NBA Draft Questions: Can Players Truly Improve Their Shooting?

Do the numbers show a significant increase in shooting from college to the NBA?

Every player in the draft has strengths and weaknesses. Even LeBron James - the best player we've seen in 20 years - still has weaknesses that we love to harp on, and he's in the middle of his prime. And on any website that is covering Thursday's NBA Draft, you will likely find bullet points telling you exactly what each prospect's strengths and weaknesses are.

This brings up an interesting question regarding the evaluation of prospects, and can really be applied to any sport: Which weaknesses are innate and just part of the player's game and which can be improved upon?

This notion is an important one for evaluating talent – if a player has all weaknesses that can be improved upon, then that player should have a high ceiling. However, if they struggle with an aspect of the game that can never be improved, then you’re looking at a finished product. Teams drafting 19 year olds don’t like already finished products.

I decided to look at a pretty basic basketball skill - shooting - and figure out whether players can develop their shot once they hit the NBA, or whether years of AAU and college basketball have already made the player what they are.

I did this by looking at the best 25 shooters of the 2013-2014 NBA season (restricted for minimum of 300 attempts and players who played in college), and see how well they shot in college. Specifically, I looked at three-point field goal percentage, as regular field goal percentage is a little too variant on shot distance and their offensive scheme in college.

Player2013-2014 3FG%Years in CollegeCollege 3FG%Difference
Kyle Korver47.2345.3+1.9
Arron Afflalo42.7337.3+5.4
Patty Mills42.5233.1+9.4
Stephen Curry42.4341.2+1.2
Klay Thompson41.7339.0+2.7
Spencer Hawes41.6133.3+8.3
Danny Green41.5437.5+4.0
Richard Jefferson40.9336.8+4.1
Trevor Ariza40.7123.7+17.0
Carmelo Anthony40.2133.7+6.5
Bradley Beal40.2133.9+6.3
Jodie Meeks40.1338.6+1.5
D.J. Augustin40.1240.2-0.1
Joe Johnson40.1240.6-0.5
Terrence Ross39.5236.4+3.1
Vince Carter39.4336.8+2.6
Damian Lillard39.4439.0+0.4
Wesley Matthews39.3434.1+5.2
Kevin Durant39.1140.4-1.3
Nick Young38.6336.8+1.8
Randy Foye38.0432.9+5.1
Kyle Lowry38.0232.5+5.5
Mike Dunleavy38.0337.1+0.9
Kevin Love37.6135.4+2.2
Ray Allen37.5344.8-7.3

The average increase among these top shooters of the most recent NBA season from their college days until now was 3.4 percentage points. That's a significant number. If we take out Ray Allen from the list, who shot significantly worse than his career average this year, the number jumps to 3.9 points.

Also, players have shown the ability to increase their range and develop a three point shot. Chris Bosh is probably the most notable example of this. This season he took 218 three-pointers, after totaling just 302 in the 10 seasons prior. Spencer Hawes is in the list above and he only took 3 three-pointers in his college career. If you had told draft analysts that Hawes would put up 308 three pointers in his seventh season in the league, they probably would have told you that you were crazy.

Some of this is tough to judge, as players' roles change in the NBA. For example, Kevin Durant shot a little worse this season from the three-point line than he did in his one year at Texas. However, he wasn't playing 4,000 minutes and going against the best defenders in the world. I think the data still shows a significant trend that we can expect players to develop their shot in the NBA.

This is important for players like Dante Exum, who is hyped up for his size and athleticism, but is regarded as an average to poor shooter. My response to that: Patty Mills didn't exactly light up the world in his two season at Saint Mary's, shooting only 33% from the three-point line. But try telling the Miami Heat that Patty Mills can't shoot the basketball. Players get better. Exum will too.

Lastly, this final table shows the players who are considered to be first round draft picks on Thursday. I took the order from DraftExpress' most recent mock draft. You can see that some players have a lot of room to grow and some players are already very good, like Noah Vonleh, considered to be a potential Chris Bosh-type of player. This draft class is also very young - there are a couple of four year players, but the majority are one-and-done's.

So will these players' shooting get better? The numbers say yes. Who will be the next Spencer Hawes that develops a three-point shot after college? Now that's the question that GM's want to know. It will be very interesting to watch these players fit into systems around the league and learn to develop their shot.

PlayerYears in CollegeCollege 3FG%College 3FGA
Andrew Wiggins134.1126
Jabari Parker135.8106
Dante Exum0*26.786
Joel Embiid120.05
Noah Vonleh148.533
Marcus Smart229.5295
Julius Randle116.718
Doug McDermott445.8598
Nik Stauskas244.1390
Aaron Gordon135.645
Elfrid Payton326.8112
Zach Lavine137.5128
Gary Harris237.6388
Jusuf Nurkic0*31.435
TJ Warren231.5143
Rodney Hood239.6298
Dario Saric0*29.8309
James Young134.9235
Tyler Ennis135.385
Clint Capela0*0.002
Adreian Payne440.9149
P.J. Hairston234.9364
Jordan Adams233.1296
Shabazz Napier437.5693
Kyle Anderson237.596
Jarnell Stokes30.003
Jerami Grant230.020
Jordan Clarkson332.2295
K.J. McDaniels331.3259
Mitch McGary20.002

*Note: Statistics are from a foreign player's prior professional seasons.