Searching For A ‘Consistent’ Jump Shot

by September 05, 2008

by John Krolik

During last season’s playoffs, Josh Smith was absolutely blowing everybody’s mind.

Then, Doris Burke made a comment that was so egregious it nearly prevented me from enjoying my Chipotle.

After Smith stole the ball, flown to the other end of the court for a dunk, and invented a helmet that looked like his hair, Doris, in lieu of the appropriate and simple “Wow, there isn’t another guy in the league who could have pulled that off,” said “Can you imagine how good this will be if he ever develops a consistent jump shot?”

I hate “consistent jump shot.” Loathe it. Allow me to explain why this seemingly innocuous phrase about a fundamental component of basketball is the subject of my ire.

My first problem with “consistent jumpshot” is that it does not exist. It is a myth propagated by basketball broadcasters and scribes. A consistent jump shot is what was in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase. JFK’s second shooter has a consistent jump shot. Jimmy Hoffa was buried beneath a consistent jump shot. Gravity’s Rainbow is, in fact, a reference to the arc of a consistent jump shot.

I think I have a fair idea of what the word “consistent” means, and it would imply that a player with a consistent jump shot can, at his discretion, pop off a jumper and have it go in with enough regularity so that it is effective every single night, or close to every single night, with “effective” being defined as “good enough to produce results better than the average.”

Now, jump shots are an extremely important part of basketball. In fact, most of the shots taken in a given game will be jump shots. How well a team shoots jump shots is a huge factor in how good of a team they are.

But jump shots are, by their nature, unreliable and hugely variable in their success – the exact opposite of consistent.

A player with a consistent jump shot should be able to create opportunities for his jump shot and knock it down with enough regularity so that it produces points at a rate better than average. The league average “True Shooting Percentage,” or field goal percentage accounting for free throws and the added value of threes, is about 53 percent.

Accounting for the added value of threes, Kobe Bryant’s field goal percentage on his jump shots was 45.7%. Ray Allen, with two other all-stars drawing coverage for him and getting more than his share of spot-up looks, shot 51.6%. Dirk Nowitzki, 49.7%. Manu Ginobili, 50.8%. Rip Hamilton, 50%. Michael Redd, 47%. Kevin Durant, 40%. These are some of the best inside-outside threats in the league, and yet over time a jump shot from them doesn’t produce the efficiency of an average offensive player.

Don’t get me wrong – every player will have to shoot jumpers at some point, and the more of them you make, the better it is for the team. But “consistent” jump shot implies that these players will beat teams by shooting jump shots. In reality, when great players settle for shooting a jumper, it’s a victory for the defense.

“Consistent” implies these players will beat teams by shooting jump shots, when in reality one of them shooting a jumper is a victory for the defense. “Consistent” jump shot also implies that great shooters would be, well, consistent. This is untrue. Great shooters are still streak shooters-they just have more good streaks than bad ones. Look at Ray Allen’s 3-pointers in the 2008 Playoffs, and again, this is one of the all-time great 3-point shooters:

First five games: 16-32, including two 5-8 games and 1 1-6
Month of April: 17-65, including a 1-8, and 0-6 over three games, and a 5-6
Against The Lakers: 22-42, including a 7-9 performance

In general, guys who do the majority of their work close to the basket are much more consistent on a nightly basis than guys who rely on outside shots.

Which brings me to LeBron James, the player whose name is used in conjunction with “needs a consistent jump shot” more than any other player in the league. The theory goes that if LeBron got a “consistent” jump shot, he would be completely unstoppable, because his driving ability forces defenders to give him space for a jumper, and if he was “consistent” with that jumper, they would have to allow him to drive to the basket, where he’s nearly unsurpassed.

Here’s the thing: defenders are always going to give him space for that jumper, because they’re not stupid. Doing consistent damage by pulling up for jumpers on the dribble is nearly impossible. LeBron’s shooting issues are in no small part due to the degree of difficulty on his shots.

A better jump shot would certainly make him a better player, but it would not elevate him to an unstoppable deity, simply because there’s no way he, or anyone else, could be more dangerous shooting jumpers as LeBron is when he’s going to the basket.

Bringing things back to Doris, I’m not sure what she wants Josh Smith to become. I don’t see how having J-Smoove camp out at the three-point line is what anyone who plays with him or watches him would want, and having Josh Smith stagnate an offense by doing a weak Pistol Pete impression out on the perimeter instead of exploding between the margins of normality and streaking towards the hole for finishes around the basket doesn’t seem like the best of plans.

Jumpers are beautiful to watch, they keep a defense stretched out, and they can be a wonderful Deus Ex Machina that can overcome good defense and bury a sometimes superior team in a flurry of threes. But there’s nothing consistent about the fickle mistress that is the deep jumper, and to say that the possession of a consistent jumper is a necessary precursor to greatness is a resolution to never see greatness.