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Field goal percentage by distance - which WNBA shooters are effective from where they shoot?

Which WNBA players are the most effective shooters...when you take degree of difficulty into account?

Hannah Foslien

Field goal percentage - the ratio of field goals taken to field goals attempted - is usually an argument settler when comparing two players of otherwise equal characteristics.  After all, if you have two shooting guards and one is shooting .425 and the other is shooting .400, the first must be a better shooter than the second - right?

Not necessarily.  Suppose we could take a look at each shot these two players makes. What if the first player is taking all of her shots from very close range and the second player takes her shots from farther out?  The first players degree of difficulty has been reduced compared to the second player who made more difficult shots.  Which is more impressive - .425 from close up or .400 from farther back.

As expected, the closer you are to the basket, the more likely it is that you will make your shot.  The 2013 WNBA overall percentages by distance are:

0.564 - 1-to-5 feet from basket
0.350 - 5-to-10 feet from basket
0.362 - 11-to-15 feet from basket
0.357 - 16-to-20 feet from basket
0.334 - 21-to-25 feet from basket
0.277 - 26+ feet from basket

In general, shooting accuracy declines by distance. Is there a way to adjust a player's shooting performance by the distance from the hoop?

As it turns out, the Minnesota Lynx website has shooting data for each WNBA player by distance from the goal.  All shots each WNBA player has made over 2013 have been divided by distance  into the six categories above. 

For example:  out of Janel McCarville's 79 total field goals this year (out of 162 field goal attempts)

39 of 56 were made from 1-to-5 feet
2 of 6 were made from 6-to-10 feet
9 of 21 were made from 11-to-15 feet
23 of 65 were made from 16-to-21 feet
6 of 14 were made from 22-to-25 feet
0 of 0 were made from 26+ feet

So how do her shots in each distance category compare to the WNBA average?  Is she better than or worse than the WNBA average from 1-to-5 feet?  The WNBA average percentage is .564, so a hypothetical average shooter would make 31.57 shots out of 56 attempts from 1-to-5 feet.  From that same distance, McCarville made 39 field goals.  It looks like Janel McCarville is much more accurate from close range than your hypothetical average point-blank shooter.  This should be expected, given the position she plays. 

We then ask the same question for McCarville's 6-to-10 feet range shooting.  Is 2-for-6 better than or worse than the WNBA average?  For the average WNBA player taking six shots from 6-to-10 feet, the average would be 2.10 shots made. 

We keep doing this for every category and compare the sum total of shots made by the hypothetical average shooter, adjusting by distance in each category, to McCarville's overall total.

McCarville total:  79 field goals
Distance-adjusted WNBA average player: 69.19 field goals

The conclusion is that McCarville is a very effective shooter, adjusting for where she shoots on the court.  We'll express her effectiveness as a ratio of player shots vs. ditsance adjusted average shots.  In which case, her effectiveness ratio is 1.142, which is 10th among all WNBA players in 2013.

Let's look at all WNBA players who made 100 or more shots this season and rank them by effectiveness ratio. FG/AvgPlr are the fields goals made by a hypothetical WNBA player after adjusting by distance.

2013 WNBA Shooting Effectiveness Ratio
(min 100 FGA)
Player Team FG FG/AvgPlr Ratio
Augustus, Seimone Min. 213 166.50 1.279
Moore, Maya Min. 233 186.66 1.248
Griner, Brittney Pho. 139 111.86 1.243
Lawson, Kara Con. 45 36.26 1.241
Toliver, Kristi L.A. 181 148.70 1.217
Dupree, Candice Pho. 204 171.90 1.187
Taurasi, Diana Pho. 200 170.82 1.171
Snow, Michelle Was. 73 63.51 1.149
Young, Toni N.Y. 58 50.62 1.146
McCarville, Janel Min. 79 69.19 1.142
Fowles, Sylvia Chi. 198 173.56 1.141
de Souza, Erika Atl. 187 164.13 1.139
Powell, Nicole Tul. 73 64.47 1.132
Lavender, Jantel L.A. 107 95.02 1.126
Brunson, Rebekkah Min. 147 131.14 1.121
Meesseman, Emma Was. 66 59.11 1.117
Hightower, Allison Con. 108 96.75 1.116
Ogwumike, Nneka L.A. 192 172.22 1.115
Mitchell, Leilani N.Y. 54 48.56 1.112
Beard, Alana L.A. 85 76.68 1.109
Langhorne, Crystal Was. 169 153.28 1.103
Thompson, Tina Sea. 154 140.05 1.100
Cambage, Elizabeth Tul. 106 96.65 1.097
Appel, Jayne S.A. 70 63.84 1.096
Parker, Candace L.A. 208 191.07 1.089
Whalen, Lindsay Min. 198 182.23 1.087
Delle Donne, Elena Chi. 172 158.56 1.085
Hodges, Roneeka Tul. 58 53.90 1.076
Clark, Alysha Sea. 48 44.83 1.071
Stricklen, Shekinna Sea. 131 122.37 1.071
Coleman, Marissa L.A. 58 54.20 1.070
Bass, Mistie Con. 94 87.89 1.070
Harding, Lindsey L.A. 134 127.32 1.052
Hoffman, Ebony L.A. 46 44.00 1.045
Latta, Ivory Was. 158 151.44 1.043
Wright, Monica Min. 110 105.76 1.040
Griffin, Kelsey Con. 109 105.15 1.037
Smith, Katie N.Y. 76 73.68 1.032
Perkins, Jia S.A. 181 176.12 1.028
Larkins, Erlana Ind. 103 100.65 1.023
Johnson, Temeka Sea. 114 111.75 1.020
Bentley, Alex Atl. 113 110.97 1.018
Adams, Danielle S.A. 170 167.81 1.013
Bonner, DeWanna Pho. 160 158.02 1.013
Wright, Tanisha Sea. 146 144.31 1.012
Montgomery, Renee Con. 81 80.60 1.005
Robinson, Danielle S.A. 115 114.81 1.002
Zellous, Shavonte Ind. 146 146.27 0.998
Henry, Aneika Atl. 54 54.12 0.998
Vaughn, Kia Was. 99 99.29 0.997
Breland, Jessica Ind. 69 70.27 0.982
Willingham, Le'coe Atl. 56 57.06 0.981
Young, Tamera Chi. 81 82.78 0.978
Currie, Monique Was. 121 123.78 0.978
Prince, Epiphanny Chi. 148 152.07 0.973
Braxton, Kara N.Y. 130 134.50 0.967
Cash, Swin Chi. 118 122.30 0.965
McCoughtry, Angel Atl. 246 255.10 0.964
Goodrich, Angel Tul. 58 60.35 0.961
Herrington, Armintie Atl. 78 81.29 0.959
Gilbreath, Briana Pho. 60 62.55 0.959
Williams, Riquna Tul. 139 145.62 0.955
Charles, Tina Con. 218 228.51 0.954
Little, Camille Sea. 121 127.70 0.948
Houston, Charde Pho. 78 82.88 0.941
Catchings, Tamika Ind. 179 190.45 0.940
Johnson, Shenise S.A. 144 153.31 0.939
Montgomery, Alex N.Y. 86 92.15 0.933
Milton-Jones, DeLisha N.Y./S.A. 82 88.16 0.930
Hayes, Tiffany Atl. 80 86.22 0.928
Bone, Kelsey N.Y. 99 106.93 0.926
Johnson, Glory Tul. 152 164.48 0.924
Wiggins, Candice Tul. 103 111.92 0.920
Quinn, Noelle Sea. 70 76.17 0.919
Vandersloot, Courtney Chi. 106 116.95 0.906
Pondexter, Cappie N.Y. 171 190.68 0.897
Greene, Kalana Con. 70 78.11 0.896
Thomas, Jasmine Atl. 120 135.78 0.884
Peters, Devereaux Min. 59 66.87 0.882
Christon, Shameka S.A. 82 92.98 0.882
Pierson, Plenette N.Y. 147 166.79 0.881
Hill, Tayler Was. 63 72.75 0.866
Ajavon, Matee Was. 95 109.72 0.866
Ruffin-Pratt, Tierra Was. 51 59.28 0.860
Castro Marques, Iziane Con. 58 68.11 0.852
Lacy, Jennifer Tul. 45 53.19 0.846
Christmas, Karima Ind. 101 120.05 0.841
January, Briann Ind. 110 132.00 0.833
Pedersen, Kayla Con./Tul. 39 46.94 0.831
White, Tan Con. 84 101.11 0.831
Quigley, Allie Chi. 48 57.85 0.830
Whyte, Davellyn S.A. 42 51.88 0.810
Williams, Kamiko N.Y. 39 49.33 0.791
Clarendon, Layshia Ind. 55 70.81 0.777
Diggins, Skylar Tul. 89 115.61 0.770
Murphy, Shay Chi. 38 52.50 0.724



The list above begs a few questions, namely if post players will automatically jump to the top.  Post players made the majority of their shots from close range, and the WNBA league average includes non-post players.  It sure looks that way, but note the appearance of Kara Lawson, Kristi Toliver and Diana Taurasi in the top 10.  Leilani Mitchell has a high effectiveness rating in the shots she takes, given her position.

Note out of all the players who made 200+ FG this season, only two have an effectivness rating of less than 1.000 - Angel McCoughtry at 0.964 and Tina Charles at 0.954.  McCoughtry is a volume shooter who takes some very difficult shots.  Charles's FG% this year was 0.400, below the WNBA average and very atypical for Charles.

Do any of the above numbers prove anything?  Maybe, maybe not. There's an old saying that 90 percent of success in life is just showing up.  In the case of WNBA players, it could be that 90 percent of success in field goal shooting isn't just showing up - but where you show up.