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Lefties and Righties
Are southpaws better shooters?
Editor’s Note: A quick announcement — Mrs. Poetry has just given birth to a baby Haiku! Mama and baby are doing well. I’ve built up a backlog of posts ahead of time for just this occasion, so there shouldn’t be too much disruption to the schedule, but if my timing is a bit off for the next few weeks, well, now you know why!
Being left-handed is a massive advantage in baseball. Only 10% of people in the world are southpaws, yet nearly 40% of baseball hitters bat lefty. Baseball handedness is extremely important for reasons involving physics, strategies, experience/conditioning, infield shifts, and more things that have already bored me just listing out. But how prevalent are lefties on the NBA court, and do they see more success?
Almost every pickup baller you ask will agree that lefties always look smoother. It’s an accepted playground trope. Coaches will tell you that shooting left-handed gives an advantage because most defenders are used to closing out on right-handed players, and their technique and muscle memory aren’t calibrated as well for southpaws.
However, the data suggests that there isn’t much difference, at least in the NBA.
I used Stathead and Basketball-Reference to piece together data on all players in the NBA who played at least 500 minutes in the 2021-2022 season. Surprisingly, sinistral players are just as rare in the NBA as in the world!
Only 33 of the 374 qualifying players shot primarily left-handed, or 9%. That’s in line with the world average, and nowhere near the flood that baseball sees.
Take these statistics below with a grain of salt, as our sample size isn’t massive, but I’ve compiled the total stats for qualifying players and split them by handedness. For example, left-handers took 19,075 shots last season and made 8,841 for a FG% of 46.3%. Right-handers fired 186,386 attempts and sank 86,262 buckets, also hitting 46.3%. The rest of the numbers:
Other counting stats, like rebounds and assists, lean slightly left, but that’s primarily due to the lefties counting a disproportionate number of box score stuffers like James Harden, Jalen Brunson, De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Julius Randle, and more among their ranks. Those gains are not statistically significant, either.
It should be said that many NBA players are equally comfortable finishing with either hand, and several (including LeBron) are natural lefties who taught themselves to shoot right-handed or are otherwise cross-dominant or ambidextrous. Additionally, I can’t account for how many shots a player attempted with their weak hand (usually layups), but I’m comfortable proclaiming that being left-handed does not confer a notable advantage in the aggregate. Bummer.
To be honest, I was really hoping for a more dramatic conclusion, but at least now I don’t have to wonder anymore.
One final curiosity: The Clippers were the only team to employ more than three qualifying left-handed players last season, as they rostered five southpaws at various points throughout the year.
The complete list of lefties who played at least 500 minutes last season, in case you’re curious:
Gary Payton II
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Derrick Jones Jr.
Marvin Bagley III
Kevin Porter Jr.
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