Against the Hawks Larry Hughes had another sub-40% shooting performance (5/14), his fourth in the last five games. 5/14 seems to be about the line he puts up each night. In his 17 games this season 10 times Hughes has made only 4-6 shots, or 4.8 on average, and in those games he’s averaging 13.4 field goal attempts. More often than not Hughes puts up a 5/14-type shooting line. The Atlanta game was not atypical. On the season he’s shooting about 42%. If you remove the two games in which he made 11 shots he is shooting 36%. 5/14 sounds about right.
The host of the WTAM post game show Wednesday night was going on and on about how we’ve yet to see the True Larry Hughes as a Cav because he’s been injured so often — ignoring the fact that an injured Larry Hughes is probably the True Larry Hughes — and how his most recent injury, a badly sprained ankle, was preventing him from playing as good of defense as he’s normally capable of playing and forcing him to take a lot of jumpers. His ankle is the problem. Once it’s healed (and assuming another injury doesn’t take its place) Larry Hughes will be the scoring machine the Cavs expected him to be when they signed him for an inordinate amount of money a couple of summers ago.
Whatever. I’m not buying it.
This season 79% of the shots Hughes attempts are jumpers. Last season 68% of his shots were jumpers. Last season he also had a bum finger and of all the ways to score points with a bum finger shooting long shots probably has to be the most painful. The previous season 74% of his shots were jumpers (2004). 75% the year before that (2003) and 75% the year before that (2002). When Larry Hughes does not have finger-related injuries he seems to be pretty darn fond of taking jumpers. 79% is an increase over 75%, but it’s a slight increase. If Hughes’s ankle injury is causing him to shoot more jumpers the difference is negligible. He always takes a lot of jumpers.
So you’d think he’d be a good jump shooter. He’s paid a lot of money to score points, after all, so you’d hope that the incentive in place for him to score points would lead him to score as much as possible. Since he’s not AI or LBJ, his shot attempts are a limited resource — he can’t just score more points by taking 54 field goal attempts every night — you’d think that he’d try to score as efficiently as possible since he’s only going to take about 15 shots a game. If 75% of those shots are jumpers you’d think he’d be a good jump shooter.
He’s not a good jump shooter. He’s also not an efficient scorer. These two facts are related. I’ve laid this out before in pretty clear terms. Hughes scores the points he scores because of the volume of shots he takes, not because he’s a “good shooter” or “good scorer”. He’ll probably never be a good shooter — if at this point in his career he still can’t make open jumpers then the good shooter ship has already sailed — but there is still hope that he can be an efficient scorer. The game plan is simple. It entails not taking 79% of his shots from outside the paint (62%-67% sounds pretty good) and that’s about it. If Hughes keeps attempting 15 shots per night but instead of taking 11 of them from the perimeter he only attempt 8 or 9 jumpers my guess is that both his shooting percentage and scoring average will rise.
So that’s the good news of this post: there is hope. The Cavs might be dropping $13 million on a shooting guard who can’t shoot, but perhaps Mike Brown and the other assistant coaches can put their heads together long enough to realize this fact and then make their adjustments accordingly. Now here’s the bad news.
Larry Hughes is Stephen Jackson.
On the surface the guys play similar games. Jackson averages 13.6/2.8/3.3 on 40.6% shooting. Hughes averages 13.8/3.6/3 on 41.7% shooting. When you dig a little deeper, the similarities become more striking, particularly this one: both Jackson and Hughes have an effective field goal percentage of .462. Jackson is a worse outside shooter than Hughes (such people do, in fact, exist) but he makes up for it by attempting fewer jump shots. Instead of 79% jumpers and 19% close range shots, which is Hughes’s split, Jackson takes 71% jumpers and 27% close range shots. His effective field goal percentage on his close range shots is a robust .622 compared to a dismal .387 on his jumpers. Amazingly, Jackson seems to recognize that his weakness is outside shooting, so he doesn’t shoot from the outside that much. Of the other starting shooting guards in the Central Division, all shoot a higher effective field goal percentage than Hughes and only Ben Gordon takes a higher percentage of his shots from the outside. But Gordon’s overall effective shooting percentage is .481, so him taking 84% of his shots from the outside isn’t hurting him (he’s also, strangely, the only one of these players who shoots better from the outside than from the inside). Every other starting shooting guard plays to his abilities better than Hughes. Here are the numbers (from 82games.com):
84% jumpers, .488 eFG%
16% close, .444 eFG%
.481 eFG% overall
72% jumpers, .439 eFG%
28% close, .543 eFG%
.471 eFG% overall
71% jumpers, .439 eFG%
27% close, .622 eFG%
.462 eFG% overall
67% jumpers, .456 eFG%
31% close, .656 eFG%
.523 eFG% overall
79% jumpers, .432 eFG%
19% close, .526 eFG%
.462 eFG% overall
Any more talk of Larry Hughes being a superstar hampered by injury rather than stupidity (so many jumpers!) and inability (jumpers?) is no longer acceptable unless that talk includes gestures towards the superstardom of Stephen Freaking Jackson. Larry Hughes might be a better on the ball defender, but Jackson has guns and isn’t afraid to use them. Personally, I’d be more fearful of Jackson. Any talk of their defensive effectiveness also should take into account this point.