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Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant among top 10 paint scorers

Take a closer look at this season's top 10 scorers inside the paint.

Ja Morant scored 20 points in the paint – including the game-winner in the final second – against the Suns on Monday.

Over the past few weeks, we have looked at the differing levels of efficiency in shots attempted in terms of their location on the court (mid-range, corner 3s) and the type of attempt (catch-and-shoot vs. pull-up).

While the 3-point revolution has shifted the geometry of the game and some of the principles of what is considered a good shot, one thing remains true today as it was when the game first started: the most efficient shot in the game still comes inside the paint.

Entering play on Dec. 28, here is a breakdown of points per shot attempt across the league, split between the paint, mid-range and 3-point range.

Shot Location Points Per Attempt
In the Paint 1.110
Mid-Range 0.812
3-Point Range 1.049

Here’s a more detailed breakdown, which highlights the importance of getting into the restricted area.

Shot Location Points Per Attempt
Restricted Area 1.285
In the Paint (Non RA) 0.828
Mid-Range 0.812
Corner 3 1.140
Above Break 3 1.020

Today, we’ll take a closer look at the players that have dominated the paint so far this season.

A look at that leaderboard reminds me of the children’s game where you have to spot the one thing that doesn’t belong. This leaderboard including seven centers, two forwards and one guard; it includes five players that are 6-foot-11, two that are 6-10, two more that are 6-9 and one that is 6-3.

Memphis’ Ja Morant ranks third in the league in points in the paint (14.2), trailing only the two players that have won the last three league Kia Most Valuable Player awards: Nikola Jokic (15.2 ppg, 2021 MVP) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (15.1 ppg, 2019 and 2020 MVP).

On Monday night in Phoenix, Morant capped off a 33-point performance with a game-winning layup in the final second to lift the Grizzlies to a 114-113 victory. It was Morant’s 20th point in the paint of the game as the Suns had no answers in trying to keep Morant from getting to his spots.

Since entering the league in 2019, Morant has shown no fear in playing amongst the bigs in the paint. He’s averaged 10.7 points in the paint as a rookie and 10.6 as a sophomore, before exploding this season to one of the elite interior scorers in the game – particular among guards. Morant is one of only five guards in the league to average double-figure points in the paint along with De’Aaron Fox (10.5), Bradley Beal (10.4), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10.3) and Donovan Mitchell (10.1).

Nikola Jokic: Jokic joins Morant and Deandre Ayton as the only players in the league to average at least four field goals per game in the restricted area and two in the paint outside the restricted area. That shows more variety to their scoring beyond catching lobs, dunks and putbacks. Jokic has a craftiness to his game that helps him score in a variety of ways. He may not have the same speed or leaping ability of a Morant or Giannis, but his game is just as effective.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Teams have built so many walls to try to stop Giannis from scoring in the paint, and none have been able to contain the two-time MVP. Giannis leads the NBA with 6.6 field goals made inside the restricted area per game; he is shooting 75% at the rim so far this season. In the past five seasons, Giannis has led the league in restricted area field goals twice (2018-19 and 2017-18) and finished second three times (2020-21 and 2019-20 behind Zion Williamson, and 2016-17 behind LeBron James). Giannis leads the league with 10 games with at least 20 points in the paint this season; no other player has more than six such games (Jokic, Morant and Davis tied).

Deandre Ayton: Ayton ranks second in the league in points per game (6.1) as the roll man in pick-and-rolls. He is shooting 72% on those plays, making him one of the most efficient pick-and-roll scorers in the league; of the 73 players that attempt at least one shot per game on pick-and-roll roll man plays, Ayton ranks fourth in field goal percentage. He is second on his own team though as JaVale McGee leads the way at 79.0% shooting.

Anthony Davis: Although he’s currently sidelined for about a month with a sprained knee, Davis is averaging his highest points in the paint (14.1 ppg) since joining the Lakers in 2019-20. Davis has played more center this season (27.5% of his offensive matchup time has been at center) than he has in either of his first two seasons in Los Angeles (22.6% in 2020-21 and 24.1% in 2019-20).

Jarrett Allen: Of the 78 players in the league that have attempted at least 100 shots in the restricted area, Allen ranks second in field goal percentage at 81.8%, trailing only Boston’s Robert Williams III (82.8% on 65 fewer attempts). Allen also leads the league in points per game on cuts to the basket (5.4 ppg) according to Synergy play type data.

Domantas Sabonis: Sabonis ranks fifth in the league in elbow touches (5.8 per game) and has similar efficiency to Jokic (league-leading 7.6 touches per game) when working from the elbows. Both players shoot over 61% from the field on those touches, but are also frequent passers from the elbows, with Sabonis assisting on 25.3% of his elbow touches and Jokic at 24%. They are also two of the four players in the league (along with Giannis and Joel Embiid) to average at least 18 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists per game.

Bam Adebayo: Adebayo is the only player on this list to have not made a single 3-point shot this season as he missed his only attempt, which was an 80-foot heave at the fourth-quarter buzzer that hit the back of the rim to try to tie a game with Washington. Allen (1-6) and Ayton (1-7) are the only other players in the top 10 in paint scoring to attempt fewer than 50 3-point shots so far this season. Adebayo’s paint scoring has been consistent over the past three seasons: 11.6 ppg in 2019-20, 11.9 in 2020-21 and 12.0 so far this season; his 3.2 second chance points per game are a career-best.

LeBron James: One way to score points in the paint is to beat opposing teams down the court and score in transition before defenses can get set. LeBron leads the NBA in fast-break points (4.7 per game) in his 19th NBA season. Giannis ranks second at 4.3 ppg and both players are a nightmare to try to slow down once they get their momentum going toward the rim. LeBron still ranks in the top 10 in paint points despite scoring his lowest percentage of points from the paint (43.9%) since the 2014-15 season (43.3).

Jonas Valanciunas: Valanciunas leads the NBA in both points per game (3.3) and shot attempts (2.7) on putbacks, according to Synergy play type data. Valanciunas ranks fifth in the league in offensive rebounds per game (3.6) and first in second-chance points (4.3 per game). Valanciunas is tied with Sabonis for the second-most double-doubles on the season with 24.