I'm realizing that we haven't really celebrated nor commemorated Chris Paul's amazingly efficient game in Washington on Saturday nearly enough. We sometimes get inured to his greatness, and start to simply expect it. But the more I look at it, the more I dig into the history, the more I realize that this was one of the single greatest performances in NBA history. That it came from a player not typically known for his scoring makes it all the more remarkable.
When you look at the most efficient scoring games of all time, you have to take into consideration scoring volume. In the searchable history of the NBA (that is since the 85-86 season on basketball-reference) there are literally hundreds of examples of games in which a player took and made one three pointer and no other shots. For that game, that player would have an effective field goal percentage and a true shooting percentage of 150%, the maximum possible for either metric.
A quick note about the math. If a player were to take a single shot in a game, get fouled on that shot, and make the free throw for a four point play, ostensibly that player would have a true TSP of 200% -- four points on one shot. As it happens, Rashard Lewis of the Heat accomplished this very thing against the Clippers earlier this season. However, we can't know which free throws are and-ones and which are technicals and which are common fouls without parsing the play-by-play data, so the standard calculation applied across the board is to count each free throw as 44% of a possession. So while we know that Rashard Lewis scored four points on one possession back in November, his TSP for that game is 1.389 or 138.9% -- 4 / 2.88 (points divided by the double of shots taken and .44 of free throws taken) -- actually lower than had he not taken the free throw. That's just how it goes. The bottom line is, you can't do better than 150%.
It's important to bear in mind that free throws represent shot attempts at some level, so we're not just talking about points per field goal attempt. (Corey Maggette of the Clippers once scored 25 points on 6 shots without a miss from the field; but he also went to the line 17 times.) Paul's 11-11 from the line in Washington Saturday was a big part of what made his night special.
The most efficient shooting game since 1985 belongs to Mike Miller of the Heat, who went 6-6 from beyond the arc, with no other field goal attempts and no free throws, two seasons ago against the Spurs. That's 18 points on 6 shots and no free throws, 150% in eFG and TSP, the maximum possible. As it happens, Matt Barnes had a game that ranks high on this list, when he hit five threes against the Pistons last season. Unfortunately, he was 1-2 from the line that day, dropping his TSP down to 136%.
But as points go up, it obviously gets more unusual to not miss, so for instance there are no 20 point games with 150% shooting. Sam Perkins once had a game where he was 8-8 from beyond the arc, 2-2 from the line, and didn't take any two pointers -- 26 points on 8 shots and 2 free throws, a perfect night in which he never missed. His eFG for that game was of course 150%, but those free throws dragged his TSP down to 146.4% -- which is the most efficient 20 plus point game I can find.
Charles Barkley, Gary Payton and Vin Baker have all had a perfect games of over 30 points -- they didn't miss a single shot of any kind, and posted more than 30 points. Of the three, Barkley's was the most efficient, as it included two three pointers and nine free throws; 31 points on 10 shots and 9 free throws, an eFG of 110% and a TSP of 111%. While that isn't the highest TSP in a 30 point game since 1985, it is pretty difficult to improve on perfection.
As we get up above 35 points, TSPs over 100% become less and less common as you might imagine.
I have found five games of 35 points or more since 1985 that were more efficient than Paul's performance against the Wizards. They also happen to be the only 35+ games where the TSP is over 100%.
Dale Ellis, SuperSonics, April 20, 1990, 36 points on 16 shots and one free throw. Ellis made nine three pointers in this game (which came against the Clippers, BTW) for a TSP of 109.5%. This is by far the highest TSP in a game of 35 points or higher.
Reggie Miller, Pacers, March 22, 1995, 36 points on 13 shots and 10 free throws, a TSP of 103.4%. Reggie missed on two point attempt and one free throw in that game. Believe it or not, this game also came against the Clippers. Sheesh.
Gilbert Arenas, Wizards, February 25, 2006, 46 points on 16 shots and 14 free throws. Arenas hit seven three pointers in this massive game (though he did miss a free throw) and posted a TSP of 103.8%. This is the highest scoring game with a TSP over 100% that I have found.
So let's put Paul's night in context with these others. He scored 38 points on 14 shots and 11 free throws. That gives us a TSP on the night of 100.8%. It's possible that I've missed some, and it's possible (though unlikely given the importance of the three pointer which was introduced in 1979) that there were some more efficient high scoring games before 1985. But in my research, this is one of six games in almost 30 years, and quite probably of all time, where a player has scored more than 35 points with a TSP over 100%. If Doc Rivers had taken him out of the game 15 seconds sooner, before he had his final shot blocked by Trevor Ariza, he would have had a TSP of 106.5% for the game. Oh well.
When you consider the fact that Paul also had 12 assists -- none of these other games I've mentioned featured more than five assists (Pierce) -- you can make a strong case for it being the most efficient offensive outburst of all time.