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How Well Some of the Best NBA Players Shot the Basketball

How Well Some of the Best NBA Players Shot the Basketball


As the league has gotten better and better so has our way of judging the performances of the players. Before I can get too in depth, it is important that you understand a couple of new terms we have been forced to create. eFG% (Effective Field Goal Percentage) is a term that accounts for the 3-point shot. Basketball-Reference defines it as:

Effective Field Goal Percentage; the formula is (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA. This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).

Another term is TS% (True Shooting Percentage)and it factors free throws into the way we look at a player’s overall worth as a scorer. It is defined on the same site as:

True Shooting Percentage; the formula is PTS / (2 * (FGA + 0.44 * FTA)). True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.

TS% is a way of understanding how much points a player scores on a per possession basis. eFG% and TS% are the most accurate ways of seeing just how great of a scorer a player is. Some players are great at getting to the FT line and others shoot more 3’s and therefore have a worse fg% overall. Long gone is the black and white fg% we all have trusted for so long. Thanks to those who helped me dig up some of this information. Let’s look at the stats. (BTW, Magic will be compared to the SF’s that usually guarded him during the games. A comparison to other PG’s would have made them look silly).

The Stats


Magic Johnson – 19.5 PPG, 6211 FG 11951 FGA, 52 FG%, 325 3P 1074 3PA, 30.3 3P%, 84.8 FT%, 53.3 eFG%, 61.0 TS%, 9% of shots were 3-pointers, 61% shots in paint


Larry Bird – 24.3 PPG, 8591 FG 17334 FGA, 49.6 FG%, 649 3P 1727 3PA, 37.6 3P%, 88.6 FT%, 51.4 eFG%, 56.4 TS%, 9.9% of shots were 3-pointers, 57% shots in paint


Michael Jordan – 30.1 PPG, 12192 FG 24537 FGA, 49.7 FG%, 581 3P 1778 3PA, 32.7 3P%, 83.5 FT%, 50.9 eFG%, 56.9 TS%, 7.2% of shots were 3-pointers, 51% shots in paint


KobeBryant – 25.4 PPG, 10286 FG 22706 FGA, 45.3 FG%, 1505 3P 4472 3PA, 33.7 3P%, 83.8 FT%, 48.6 eFG%, 55.4 TS%, 19.7% of shots were 3-pointers, 34% shots in paint


Lebron James – 27.6 PPG, 6794 FG 14057 FGA, 48.3 FG%, 917 3P 2772 3PA, 33.1 3P%, 74.6 FT%, 51.6 eFG%, 56.9 TS%, 19.7% of shots were 3-pointers, 49% shots in paint


Kevin Durant – 26.3 PPG, 3396 FG 7259 FGA, 46.8 FG%, 562 3P 1544 3PA, 36.4 3P%, 87.8 FT%, 50.7 eFG%, 58.2 TS%, 21.3% of shots were 3-pointers, 36% shots in paint


What does this mean? Some players like Lebron, Kobe, and Durant shoot more 3’s than the old school guys. They will naturally have a lower fg% because of that, which is why we have these new advanced stats. Each one of these players has a true shooting percentage of over 55%. Kobe is not going to shoot as high a percentage as Jordan, because Jordan was shooting higher percentage shots in the paint while Kobe shoots lower percentage shots outside of the paint and from 3-point-land.

The Match-ups


Magic Johnson – Height: 6’9 Playing Weight: 215 lbs

Average Era Defender – Height: 6’7.5 Weight: 215.7 lbs


Larry Bird – Height: 6’9 Playing Weight: 220 lbs

Average Era Defender – Height: 6’9.2 Weight: 223.8


Michael Jordan – Height: 6’6 Playing Weight: 215 lbs

Average Era Defender – Height: 6’4.4 Weight: 201.6 lbs


Kobe Bryant – Height: 6’6 Playing Weight: 205 lbs

Average Era Defender – Height: 6’6.3 Weight: 219.7 lbs


Lebron James – Height: 6’8 Playing Weight: 255 lbs

Average Era Defender – Height: 6’7.2 Weight: 224.6


Kevin Durant – Height: 6’9 Playing Weight: 235 lbs

Average Era Defender – Height: 6’7.1 Weight: 224.3


What does this mean? Magic was a match-up nightmare for anyone he faced, while Bird played a lot of guys that were the same size as him. Jordan played against shorter guys who he had a weight advantage against, while Kobe(who is almost the same size as Jordan) has played against a lot more physical and taller competition. Lebron has an almost 30 lb advantage over his average competition while Durant presents his own match-up problems with his height.

How important of a stat is ppg, really?


Magic Era – Average Team in League PPG: 108.85


Bird Era – Average Team in League PPG: 108.58


Jordan Era – Average Team in League PPG: 105.01


Kobe Era – Average Team in League PPG: 96.84


Lebron Era – Average Team in League PPG: 98.06


Durant Era – Average Team in League PPG: 99.24


What does this mean? The pace of the NBA has changed many times and players like Magic, Bird, and Jordan’s number are inflated because of it. Their teams averaged more possessions and more points per game than the players of today.Kobe has had the worst of it, but the game has picked up some in recent years as shown by the slow increase in Lebron and Durant’s number.

What about FG% per player? Same position?


Magic Era – Avg FG: 48.33% Avg SF FG%: 47.94 Magic FG%: 52.0


Bird Era – Avg FG%: 48.25 Avg PF FG%: 50.1 Bird FG%: 49.6%


Jordan Era – Avg FG% 47.44 Avg SG FG%: 46.28 Jordan FG%: 49.7%


Kobe Era – Avg FG%: 45.01 Avg SG FG%: 41.74 Kobe FG%: 45.3


Lebron Era – Avg FG%: 45.35 Avg SF FG%: 45.27 Lebron FG%: 48.3


Durant Era – Avg FG%: 45.68 Avg SF FG%: 45.33 Durant FG%: 46.8


What does this mean? Magic, Bird, and Jordan played in an era where the average player shot a higher percentage than the players of today. This is not surprising since the NBA has gotten a lot more talented from top to bottom in the last 15 years. The NBA has gotten an increase in athleticism, wingspan averages entering the draft, and defensive specialists. Jordan shot 49.7% from the floor but the average shooting guard in the league was shooting 46.28% (Jordan +3.42%) at the time. That is significantly higher than the average of 41.74% that the average shooting guard has shot during the Kobe era. It is therefore not surprising that Kobe is shooting 45.3% from the floor (Kobe +3.56%). Durant shoots +1.47% higher and Lebron shoots +3.03% higher than the SFs during their respective eras.

Hopefully this breakdown has helped you understand that not all is black and white when it comes to how the greats have shot the ball.


by Rance 

One Response to “How Well Some of the Best NBA Players Shot the Basketball”

  1. Colin May 8, 2012 7:48 pm at 7:48 pm #

    Damn dude thats a great article. I admire the research you put into doing this. Thanks