player #11: Thabo Sefolosha
Offensive Rating: 121 Minutes Played: 2229 Points: 9.9 Shooting Splits: .481 FG/ .419 3Pt/ .826 FT/ .617 TS/ .597 eFG
Shots Taken: 7.5 FG/ 4.2 3Pt/ 1.1 FT Usage Rate: 11.4 Distribution: 72% Jumpshots 79% Assisted 6.2% Fouled
At the expense of repeating myself, I’d like to say that Thabo Sefolosha is as accepting of his role as anyone in the NBA. He defends, he shoots, he plays 20 minutes a game and he does it all very efficiently. Compared to Battier, he has at least some game off the dribble and driving to the rim. His 72% jumpshot rate pales in comparison to Battier’s all-encompassing 91%, his foul drawing rate is nearly three times higher, and his assisted rate is much lower. Thabo has more shot-creation in his arsenal than Battier, which is to say he has more than zero. That being said, he makes his money as a spot up shooter, taking 4.2 threes per 36 and making nearly 42% of them, accounting for nearly six points per game. That he, too plays next to a high-usage, high-efficiency small forward who allows him to play off ball and step into the gaps created by Durant’s presence. He’s been perceived as something of a spot-starter, holding down a spot for a superior bench scorer for years now. While that’s certainly the case, it’s not as though Thabo doesn’t contribute. In fact, he does so at a level even Kevin Martin, formerly one of the most efficient players in the NBA, couldn’t dream of reaching in 2013.
Player #12: Jimmy Butler
Offensive Rating: 121 Minutes Played: 2134 Points: 11.9 Shooting Splits: .467 FG/ .381 3Pt/ .803 FT/ .574 TS/ .506 eFG
Shots Taken: 8.6 FG/ 1.8 3Pt/ 3.9 FT Usage Rate: 14.6 Distribution: 63% Jumpshots 69% Assisted 16.3% Fouled
The singular defining thread of Jimmy Butler’s breakout half-season was his immediate emergence as a defensive stopper, someone who guarded LeBron James and didn’t look completely helpless while doing so. One of the most popular youtube videos concerning the soon to be third year Bulls swingman was his role as a “Kobe stopper” in a Bulls victory over the Lakers.
While his contributions defensively are impressive and certainly important going forward (especially if the Bulls sell on Luol Deng), it’s his offensive acumen that made him so pivotal to the Bulls’ 2012-13 season. I’d go as far as saying he was so far and away the best offensive player on the team that to compare him to anyone else is a grave insult to just how good he was. Like LeBron, Butler’s primary offensive contributions came at the rim, where he shot well over 60% despite playing the lion’s share of his minutes at the two. Cuts to the basket, offensive rebounds, alley-oops and in transition, Butler was lethal, and seeing him run off cuts with Derrick Rose back in the fold could be incredibly effective next season.
What’s perhaps most impressive was his foul-drawing rate and how well he capitalized off those opportunities. Of the twelve players on this list, only Butler and Durant drew fouls at a rate higher than 15% while still shooting at least 80% from the line. That Butler did this without being a particularly good shooter is testament to how overpowering his combination of athleticism, activity and effort caught opposing teams off guard. While I said earlier that he wasn’t a particularly good shooter, in the 20 games he registered as a starter, Butler shot a smoldering .458 from deep. If that’s a prelude to his 2013-14 season, then the sky is truly the limit for Jimmy Butler, 30th overall pick, afterthought, emerging Chicago folk hero.
So ends this little experiment I made partially out of boredom and partially out of a desire to properly contextualize Jimmy Butler. Through this, I found just how insane the three best players in the world truly are and how important good, efficient role players are to a contender. Eleven of the twelve players on this list made the playoffs. Eight of them played on division champions. Two of them won a title. Three more likely would have been in the running for one had injury not struck. Efficiency is important. It may not be the end all, be all some want it to be, but woe be to the fan that neglects it entirely. Carmelo Anthony is no where near these proceedings, and neither are Monta Ellis, J.R. Smith, or Brandon Jennings. It might be unfair to single those four out, but considering how those four seem to be the rallying cry for the “just watch the game” traditionalist crowd, it seems apt. Thank you for reading what is now well over a 4,000 word piece about statistics written about someone with a tenuous at best grip over them.