Profile of a Shooter: Chris Webber

Apr 8, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; TNT broadcaster Chris Webber during the NBA game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A fair amount of luck plays into the success or failure of an NBA player’s career. They make their own to an extent but injuries, roster construction, even the era of the league play a major factor. Chris Webber wasn’t the first high-profiled player to be impacted by each element throughout his career and he won’t be the last, but the twists and turns he took to possibly a Hall of Fame career are some of the most fascinating. One reason, though probably nowhere near the biggest, was his shot selection and the change with each destination. There are shot charts focused in and around the paint, others with some of the highest volume of mid-range shots ever recorded and even ones showing the rare activity from beyond the arc for a player his size and position.

Shot charts by Austin Clemens aren’t available for Webber’s first three seasons. His shooting percentages and free throw rate as a rookie for Golden State hint at a good deal of shots around the rim, but there would be a shift after he was traded to Washington. His three point rate took off those years, the first two probably looking like the earliest available shot chart:

There was a time when no player 6’9” or taller and either a power forward or center finished an all-star season with at least 150 attempted threes. That changed not with 2001 Rasheed Wallace or 2002 Dirk Nowitzki, but 1997 Chris Webber. During the tail-end of the era with a shortened arc, he was the Bullets’ best three point shooter accuracy-wise, closing his only playoff season in Washington at 39.7%.

Was it a fluke? Webber struggled from the free throw line, something that tends to signal similar difficulties with a jump shot1, and samples from previous seasons don’t help his case much. He shot 44% from the arc in 1996, but only through 15 games and 34 attempts. 1995 leaned more towards Josh Smith territory: 28% on 145 shots.

The truth about his 3P% in 1997 was probably somewhere in the middle, and 1998 was a good test case when the arc was pushed back to its normal measurements. Webber put up a career-high 2.9 attempted threes per game and one-third of all Wizard shots from there while on the floor, per NBA.com:

Webber shot just under 32%, his attempts more spread out with only the orange and red dots above the key remaining. Most other hot spots cover the restricted area, but there’s a few over on the right side of the floor. For a right-handed high-usage player, it’s a bit odd he favored that area and not the left.

Webber’s three point rate never returned to the 14.4% average from 1995 to 1998, but it was a case of a power forward expanding to the arc with swingy results in an era when a player of his position with that type of range wasn’t as typical or welcome as today’s. The occasional three from him wasn’t all that surprising, though. He played with some enormous frontcourts including Juwan Howard and Gheorghe Muresan, he was a bad free throw shooter to where it might’ve altered his shot selection, and the arc was shortened for three of those four years.

Webber’s time as a Bullet/Wizard ran out after 1998 so we’ll never know if he would’ve amped up the threes even more or if the starting frontcourt would open up to his benefit. When he was traded to Sacramento, only 13 players Webber’s size took more threes (535) over a four-year stretch, according to Basketball-Reference, and he only played in 212 of a possible 328 games.

If there was a shot chart of Webber’s time in Golden State five years earlier, it would’ve looked most like his first in Sacramento only with less activity from mid-range. Two-thirds of his points were from the paint, a career-high that wasn’t close to any other tracked year of his on NBA.com. He continued to struggle from mid-range, however, just 33% from both the 10-14 foot and 15-19 foot areas on a combined 6.4 attempts per game, and he bottomed out on his free throw shooting with a career-low 45.4%.

There was still plenty of time to improve on those parts of his game. Even after one season in Golden State, four in Washington, and the lockout-shortened season finished, he was only 26 and about to enter the sweet spot of his career. The results over the next few years from Webber and the Kings will be remembered for a long, long time.

The early-2000s were a major change from the three point launching years in Washington and the 1999 Webber that was utilized around the paint. Compared to those two versions, 2002 might look the most inefficient with 9.9 mid-range shots per game, but setting up at the high post took advantage of his biggest strength: Passing. No angle was impossible from that area of the floor and the low post, creating not just numerous assist opportunities for himself but others too. Even hand-offs to teammates running around him for a 3 were fancy schmancy, and that kind of passing was contagious.

Defenders that sagged to clog the passing lanes or contain point guards on pick and rolls gambled with the damage Webber could do with a polished jump shot, most notably around the elbows and the top of the key. He was even fire from the really long two, shooting 18-for-37 from 20 feet and out. The activity from mid-range overall paints a miniature arc thanks to how spread out his attempts were.2 As for scoring in traffic, Webber was either creative or awkward depending on the result, but opponents paid a steeper price for fouling him. He was in his third year as a 70%+ free throw shooter.3

With all that said, Webber was never a high-efficiency scorer, but 2002 was his best attempt. He tallied not only highs in true shooting and effective field goal percentages as a King, but also free throw rate. According to Basketball-Reference, he also drew his best shooting foul rate, 15%, and turned a career-high 30.4% of those fouls into and-1 opportunities.

Webber’s shooting teetered and tottered in 2003 while recording a usage rate over 30, a mark he reached only one other time: 2001. He battled a variety of injuries throughout that season, but the devastating knee injury in the playoffs ended his mesmerizing prime at the age of 30. Without the mobility and lift in 2004, his touch from mid-range fell. So too did his true shooting and effective field goal percentages, but they wouldn’t go completely off the rails until he was traded in 2005 to the 76ers. Webber would bounce back somewhat in 2006, even recording a career-high in total minutes, but then spent most of the next season in Detroit after he and the 76ers agreed to a buyout:

It’s hard to tell how much of the blue is from Webber’s final games in Philadelphia and those with Detroit, but it’s worth noting that he only shot 18.4% from 10 to 16 feet with the former team compared to 40.5% with the latter, according to Basketball-Reference. The mid-range game disappeared somewhat anyway with 7% more shots coming within 3 feet, a refreshing shift. Not every power forward can age like Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki, two players Webber competed against for the throne as the best at their position during the early-2000s, but he could never be a jump shooter like them without the mobility and lift the knee injury robbed him of.

Webber played nine games for the Warriors late in 2007-08 before calling it a career. It’s a bit frustrating it took him so long to put everything together, but the timing of when he did should count for something. He made his case as the best passing big man ever and put up monstrous scoring totals when the league needed it most: The early-2000s. That era of basketball suffered from stilted offense, but you wouldn’t know it while watching Webber and that era of the Sacramento Kings.

webber on Make A Gif

  1. Had he shot 40% from three in 1997, he would’ve been the first to hit that mark and shoot below 60 percent from the free throw line in a season, minimum one attempt per game from each spot and at least 40 games played.
  2. This was a thing for his charts from 2001 and on, in case you were wondering.
  3. Based on a small sample of video from 1999 to 2000, Webber’s shooting form was shortened and his release point higher, shaving off some arc in the process.

Matt Femrite

Matt Femrite can also be found at The Washington Post’s #FancyStats blog and his own site, Chicken Noodle Hoop.