In 2009, a tall and lanky freshman named Gordon Hayward played the highest percentage of the Butler Bulldogs’ minutes. This playing time was well-deserved, since he finished the season with the second-highest offensive rating on his team, thanks largely to his 65.7 True Shooting percentage. Even more specifically, Hayward shot a phenomenal 44.8% percent in 154 attempts from beyond the arc. In 2010, however, Hayward’s offensive performance declined from excellent to very good. Although he hit nearly 60% of his 213 two-point attempts, he shot a measly 29.4% from three-point range – in 160 attempts. Nevertheless, the Utah Jazz took Hayward with the ninth overall pick in the NBA Draft. He went 2-for-6 from long distance in the 2010 Summer League, and has gone 2-for-8 in the NBA regular season so far.
Brad Tinsley is Vanderbilt’s starting point guard. He is more of a combo guard by nature, but due to Jermaine Beal’s graduation, John Jenkins’ off-ball ability, and Kyle Fuller’s youth, Tinsley has been charged with the task of running the Commodores’ offense in the 2010-2011 season. Like Hayward, Tinsley had the second-highest offensive rating on his team during his freshman year because of his proficiency from three-point range; he shot 41.1% in 168 attempts. His sophomore year, Tinsley’s three-point accuracy dipped to 29.5% on 105 attempts. He’s shooting 33.3% in 27 attempts this season.
Mike Marra is a sophomore guard on the Louisville Cardinals. He arrived on campus last season with the reputation of being a great shooter, and as a freshman on a team of veterans like Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles, Jerry Smith, and Reginald Delk, Marra was asked to do little other than fire from beyond the arc whenever he was given a decent look. Unfortunately, he shot 24.4% in 82 attempts, and has continued his poor shooting this season. He sits at 29.8% on 57 attempts after today’s 0-for-5 showing against UNLV.
You might be wondering what these three players have to do with each other, aside from their apparent shooting futility. Ironically, they’re similar because all three have been recipients of the same label – a “knock-down” or great shooter. Yet, as we’ve seen, there is little evidence that they can shoot. Hayward shot 29.4% from three-point range his final year of college and has hit four of his 14 attempts as a professional. Tinsley shot 29.5% last season and isn’t doing much better this time around. Marra has never shot particularly well at any point, and that includes his senior year of high school when he hit just 36% of his threes. Despite their spotty track records, broadcasters and analysts consistently call all three excellent shooters.
Now, if there is one thing that I have learned over the last few years, it is that I am not a scout. I can’t look at a player’s mechanics or movements and predict how he’ll develop or improve in the future. I am the person who thought Marcus Williams would be a star point guard, who thought Matt Ryan would be a bust, who thought Brian Brohm was the best quarterback in his draft class, who killed Donnie Walsh for drafting Landry Fields, who said that Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy would be better than Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz because their minor league ERAs were better, who thought Danilo Gallinari was a brutal pick, and who thought Shan Foster would have a long NBA career as a three-point specialist. Given that ignominious history, it is entirely possible that a professional scout sees Hayward, Tinsley, and Marra’s shooting forms and, observing nothing wrong, concludes that all three have been the victims of prolonged bad luck. It is entirely possible that all three will become consistently excellent shooters in the future, and that I am some combination of too dumb, blind, or untrained to see it. None of this would surprise me, because I simply don’t know this kind of stuff.
But I do know that 30% is not a great or even good accuracy rate from long range. And given that all of these guys have been hovering right around that mark recently, I do know that none of these guys can be considered a great shooter. It is annoying to be repeatedly told otherwise when the numbers simply do not bear that out. Hayward in particular somehow earned widespread and very public benefit of the doubt. NBA.com said Hayward “shoots with range and has excellent mechanics” in its draft profile. ESPN’s Chad Ford excused Hayward’s statistically poor shooting with one of the more remarkable sentences I’ve ever read: “He’s also a terrific shooter — despite the fact that his jump shot hasn’t been falling all season.” ESPN’s draft profile even said Hayward was a “sharp shooter with deep range.” All of this is in addition to the countless broadcasters who told me during games that Hayward was a better shooter than his numbers indicated, and who are currently telling me that Tinsley and Marra are victims of the same improbable streak of bad luck.
It’s possible that everyone is smarter and sharper than I am. It’s possible that these professional analysts and talent evaluators see these guys’ strokes and conclude that it’s only a matter of time before the shots start falling for good. But I fear that nothing like that is happening, and that instead, people are seeing three guys that look like this… :