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The Best Shooters Don’t Always Show Up In Official Statistics

So Barry sets it straight

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 10: Mark Williams #15 of the Duke Blue Devils attempts a lay up during the first half of their second round game against the Louisville Cardinals in the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 10, 2021 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

We’ll skip a discussion of the limitations of official shooting statistics, and their inevitable discounting of player attributes because they’re measured against inflexible standards. That doesn’t mean standards aren’t valid, just that important information is lost unless you pay close attention to the details.

Last season, for instance, the official ACC leader in shooting accuracy was Virginia’s Jay Huff, who hit an impressive .585 from the floor (127-217). His 127 field goals on 217 attempts reached the official qualifying standard of five shots made per game (in 25 outings), and set him atop the league in FG shooting.

But if you include everyone who played at least 300 minutes per outing, a reasonable standard for a regular, especially in the disjointed 2021 season, Huff was only eighth-best in the ACC.

The leader? Duke’s late-emerging Mark Williams at .664, one of those players Mike Krzyzewski occasionally plucks off the shelf in a season’s dwindling days. Grayson Allen was a similar find in the late run to the 2015 NCAA title.

Williams’ statistical obscurity brings to mind the confounding example of the 1989 ACC shooting leaders (seriously). That year the leader was sophomore Dale Davis of Clemson at .670. But the real standard-setter was a Duke big man named Christian Laettner.

The 6-11 freshman made .723 of his shots in 350 minutes in 1989. That field goal percentage remains the Duke single-season record according to the school’s media guide, even as it remains officially invisible in the ACC’s estimation.

Laettner’s marksmanship actually surpassed the .697 single-season record recognized by the league, achieved by UNC’s Brendan Haywood in 2000.

Davis’s 1989 shooting percentage was officially third-best in ACC history, trailing only Haywood and Duke’s Zion Williamson (.680) in 2019.

Taken into consideration as a regular contributor in 2021, Mark Williams would rank seventh in ACC history for a single season, a shade behind Jahlil Okafor (yes, another Dukie) — .6643 versus .6636.

That’s assuming, and it’s a big assumption, that over the last 30-plus years there were no other shooters whose acuity from the floor exceeded .664 but didn’t appear among the official or unofficial ACC leaders.

In fairness to others who played and shot more often, Williams will remain a statistical afterthought even at Duke, where 100 made field goals qualifies for season leadership in field goal shooting percentage. But that doesn’t mean his accuracy from the floor should be overlooked.

Williams figures to get more playing time and more shots, and to make a more notable impact this season. He’s among four returning ACC players whose field goal percentage eclipsed Huff’s.

A bit confoundingly given that large post players are considered out of style, all of the most accurate ACC shooters in 2021 stood at least 6-10 and played near the basket.

Besides Williams, an efficient shooter to particularly watch is unsung Nate Laszewski. The Notre Dame upperclassman not only shot well but officially ranked second in the ACC in defensive rebounds on a team in desperate need of rebounds, ninth in rebounds overall, 12th in free throw accuracy, and 17th in scoring with 13.3 per game. Statistically, at least, a variegated profile not unlike the Irish’s Bonzie Colson in 2017.

FSU’s Balsa Koprivica, one of Leonard Hamilton’s Perpetually Lengthy Legion and among the ACC’s deadliest shooters, was a second-round NBA draft choice in 2021.

Top ACC Field Goal Accuracy in 2021 (Minimum 300 Minutes Played)
FG% Player, School FGA-FGM Minutes FGM/G Height
.664 Mark Williams, D* 71-107 350 3.1 7-0
.641 Manny Bates, NS* 100-156 652 4.2 6-11
.628 Armando Bacot, NC* 137-218 660 4.7 6-10
.602 Juwan Durham, ND 118-196 624 4.5 6-11
.599 Balsa Koprivica, FS 80-147 468 3.7 7.1
.589 Nate Laszewski, ND* 119-202 811 4.6 6-10
.585 Jay Huff, V 127-217 676 5.1 7-1