Ranking the 2015 NBA draft's top shooters

It doesn't take more than a few minutes of watching an NBA playoff game to realize how important outside shooting has become to the way the sport is evolving these days. Great shooters open the floor for their teammates to operate and make the offense flow much more smoothly. Still, ranking the best shooters in the NBA or this upcoming draft class is a highly subjective proposition.

Players who can sit in the corner and knock down open shots are valuable commodities in today's NBA, but without teammates who can actually create those looks, their value would be diminished because the defense would have no reason to actually leave them open. Every NBA game you watch is a chess match, a give and take of opposing strategies and decisions with adjustments made on the fly based on what coaching staffs and their trusted playmakers are seeing on the court.

The best creators in the NBA are not only great athletes who can get to the rim at will, but also are capable of pulling up off the dribble and punishing the defense. This is arguably a much more difficult and important skill to have – it's incredibly difficult to slow down a great off-the-dribble shooter who can create an open look in a flash.

With that said, how do we evaluate the best shooters available in this draft class? Here are some of the measures we came up with, with an explanation for why we isolated each stat, along with a look at the top-five players in the NBA and the 2015 NBA draft in each category. 

This is not an exhaustive study including all of the best shooters in college basketball or even in the 2015 NBA draft class. The only players included in this subset are those deemed to "draftable" NBA prospects. For example, players like Connor Hill (6-3, SG, Idaho, 3.6 threes made per game, 45% 3P%), Lawrence Alexander (6-3, SG, North Dakota State, 3.3 threes made per game, 45% 3P%, Kevin Pangos (6-2, PG, Gonzaga, 2.2 threes made per game, 43% 3P%) were excluded, amongst others.

For the purpose of this article, we also honed in on only those who ranked well in the various categories we studied, which is why you won't see the likes of R.J. Hunter, Rashad Vaughn and to a lesser extent Cameron Payne, who weren't incredibly efficient this past season, but are still likely to get drafted in the first round in part because their potential as shooters.
Data Sources: Synergy Sports Technology, and DraftExpress Blue

3-pointers attempted per-40 minutes

Methodology: Anyone can go out and jack up 3-pointers without conscience, but if that strategy doesn't prove to be effective for winning games, there is little doubt that the player's teammates and coaching staff will quickly pivot away from it. Many of the players we'd consider to be the best shooters in the league are indeed those who heave up the most shots on a per-minute basis. Studies have shown that the volume of a player's attempts in college actually tell us more about what kind of shooter he will develop into than his actual accuracy, which can be swayed easily by the small sample size of the NCAA season. In parenthesis, you'll find the player's actual 3-point percentage this year.

UC Davis guard Corey Hawkins (AP)
UC Davis guard Corey Hawkins (AP)

Tyler Harvey 9.8 (41%)
Michael Frazier 8.2 (38%)
D'Angelo Russell 7.6 (41%)
Mario Hezonja 7.4 (39%)
Corey Hawkins 7.4 (49%)

NBA leaders 
Stephen Curry 10.1 (44%)
J.R. Smith 9.9 (39%)
C.J. Miles 9.5 (35%)
Louis Williams 8.9 (33%)
Wesley Matthews 8.8 (39%)

3-point percentage

Methodology: While per-minute attempts is an interesting stat, it's important to realize that not every player is in position to heave up a huge amount of outside shots because of their role on the team, style of play, or perhaps a lack of confidence in their ability to make 3s. In a perfect world, we'd be looking for a player who can hit a barrage of outside shots at a great clip, but NBA teams also like players who know their role and are willing to play within the confines of a system. In parenthesis, you'll find the player's 3-pointers attempted per-40 minutes this year.

Corey Hawkins 49% (7.4)
Anthony Brown 44% (5.4)
Pat Connaughton 42.5% (6.6)
Daniel Diez 42.5% (6.4)
Frank Kaminsky 41.6% (3.4)

NBA leaders (min: 3.4 attempts per-40) 
Kyle Korver 46.5% (8.0)
Meyers Leonard 45.6 (5.2)
Stephen Curry 44.4% (10.1)
Eric Gordon 44.4% (6.6)
Anthony Morrow 43.4% (6.9)
Klay Thompson 43.4) (8.6)
J.J. Redick 43% (7.7)

Free-throw percentage

Methodology: While it may seem strange to isolate a player's ability at the free-throw line and attempt to extrapolate it to their overall shooting prowess as a whole, there is certainly a method to the madness here. Historical draft studies consistently show that a player's free-throw percentage in college tells us just as much, if not more, than his 3-point percentages do. The explanation here again revolves around sample size (some of the prospects in this study shot only around 100 3-pointers this season), as well as the fact that shooting form, touch, hand/eye coordination and other factors that many great free-throw shooters have overlap quite neatly outside the charity stripe, as well.

Joseph Young 93.2%
Quinn Cook 89.1%
Tyus Jones 88.9%
Michael Frazier 87.0%
Tyler Harvey 85.6%

NBA leaders
Meyers Leonard 91.2%
J.J. Redick 90.8%
Jodie Meeks 90.6%
Chris Paul 90.6%
Caron Butler 90.2%
Stephen Curry 89.8%

Catch-and-shoot points per-40

Methodology: This stat tells us a bit about the different prospects' role on their former team, as well as their readiness for operating within the confines of an NBA system. These players mostly had narrowly defined duties as floor spacers for their respective teams. For good measure we threw their points–per-shot average in parenthesis, to give you a better idea how accurately they were able to accumulate the scoring numbers they put together in catch-and-shoot situations.

Daniel Diez 7.44 (1.32 PPS)
Mario Hezonja 7.29 (1.24 PPS)
Pat Connaughton 7.01 (1.36 PPS)
Kristaps Porzingis 6.43 (1.13 PPS)
Michael Frazier 6.27 (1.16 PPS)

NBA leaders
Dirk Nowitzki8.73 (1.04 PPS)
J.J. Redick 8.53 (1.22 PPS)
Kyle Korver 8.5 (1.37 PPS)
Klay Thompson 7.64 (1.27 PPS)
Anthony Morrow 7.55 (1.28 PPS)
Danny Green 7.34 (1.28 PPS)

Pull-up jumper points per-40

Methodology: As we discussed in the intro, it's quite a bit more difficult to score points efficiently when players are forced to create offense on their own. As evidence, the NBA sample set below includes some of the league's best pure scorers. Unfortunately, the varying degree in the level of competition of our draft set hampers us from making a real apples-to-apples comparison. While it's extremely impressive to see what type of off-the-dribble damage the likes of Corey Hawkinsand Tyler Harvey were able to do at the low-major level, particularly with the incredible efficiency they combined that with, they were clearly in a better position to do so against the smaller and less athletic competition they faced on a nightly basis. This is hardly a problem unique to this shooting category, as it's one of the biggest challenges NBA teams face as a whole in ranking all NBA draft prospects against each other. 

Corey Hawkins 6.37 (1.27 PPS)
Tyler Harvey 5.45 (1.41 PPS)
Joseph Young 4.69 (0.99 PPS)
D'Angelo Russell 4.41 (1.04 PPS)
Mario Hezonja 3.38 (1.06 PPS)

NBA leaders
Chris Paul 8.12 (1.007 PPS)
Stephen Curry 7.04 (1.095 PPS)
Russell Westbrook 6.1 (.799 PPS)
Monta Ellis 5.9 (.788 PPS)
Kyrie Irving 5.5 (.913 PPS)

Overall jump-shot points per-40

Mario Hezonja takes a shot. (AP)
Mario Hezonja takes a shot. (AP)

Methodology: This is simply an index of all points the different prospects were able to score off jumpers on a per-40-minute basis, be it from catch-and-shoot situations, off pull-ups, and also from what Synergydescribes as “early jumpers." These “early jumpers” aren't quite catch-and-shoot jumpers or true pull ups, as they often involve a few seconds of a player sizing up their opponent, possibly with a jab-step or casual dribble thrown for good measure, before heaving up a jumper, and thus don't fit into either category neatly. This is a nice composite look at pure production of the different jumpshooters, regardless of how they got their offense. The two highly skilled, but undersized low-major combo guards find themselves again at the head of the pack, as does Croatian 20-year old Mario Hezonja, who put up these numbers against ACB and Euroleague competition significantly older than him. Once again, the NBA sample confirms that we are looking at something of great value IF these players were able to translate their jump-shooting scoring prowess to the next level.

Tyler Harvey 12.76 (1.27 PPS)
Corey Hawkins 11.31 (1.34 PPS)
Mario Hezonja 11.1 (1.16 PPS)
Joseph Young 10.77 (1.06 PPS)
D'Angelo Russell 9.49 (1.07 PPS)

NBA leaders
Klay Thompson 13.64 (1.14 PPS)
Stephen Curry 13.06 (1.17 PPS)
J.J. Redick 12.97 (1.13 PPS)
Chris Paul 12.36 (1.07 PPS)
J.R. Smith 11.7 (1.10 PPS)

Points per shot on jump-shot attempts

Methodology: This is a pure efficiency measure, a look at how effectively the prospects in our dataset were able to put the ball in the basket in jump-shooting situations regardless of shot type. For good measure we threw in the number of jumpers they attempted per-40 minutes, to give you an idea of the volume of shots they took, an important component in evaluating a players' efficiency. Obviously the more attempts a player averages, the more difficult it is to convert at a great clip.

Corey Hawkins 1.34 (8.42)
Pat Connaughton 1.28 (6.07)
Tyler Harvey 1.27 (10.05)
Daniel Diez 1.23 (7.05)
Mario Hezonja 1.16 (9.56)

NBA leaders (min. 5 attempts per game)
Kyle Korver 1.33 PPP (6.4)
Stephen Curry 1.17 PPP (9.6)
Eric Gordon 1.16 PPP (6.8)
Wesley Matthews 1.15 PPP (7.4)
Danny Green 1.14 PPP (5.7)
J.J. Redick 1.14 PPP (10.95)
Klay Thompson 1.14 PPP (9.5)

Jump-shot points per possession over degree of difficulty
Methodology: This is a unique stat compiled by DraftExpress director of operations Matt Kamalsky, an index composite based on the expected shooting percentage of all the shots we studied based on the group average of our sample. To compile it, he averaged the efficiency of all the shooters we looked at in the different situations we studied, and then weighted in how they performed with the attempts they averaged. Players who took and made the biggest quantity of high-degree-of-difficulty shots based on how the group as a whole performed rank highest here.

Corey Hawkins, the son of former NBA player Hersey Hawkins,comes out very well in this study as a whole, and his ability to convert off-the-dribble jumpers at an outrageous clip is well represented in this area. Much of the same can be said about Tyler Harvey, to a slightly lesser degree. And while Pat Connaughton doesn't take that many pull-ups or no-drive jumpers, the fact that he hits his catch-and-shoot jumpers at such a fantastic clip helps him quite a bit here. In future studies, we may try and add a "level-of-competition" measure into this stat, which would likely make Daniel Diez and especially Mario Hezonja (who also competes in the tougher Euroleague, in addition to the ACB) look even more impressive.

Corey Hawkins +0.26
Tyler Harvey +0.15
Pat Connaughton +0.07
Daniel Diez +0.04
Mario Hezonja +0.01

NBA leaders
Chris Paul +0.00
Kyrie Irving -0.02
Stephen Curry -0.05
Gordon Hayward -0.06
Klay Thompson -0.07

Overall shooting rankings

1. Mario Hezonja
2. D'Angelo Russell
3. Frank Kaminsky
4. Corey Hawkins
5. Tyler Harvey
6. Pat Connaughton
7. Kristaps Porzingis
8. Devin Booker
9. Daniel Diez
10. Joseph Young

This last ranking is entirely subjective, and takes into account everything we discussed above, as well as additional factors like size, level of competition, role on their team and age, which could leave room for future improvement. NBA teams will also look at other components when ranking prospects in the draft as a whole, specifically defense, which is a crucial element we did not discuss that will play a huge role in whether many of these players will even see the floor at the NBA level.

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