No game proves a shooter’s supremacy over his peers quite like Around the World.
In case it has been a while for you since your last variation of pickup basketball, Around the World is the game where you designate certain spots on the court to shoot in a particular order and see who can make them the fastest.
You shoot until you miss, and each time you make the shot, you advance to the next station to shoot. Hence the title of the game.
The stations are arbitrary, but usually how my friends and I would play it is that there’d be midrange sections corresponding to different areas of the key and then it would loop around to those same areas but beyond the 3-point arc.
There would be two baseline midrange, two corresponding shots at the elbow, one from the top of the key, two corner 3s, two diagonal 3s, and a straightaway 3-pointer. The first shot of the game was the left baseline midrange, and the midrange shots would be rotated until the right baseline would lead to the right corner 3-pointer, and the succession would go back the opposite way behind the 3-point line.
This was always the game I suggested when the normal 3 on 3 competition eventually devolved, and I always thought it’d be cool if Around the World was an event during All-Star Weekend.
They have the 3-point contest, but it’s more of a timed individual shooting exhibition from only areas beyond the arc. Around the World would be much more dramatic, as a player had to give the ball up once he finally missed a shot.
Imagine the tension as one player gets closer towards completing the course without missing a shot. Then the rest of the contestants who haven’t shot yet would have to equal the feat. Or maybe the contestants can keep playing even after someone wins to avoid being last to complete the course.
The possibilities are intriguing.
It got me to thinking… “who would be the NBA players selected to compete in this competition?” The best overall shooters aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest field goal percentages, because a guy can rely on padding his stats at one particular spot over a season without ever having to expand his shooting prowess to other zones on the court.
What I decided to do was analyze player shot charts during this past season to determine which players were the best overall shooters at all the zones that are utilized for Around the World.
The players I chose had shooting percentages at a vast majority of the 10 zones that ranked well above the league average, optimizing their ability to advance far in this hypothetical competition.
The roster compiled is of eight of the best all-around shooters accumulatively in the NBA. To ensure that they all had a sufficient amount of shots on the court to accurately judge their shooting ability, I made sure that the only players eligible for this contest would be those who averaged 10 or more shots per game during the regular season.
I also decided on eight being the total participants because it is a good number for quarterfinals/semifinals/finals progressions in tournaments. The lineup looks pretty formidable.
March 13, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) shoots a three point basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Based on the data, the Los Angeles Clippers’ shooting guard would be the favorite to win this competition. He’s universally recognized for his catch-and-shoot skill from nearly anywhere on the court, and his numbers are astounding, particularly his shooting from the baseline out to the corner 3s on either side.
Amazingly, he doesn’t have below average numbers at any location. His worst area is the right elbow, and it’s still around league average for that zone at 39 percent.
Basically Redick is the mathematical titan in a game like this, who possesses no weaknesses other than nerves that would cause him to wilt under pressure, but that’s highly unlikely from a guy who was seemingly created in a basketball lab as the perfect Around the World player.
Apr 25, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the ball over Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris (34) during the fourth quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Durant is often labeled along with Carmelo Anthony as the two best scorers of this generation, and Durant’s ability to put up prolific point totals is verified when looking at his impressive shot chart.
Like Redick, Durant has no zones where he struggles from. In fact, making Redick the slight favorite is based primarily on his reputation for putting smooth shooting at the top of his basketball identity.
Durant may be being unfairly penalized for having a better all around game, but from an intangible level, wouldn’t this competition mean way more to Redick than a former MVP?
Durant especially excels on the baseline shots, making it unlikely that he’d have an awkwardly slow start in the competition.
April 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) walks to the scorer
Curry is being called arguably the best shooter in NBA history, and not only does he possess nearly unparalleled precision, but he can also create his own shoot on a whim.
While that ball handling and athleticism isn’t going to come in handy in Around the World, his impeccable accuracy from the entire court will. Curry shoots the ball from over 50 percent in both corner 3s as well as from the top of the key midrange section.
His only weakness in this game would be from the right baseline, where he shoots an uncharacteristically 32 percent. That’s the midway point in this game, so luckily it wouldn’t come either early on while he’s trying to develop a rhythm or down the stretch when he needs to hit clutch shots.
Apr 19, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) dunks the ball past Memphis Grizzlies small forward Matt Barnes (22, left) in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Considering that Leonard came into the league needing to drastically improve his jumper is a testament to how far he has come as a player that he can now be objectively considered among the premier shooters in the league.
While Leonard doesn’t possess as many deadly accurate hot spots that guys like Redick, Curry, and Durant, what works in Leonard’s favor is that he’s one of the few players in this competition that doesn’t have any below average zones to have to battle through.
The left baseline is his best midrange zone, but where he really thrives is once he gets beyond the arc. He shoots somewhere between 41-50 percent at each zone behind the 3-point line. The epitome of steadiness, nobody would be surprised if Leonard won this competition.
Apr 25, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) shoots the ball over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka (9) during the first quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
The best big-man shooter of all time, Nowitzki wouldn’t even have to resort to his signature off-balance fade-away shot to win this competition. A guy so adept at shooting off-kilter would revel in a game like this where he can simply use muscle memory and the known trajectory of what the perfect shot looks like to put on a shooting clinic for his peers to see.
Nowitzki’s main impediment for this competition is that he struggles with both the corner 3s, and the left one in particular is the final shot of the contest. His midrange shooting is so universally strong that the other competitors can’t realistically rely on him getting stuck at any area near the beginning of the course.
May 1, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Joe Johnson (2) shoots over Charlotte Hornets center Frank Kaminsky III (44) during the first half in game seven of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
For all the punchlines that Johnson has been subjected to due to his outrageous contract or inability to play what would even vaguely resemble defense, the guy has always been a terrific scorer and phenomenal shooter.
Johnson might be the stereotypical gunner that has slowly gone more and more out of fashion in the expanded analytics revolution, but his shooting should never be doubted. He’s above average in most of the zones in this competition, only struggling at the right diagonal 3-pointer and the top of the key midrange game.
He may not be a serious threat to win this competition over guys who have less holes in their Around the World arsenal, but this is the type of game that Johnson can use to show fans who’ve forgotten how he gained quasi-stardom in the first place that he can hit a high number of shots all around the court.
April 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) shoots a basket against Portland Trail Blazers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
While Paul is more well known for his abilities as a passer and floor general, he’s quietly become one of the most solid shooters in the NBA. Capable of insane hot streaks on any given night, his marksmanship accentuates a skill set that would already make him an elite player even if he didn’t have his shooting talent.
Paul really has only one iffy location in this contest, which is the left diagonal 3-pointer. His right diagonal 3-pointer isn’t great, but certainly his impressive midrange game can carry him into the later parts of the competition.
Not a favorite to win, but realistically skilled enough to expect a finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Mar 25, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton (22) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) and forward Kris Humphries (43) in the first quarter of their game at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
A player from a team known for its unwillingness to embrace the new perimeter shooting reliance of the rest of the league is a nice addition. Perhaps the Milwaukee Bucks would feel more confident in their abilities to live from the perimeter if all their players had a shot as smooth as Middleton’s.
This could realistically be a winnable competition for Middleton, because there’s only 3 spots on the course that would give him problems. The right baseline is bad for him, his left baseline is painfully mediocre, and his straightaway 3-pointer isn’t a shot he typically hits at a high percentage.
He’s great at the other zones, though, and Middleton could surprise a lot of people in this contest.