Nylon Calculus: LaMelo Ball headlines rookie class of elite outside shooters

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images /

Outside shooting was the swing skill for prospects like LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and several others in last year’s class. So far, they’re delivering in historic ways.

This rookie class was supposed to be shaky. There was no Zion Williamson or LeBron James waiting to be taken with the No. 1 pick. Every prospect seemed to present a clear mix of strengths with the potential to be rendered irrelevant by clearly defined weaknesses. Of course, there were going to be hits and misses but, halfway through the season, there have been a lot more hits than expected. LaMelo Ball looks like a star and later lottery picks like Tyrese Haliburton and Patrick Williams are paying off in big ways. Even the top two picks, Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman have had moments of stunning dominance.

But of all the things this rookie class has delivered, their elite shooting has been among the most surprising.

What has made LaMelo Ball and his fellow rookies so special from beyond the arc?

In the 10 previous NBA seasons, 33 players have finished their rookie season hitting better than 37.0 percent of their 3-pointers (on at least 150 attempts). That’s an average of just over three rookies per season and the largest single-season cluster we’ve seen is six rookies (OG Anunoby, Milos Teodosic, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Josh Hart, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum). And even that cluster is a bit misleading since Teodosic and Bogdanovic weren’t traditional rookies — they were 30- and 25-years-old, respectively, and already had significant international experience.

This season, 10 players are roughly on track to hit those benchmarks and just one (Facundo Campazzo) is an experienced international player making his NBA debut.

And if those numbers hold, Bane and Haliburton would hold the best and third-best 3-point percentage marks by a rookie, going back to the 2010-11 season. But one of the most impressive things about this rookie class is the diversity of the shooting skill. LaMelo Ball and Haliburton have both paired terrific catch-and-shoot accuracy with reliable pull-up 3-pointers. And Haliburton, Desmond Bane and Saddiq Bey are all in the top-50 in the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage among players with at least 75 attempts.

The plot below compares this season’s elite rookie shooters with the rest of the NBA, charted by their catch-and-shoot and pull-up 3-point percentages.

In this grouping, you can see that the class features several elite catch-and-shoot threats, along with the potentially game-changing pull-up shooting of Haliburton and Ball. Devin Vassell and Isaiah Joe have looked impressive in both areas but they’re doing so on a very low number of attempts, particularly with regards to pull-up jumpers.

Even if some regression to the mean over the second half of this season drags this group back towards historical norms, they’re still likely to finish as one of the most accurate rookie classes in recent memory.

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