Ranking among the league’s scoring leaders is one thing, but being able to do it without hoisting up a lot of bad shots is even better.
The most efficient scorers in the NBA are those who put up points with the fewest number of possible field goal attempts. One metric for measuring this is a player’s points generated per shot taken. However, the leaders in this statistic don’t necessarily fall under the category of “scorers.”
Tyson Chandler of the Dallas Mavericks is No. 1 in the league in points per shot at 1.74. Chandler is a big man who gets a lot of high-percentage looks near the basket. His field goal percentage this season is 69.4, but he’s only averaging 11.3 points per game and isn’t going to make anybody’s list of great scorers.
The Atlanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver is third in the NBA with a points per shot average of 1.72. Korver’s efficiency comes from the fact that he’s shooting a remarkable 56.7 percent from three-point land, with nearly two-thirds of his total field goal attempt from long range.
But it’s hard to consider him among the league’s scoring elite when he’s averaging just 13.8 points a night.
For the purposes of this article I’ve devised a simple metric that takes into account both total scoring output and efficiency–points minus field goal attempts.
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With this formula a player who averages 17 points on 10 shots per game (17-10=7) comes out just ahead of another who puts up 28 points on 22 attempts (28-22=6). But, the guy who scores 10 points on only five shots (10-5=5) finishes last of the three despite having the best point per shot average.
Apologies to Kevin Durant, but one game (27 points, 18 shots, a “nine” rating on my scale) is not enough to qualify. Without further ado, here are the top five most efficient scorers in the NBA this season:
Honorable Mention: Kevin Martin, Minnesota Timberwolves (7.1)
Martin isn’t eligible to crack the list because he’s only played in nine contests, but the veteran sharpshooter’s accomplishments are definitely worth noting. Martin is averaging 20.4 points on 13.3 attempts, while shooting 48.1 percent from downtown and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line.
No. 5: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings (7.1)
Cousins is putting up 23.5 points on 16.4 shots per game. His field goal percentage is 51.2, and he’s helping his cause by also knocking down 6.7 free throws per contest.
No. 4: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (7.4)
Butler is the surprise entry on this list. The Bulls shooting guard is scoring 21.6 points on 14.2 shots a night. Like Cousins, he has a high field goal percentage, 49.0, and is getting a lot of free points at the charity stripe, 6.9 per game.
No. 3: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (7.4)
Curry is averaging 23.7 points on 16.3 attempts. His shooting percentages are phenomenal across the board–49.5 from the floor, 41.2 beyond the arc and 91.2 at the line. Even though Curry and Butler are tied at 7.4, Curry gets the nod due to his higher scoring number.
No. 2: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (7.6)
Davis is posting 24.9 points on 17.3 shots per contest. He’s doing it by shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and hitting an additional 5.7 free throws each game.
No. 1: James Harden, Houston Rockets (7.8)
Harden claims the top spot by getting to the free-throw line more often than anyone else in the NBA, 9.6 attempts per game (0.5 more than the runner-up, teammate Dwight Howard), and shooting exceptionally well when he’s there, 89.6 percent. The NBA’s second leading scorer is averaging 25.0 points on 17.2 shots.
And because it’s LeBron James‘ world and we’re all just living in it, James would place sixth on this list with a rating of 6.8 (24.9 points and 18.1 field goal attempts).