Myth Busting the NBA: Is Deron Williams really a better shooter than Chris Paul?

Frequently an idea will be repeated often enough that people automatically assume that it is both valid and accurate, without thinking about it. This happens everywhere, not just in sports. Some examples are artifacts from earlier times, like the belief that the world was flat. Many believed that for the longest time. In the world of sports some of these ideas are valid, while others are not. (Just like in the real world) We’re constantly being told that Derek Jeter is a Gold Glove worthy defensive mastermind, but is he really? Another example is the myth that Isiah Thomas is a genius when it comes to the NBA Draft. (Channing Frye lotto pick?) I wanted to have a chance to look at some of these premises to see if they were right or wrong. Of course, I’m going to use stats to prove true or ‘bust’ some of these myths. [I’ve never seen that show, so fans don’t get all up ons if I make a faux pas in this post]

The first one I want to talk about is the theory that "Deron Williams is a better shooter (with an emphasis upon shooting better from range, including three point range) than Chris Paul." That’s a wordy way of putting it, but I wanted to define the terms of this investigation with the type of precision that escapes some message board arguments. We’ve been told since before they were drafted that Deron had ‘NBA Range’ on his shot and was a better shooter. Is this true? Is this false? We have 5 seasons of data to look through to find out! Please join us for the first episode of NBA Myth Busting.

Background:

Was it so long ago that the relative merits of Deron Williams (3rd pick, 2005 Draft) and Chris Paul (4th pick, 2005 Draft) were compared, contrasted, and argued over? Young players who were to carry the torch for the point guard position in the NBA, while reigniting an NCAA rivalry worthy of following, Deron and Chris were destined to be linked to one another in the NBA. Blogosphere blood feuds burst out whenever they would play one another, with general opinion shifting slightly in favor of the most recent victor in a head-to-head matchup. While they now sit at the top of the national point guard rankings, people today appear to be more enthralled by the enigma of Ricky Rubio, the athleticism of Russell Westbrook, playoff success of Rajon Rondo, and potential of Derrick Rose. How did the torchbearers for the next decade already lose the spotlight to individuals whom they are better than? (*cough* market size *cough*)

Maybe I am biased, but I still think that Williams and Paul are the best and are the only young point guards worth getting excited over right now. D-Will and CP3 are much more interesting to explore than these upstarts anyway because we have a lot of data we can look at after 5 seasons and playoffs since they were drafted.

This is not going to be an article that proposes that one is better than the other. I can’t say who is better, because it’s a subjective evaluation based upon how you rank some (if not all) of the following factors: size, speed, leadership, health, defense, shooting ability, clutch play, respect from the refs, awards, court vision, and so on. These factors have coalesced into statements based upon observation or opinion. We call these premises, and their validity thus becomes the metric by which we determine point guard supremacy. One of the premises that would crop up during discussion (pre-draft or post-playoffs or whenever) was that Deron Williams was a better shooter. Some of the other premises suggest that Chris Paul was a better defender; Deron Williams was heartier; Chris Paul was better over-all; Deron Williams was a winner, and so forth. Who is better is ultimately beyond the scope of my ability, and the intent of this post. I can only look at the numbers and how they support or disprove these premises. Half a decade in, I think we can explore some of these premises and see just how valid they are.

Is Deron Williams really a better shooter than Chris Paul?

Before we look at the stats we have to define the conditions of this challenge. In order to determine if this premise is true or not I have to gather the data regarding anything relevant to this question. As a result, I’m going to focus on FG%, 3PT%, eFG%, Shooting Worth, # of Threes made per game, the % of FGM that are 3PTM, their Relative Success Rates, and the NBA Hot Spot data. Some of these things you automatically know, some of these other categories you may not know of, or even never heard of. Don’t worry, I’ll attempt to explain them in turn.

Once I have this data, who is better is pretty easy. The guy with the higher number is better in most of these statistics. Such that with Deron’s 36.672 3PT% being greater than Chirs’ 34.983 3PT% we call him better. There are significant degrees of being better though. Being within 4% better (or worse) is not really better at all in my mind. For the purpose of these types of NBA Mythbusting posts being this close is being equal in my books.

"Slightly Better" is being within the range of being +5% to +14% better than the other guy. Being "Much Better" is having a score that’s within the range of being +15% to +24% better than the other guy. Lastly, being "Absolutely Better" than the other guy requires you to have a score that’s at least +25% of what he (or she) got.

These are the terms that I’m going to use when evaluating Deron William and Chris Paul in relation to their shooting abilities. For Deron to win, and for the premise that "Deron Williams really is a better shooter than Chris Paul" to actually be valid, he will have to have more points on the scoreboard after each round.

If one or the other player is slightly better than the other in each category then they get a point. If they are much better then they get two points. IF they are absolutely better they get three. If they are within 4% of one another, it’s a draw – and no one gets points for that round.

The Raw Stats:

I’m not going to dwell on these because the majority of these numbers show that a) one guy has played in way more games than the other (which has nothing to do with this discussion) and b) that their values are pretty similar. In the 7 categories that I defined above (fg%, 3pt%, etc) Deron has a higher value than Chris 5 times, and loses to Chris 2 times. If that’s as deep you want to get into it, then that’s fine. Based on the raw data that gives the win to Deron. Of course, if you know me, I’m not going to be happy with that.

Really, how much better is Deron at shooting, if at all?

Here’s the more important information for me. The ‘greyed out’ numbers are the MINIMUM numbers that a player would need to get to reach that category of "better". A great example is that (because I’m crazy and using three numbers after the decimal point) for Deron to be "slightly better" than Chris Paul at shooting threes he’d need to actually shoot 36.7% (36.733% really). Deron shoots (for his career, reg season + playoffs, no preseason) 36.672%. If I was using only 1 digit after the decimal point (like the actual NBA does) then I would round that up to 36.7% and Deron would ‘unlock’ that better category. But hey, I’m not going to ‘cheat’ with my stats to make my guy look better. I’m being objective, and by the terms of my rules, that’s not fair. So no extra bonus points for D-Will just because he plays for the Jazz.

Behold!

#1: Field Goal % -- CP3 wins this, bet most people didn’t know this. Both guys are within 4% of each other, so this is a draw.

Score: Deron 0 – Chris 0 – Draw 1

#2: Three Point % -- I just talked about this above. Deron is better, really close to being 5% (and thus, slightly better and get a point for this round), but he’s not quite there. [Again, because of my rounding rules] For those too lazy to divide Deron’s 36.672/34.983 the result is 104.828% … so +4.8% better.

Score: 0-0-2

#3: eFG% -- I like this number better than the other two, because it adds degree of difficulty into the equation. Alas, this one is also a draw.

Score: 0-0-3

#4: Shooting Worth -- This is calculated by total points / total shot attempts. Other websites call this point per shot. It’s just nomenclature really. League average over the last few seasons has been about 1.22. Good shooters are above that mark. Guys who jack up shots are below. Chris Paul has a Shooting Worth of 1.330. (He does get to the line a lot, which is what this metric rewards) Deron gets only a 1.291. Chris wins this, but is it 5% better than Deron? Nope. Is this NBA Myth being busted yet?

Score: 0-0-4

#5 : Threes made per Game -- You’re not going to be known as a good shooter, or one with better range (which Deron is accused of being), if you don’t make three pointers every time you lace them up. Deron does hit more than CP3, so I guess he is better. According to the numbers he is over +25% better, so that earns him 3 points!

Score: 3-0-4

#6: Percentage of all field goals made that are three point field goals made -- I’m not going to explain how fractions work, so just trust me on the math here. To be "Absolutely better" in this category Deron Williams needs to have a score of at least 15.875%, his is 18.69%. That’s another three for Deron.

Score: 6-0-4

#7: Relative success rate -- This is harder to explain. We would aspire for a 1:1 ratio in shooting range; such that if 20% of your FGA are 3PTA, it would match up with a 20% mark of your FGM being 3PTM. Following so far? The disparity of this forms a percentage (of your % of makes over takes). If you end up missing more often from three than you make, you’re going to end up with a score here that’s less than 100%. (again, the 1:1 ratio = 100%) If you actually hit from three more frequently than you do from inside the line (as seen in a higher than 100% score in this category) then you’d probably have a very special type of game. Anyway . . . this stat shows which player is less inefficient. That’s Deron, who is slightly better than Chris, and another +1 to DWill's score.

Final Score: 7-0-4

Woah, Woah, Woah, hold up there homie...

Deron and Chris are ‘equal’ on the real stats, but the crazy made up ones have Deron being ‘absolutely better’ than Chris put him in the lead. There are four ties out of those seven categories. How is Deron better than Chris?

Well, how deep you go into each stat reveals more about it. Chris Paul "won" one of those 7 raw categories (though was only +1.4328% better than Deron in it) by taking a lot more close shots than Deron. Take a look at the Hot Spots (which was a pain to calculate by hand):

Chris Paul's entire career Hot Spot chart

Deron Williams' entire career Hot Spot chart

Chris Paul puts in work on those close range shots in the paint. But he’s much shakier from distance. (Which was part of the original premise that we’re investigating here, scroll up if you forgot) Deron doesn’t have ANY cold spot on the floor, and he holds his own from 16-20 feet out. Chris Paul isn’t a bad shooter. Deron, though, appears to be better. And the stats HAVE shown that as well, by the definitions used above, and by the stipulations of each challenge.

I think Deron is a better shooter from range than Chris. [Premise is valid] That doesn’t mean that it’s the ultimate end of the argument. This is but the first chapter of "Who is better at x, Deron or Chris?"

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