There are many approaches to assessing the effectiveness of an NBA player. Some of these can quickly become complicated, but one simple approach involves evaluating the number of points scored per shot attempt.
As evidenced by the recent attempts of somewhat normal people to defeat retired NBA benchwarmer Brian Scalarbrine one-on-one, it's possible to at least attempt shots against NBA-level competition. But it isn't always possible to attempt quality shots that won't be altered by defenders and that will actually find their way into the net.
By gcardinal from Norway
With this in mind, points per attempt gives us a window on an individual player's effectiveness based on whether a player is capable of finding and making quality shots. Note that I consider a quality shot either a shot that is likely to fall OR a shot that is likely to result in a foul, so I didn't remove points scored via foul shots from the data below. Points are points. Also note that for this view of player effectiveness, I focused on the players with 100 or more field goal attempts as of January 22, 2013.
Getting right to the bottom line, the top 20 players in the NBA are noted in the following table, along with their positions, age, team, field goal attempts, points, and points per attempt. The data comes from basketball-reference.com.
It's no surprise that the top scorers are mostly centers or power forwards, with the key exceptions being Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kevin Martin, and Kyle Lowry. These four guys stand out above their positional peers, and all four happen to be current or former members of the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets. Both the Thunder and Rockets are known for number crunching, so perhaps this table gives us a window into one statistic that both teams value.
It's also interesting to note that both Durant and LeBron James, his primary competitor for this season's MVP award appear near the top of the list, which includes a total of 295 players. Other players who are also occasionally mentioned as possible MVPs but who don't appear in the top 20 include Chris Paul (#26), Carmelo Anthony (#33), and Kobe Bryant (#39). It's interesting to note that Bryant has taken 1,199 shots compared to Howard's 649, which might indicate that it's time for Kobe to pass the ball more. Since Steve Nash also ranks ahead of Kobe (although barely, at #36), Kobe might also want to consider passing the ball back to Nash, who has only taken 190 shots this season.
Age and Efficiency
Age appears in the above analysis because I expected it to show up as a variable that made a difference. My assumption is that age makes a given player smarter and therefore more efficient. The average age of all players who qualified for this list was 27, so while 13 of the 20 top players are at or above the average NBA player's age, the evidence above isn't enough to suggest that age makes a player more efficient. In fact, if you chart the points per attempt of all players with over 100 shot attempts versus their ages, nothing suggests any meaningful trends about age and efficiency. Maybe a more detailed analysis would show trends at specific positions (e.g., guards), but my time for preparing this post is limited, so I'll stick to the basics.
The All-Stud Team
An All-NBA Team of efficient scorers comprise of the top player at each position would look like this:
C: Tyson Chandler, Knicks
PF: Tiago Splitter, Spurs
SF: Kevin Durant, Thunder
SG: James Harden, Rockets
PG: Kyle Lowry, Raptors
As Sean O'Connor observed on Twitter, this would be a solid team. I wholeheartedly agree with Sean. As a Mavericks season ticker holder, I've seen my fair share of the players on this All-Stud Team, and I would be more than happy to go to battle with this group.
The All-Dud Team
It's all well and good to recognize those players who succeed, but since the Internet also likes to reward futility, let's take a quick look at the least efficient players in the NBA at each position.
C: Kevin Seraphin, Wizards
PF: Lamar Odom, Clippers
SF: Michael Beasley, Suns
SG: Will Barton, Trailblazers
PG: John Lucas, Raptors
These guys would likely defeat a very good college team, but they also probably don't make their owners and coaches very happy (am I right, Lamar)?
Others of note include Eric Maynor, who ranks 291st and demonstrates that the Thunder don't do everything perfectly, coach's son Austin Rivers, who clocks in at number 289, and the Knicks' Raymond Felton, who ranks 281st.
Also, for those who were wondering, JaVale McGee actually ranks pretty high on this list, showing up at #30 overall.