Who Has the Best Pull-Up Jumper in the NBA?
I'm pretty traditional when it comes to basketball preferences -- and a shoot-first, pass-last point guard doesn't quite fit the bill for my ideal type of player -- but I really like watching Russell Westbrook shoot his pull-up jumper.
To me (i.e. my personal eye test), it is one of the most lethal moves in all of basketball.
But while watching teammate Kevin Durant torch the Phoenix Suns for 44 points on New Year's Eve, seemingly scoring at will like usual, after Westbrook had been ejected, I began to wonder if Westbrook even had the best pull-up jumper on his own team. I mean, Durant is smooth enough that his off-the-dribble jumpers don't exactly look like abrupt, distinct pull-ups like Russ's vertical jumper does, so I don't always get the same feeling when I see Russ stop on a dime and raise up.
Well, according to NBA.com's Player Tracking, Durant is better at pull-ups. And, unfortunately for discussion's sake, it's not that close. Just to cover my bases, a pull-up is defined as "any jump shot outside 10 feet where a player took 1 or more dribbles before shooting."
Durant, according to his efficient field goal percentage (which gives more weight to three-point attempts because they're worth more than other field goals), is the best pull-up shooter in the NBA among players who average at least 5.0 pull-up attempts per game this year.
But that comes with some other qualifiers, too. Durant, of course, has only played in 10 games, which is roughly a third of the games that most of the other 36 players who have 5.0 attempts per game have played. Volume tends to diminish efficiency, so it's possible that Durant is just shooting well (with a 61.1 effective field goal percentage) this year in his limited time.
Where, then, does Russ rank? In effective field goal percentage, Russ (44.8%) is 16th of the 36 qualified players -- not too far above average.
Not quite what I was hoping to see.
As for traditional field goal percentage, Russ is shooting 41.0%, 11th in the league and much more respectable considering he attempts 9.6 pull-ups per game (second only to Kobe Bryant (10.6)). Still, Durant is at 54.0%.
So, it's safe to say that Durant is at least shooting the pull-up better than Westbrook is this year, but that doesn't cover the whole NBA -- or the bigger volume each saw last year, either.
So, who is the best?
Last year, 38 players attempted at least 5.0 pull-up jumpers per game, which is admittedly a bit of an arbitrary cut off, but it's low enough to gather a significant pool but not exhaustive enough to claim that DeAndre Jordan (who went 1-for-1 on pull-ups last year) is in contention.
Of the 38, Steph Curry had the only effective field goal percentage greater than 50.0%. Helped by his 2.0 pull-up 3-pointers made per game (on 5.2 attempts), Curry's effective field goal percentage was 53.6%.
Just so you know, Westbrook (44.5%) was 15th of 38, but his field goal percentage (38.1%) was just 23rd.
Of the seven players who attempted at least 8.0 pull-ups per game last year, Russ shot a better percentage than only John Wall (34.0%).
While we're at it, is there anything else Westbrook detractors hate more than his pull-up threes? Well, last year, he tied with Lillard for third among these 38 players with 3.3 pull-up attempts per game from beyond the arc. He made only 1.1 per game, just 33.1% (19th in the subset).
Meanwhile, Durant actually led the group in pull-up 3-point percentage, making 41.1% of them. He also made 1.1 pull-up 3-pointers per game (same as Russ) but did so on 0.6 fewer attempts per contest than did Westbrook. Behind Durant in pull-up 3-point percentage was Kyrie Irving (40.9%), Goran Dragic (39.7%), Curry (39.5%), and Arron Afflalo (39.3%).
This year, Westbrook's percentages are up. He's 11th of 36 in field goal percentage (41.0% compared to 38.1% last year). He's also doing this despite averaging 0.9 more attempts per game (9.6 this year compared to 8.7 last year), which isn't surprising considering Durant's absence. So, Westbrook is shooting better and more this year than last year, but he's still not far above average among volume shooters.
How are last year's effective field goal percentage leaders faring this year? Of last year's top-10 (Curry, Durant, Lillard, Paul, Harden, Dragic, Jordan Crawford, Jamal Crawford, Afflalo, and Irving), only Durant, Curry, Paul, and Harden are currently inside the top 10 this year. (Dragic, Jordan Crawford, and Afflalo aren't attempting 5.0 pull-ups per game, so they don't qualify). The biggest drop-off is Irving, who ranks 24th among the qualified players this year.
So, really, Durant and Curry have been the top two in effective field goal percentage for the past two years, and provided Durant keeps it up when his volume starts to catch up with him, they could finish one-two again. Also, Paul and Harden have been top-six the past two years to date, which is no small feat.
Who's the Best?
Well, it's surely not DeMar DeRozan, who was 36th of 38 in effective field goal percentage last year and sits in 36th of 36 this year through his 16 games. Also, Kobe, Kemba Walker, and LaMarcus Aldridge ranked 28th or worse in each of the past two seasons, if you include Kobe's six-game season last year.
On the other side of things, the best pull-up player who shoots at a significant volume (more than 5.0 attempts per game) is either Durant or Curry, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Paul and Harden deserve some praise, too, for being consistently elite as well.
As for Russ, he is more or less right at the top 40% of pull-up shooters in terms of effective field goal percentage (ranking 16th of 36 last year and 15th of 36 this year), so while he's no Durant or Curry, he's surely no DeRozan or Kemba.