NBA

D-League Pop-A-Shot: Prolific Shooters Midway Through the Season

Every time I visit a big group of buddies from college we end up meeting for dinner somewhere casual and, before we know it, find ourselves en route to a Dave & Buster’s-type of establishment. Why, you ask? One reason — pop-a-shot. We will spend hours battling each other on that silly game, infuriating every 8-year-old kid who eventually gets tired of watching the immature adults get too competitive for their own good.

The last time this wondrous event took place I found myself watching some of my arch enemies — my friends — and their style. Some went for the bank, some went high arching for the swish, others kept their actual shooting form, and the list goes on and on. That created our now hilarious mantra, “There’s more than one way to pop-a-shot” — forget skinning a cat, that’s just weird.

As fans and followers of our favorite teams and players, we often focus only on the end result. How many points do they average? How many 3-pointers did they hit? Those stats are important, of course, and while I’m not a stats guru by any means, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the D-League’s most prolific shooters from each zone on the court.

The results varied from expected to surprising on my internal Richter scale.

Restricted Area

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Vince Hunter rules the restricted area. At 6-8 he uses his quickness and athleticism to consistently beat his opposition to the rim, usually finishing with a thunderous dunk. While this result was not unexpected, the discrepancy between Hunter and everyone else is quite jarring. Hunter has made 163 field goals in the restricted area, which is more than every other player in the D-League has attempted, except for Alex Stepheson (170).

Stepheson is a bruiser in the paint, as I outlined earlier this week, so his inclusion in the top three was expected. More than anything, this exercise proved that Ronald Roberts Jr. needs to be a larger focal point in the Raptors 905’s offensive attack. The 905 are 16th in the league in points per game at 100.2, and Roberts is converting shots in the restricted area at a 72 percent clip. Get him the rock!

In the Paint (Non-Restricted Area)

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On the surface this shocked me, because Jimmer Fredette being the most prolific shooter in this area just didn’t make sense. Then, I went back and watched some tape and the array of floaters he possesses is impressive. If the 3-pointer isn’t there, he’s quick to pump-and-go, and since he doesn’t have the athleticism to be a great finisher around the rim, he has become adept at dropping floaters over outstretched fingertips of help defenders.

Erick Green and David Stockton both play for the Reno Bighorns and while their offensive scheme has scaled back since last season, they are still constantly in attack mode which puts them in the paint more than most players in the D-League. Seven of the top-10 players in this zone were guards, the result of them stopping short and using their floaters and pull-up jumpers to finish over rim protectors rather than challenging them.

Mid-Range

MidRange

The Westchester Knicks take the most mid-range field goal attempts (24.8 per game) in the NBA D-League, so Travis Trice topping the list isn’t a surprise. Watch the Knicks and Trice play and you will often see them pass open 3-pointers, take a rhythm dribble and step into a 20-footers instead. It’s not a bad choice, though, seeing as Trice has made the most mid-range shots in the league and shoots them at almost a 42 percent clip.

Darion Atkins also plays for Westchester and, at 6-8, this is a great list for him to be on. He does a bit of everything for the Knicks, and showing the ability to step out and hit an 18-footer will be important for his future opportunities — overseas or with the NBA. It will be interesting to see if Earl Clark tailors his game to his new club, the Delaware 87ers, because they take just over 10 mid-range shots per game, while Bakersfield took more than 20.

Left Corner 3

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Scott Suggs has been deadly from the corners this season. He’s shooting 52 percent from the left corner and he’s taken 13 more than Andre Ingram, who ranks second on the list. That’s because the Raptors 905 take more corner 3s (9.2) per game than any other team in the league.

Ingram has been lights out for the Los Angeles D-Fenders and the numbers certainly show that — 54 percent overall from 3-point range and a ridiculous 67 percent from the left corner. It’s time for head coach Casey Owens to design some plays to get him looks there, that’s for sure. Orlando Johnson has taken a leap in his outside shooting this season at 50 percent overall, and he’s already hit more 3s (42) than he did all of last season with Austin, doing so in 40 less attempts!

Right Corner 3

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Rodney McGruder leads the way on the right side. He and Axel Toupane of the 905 are tied with 11 makes, but McGruder shoots a much better percentage. McGruder is posting career highs across the board for the 19-4 Sioux Falls Skyforce, and staying deadly from the corner is one way he can assure himself some minutes in Dan Craig’s offense.

Half of Toupane’s 3-point makes have come from the right corner. Head coach Jesse Mermuys and the 905 clearly see value in the corners and at 6-7, Toupane gives them a versatile forward who can spot up and knock shots down with regularity.

Above the Break 3

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Raphiael Putney is having a breakout season for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and while I knew he took a lot of 3s, I had no idea he made and attempted more than anyone else from above the break. His percentage isn’t top of the league, but for a high volume shooter who stands at 6-9, 37 percent is commendable. Putney’s rise has been greatly chronicled by those who follow the D-League and though he lacks some NBA skills, this is a real standout area for him.

Omari Johnson is one of the best shooters in this league. Maine is second in above the break 3s attempted at 28 per game and Johnson is one of their key outside weapons. At 6-9, he often trails the play, allowing guards to find him as he walks into a spot up 3. Hearn only hit 77 3-pointers his entire four-year career at Northwestern but he’s flourishing in the Bighorns’ run-and-gun style — 71 3-pointers through 24 games this season.

The Whole Bunch

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Photos from the NBA D-League and graphics done by Matt D’Anna (@hoop_nerd). Stats from NBA D-League as of 1/15/2016.