In recent years, the world of basketball, especially in the professional ranks, has become an analytics-centric game. As a result, we now measure advanced statistics with complex abbreviations such as PER, which is spelled out as the Player Efficiency Rating, and PIE which is the abbreviation for Player Impact Estimate. But before we get to these complex terms, we need to go through the basics. So, in this article, we’ll answer one of basketball’s rudimentary questions: What is a field goal in basketball?
We’ll also take a crash course into more modern analytics, such as the field goal percentage and the effective field goal percentage. With these metrics, we’ll give you a glimpse into how the game has changed over the years and how players transitioned from one era to the next.
What Does FG Stand for in Basketball?
When you look at the box score of a basketball game, you’ll see a column dedicated to FG. It’s an abbreviation for field goal and is often represented by a ratio that indicates how many shots are made against how many are attempted by a single player or by a team’s collective effort.
Admittedly, it’s pretty difficult to explain why it is called a field goal in basketball when we don’t use either of these terms anywhere else. But, fortunately, scholars of the game were able to trace its origins to basketball’s close ties to American football.
Initially, the game was created to give athletes an alternative to play indoors while the football fields were not usable due to harsh American winters. Dr. James Naismith, therefore, decided to call a made basket a field goal because of its similarities to football’s concept of the field goal.
What Counts as a Field Goal in Basketball?
However, the field goal in basketball is a much more integral aspect of the game than it is in football. In a way, making field goals is the most crucial objective of a team in order to win a game as they’re what put the most points on the scoreboard in basketball.
As one of the most basic statistics in the game, the field goal is rather easy to define. Generally, any basket made while the game clock is running will be considered a field goal. By this definition, mid-range jump shots, layups, and three-pointers are all considered field goals. So, since the clock is off during a free throw, it’s not technically categorized as a field goal.
So, “Is dunk a field goal?”, you might ask. The answer is pretty simple. Yes, it’s considered field goal as long as was attempted during a live-ball situation.
Different Types of Field Goals in Basketball
You may come across a box score representing field goals in two columns, the FGM and the FGA. They’re basically just two different sub-categories of field goals.
Field Goals Made (FGM) – Only made baskets are listed as field goals.
Field Goals Attempted (FGA) – All field goals attempted, including missed ones, will be listed under field goals attempted.
Basketball analysts use these two values to determine the field goal percentage, often abbreviated in box scores as FG%, of either individual players or their entire team. A player’s field goal percentage is usually a basic metric for measuring their effectiveness at scoring.
What is Generally Considered as a Good FG Percentage in Basketball?
There are a lot of variables that come into play when it comes to making a field goal. For example, distance from the basket, the particular spot on the court of the field goal attempt, whether the field goal attempt is contested or not, and many others need to be considered.
And because players have different roles on the team, what is considered a good field goal percentage for one role may be different for another player in a different position. Therefore, a center who generally plays near the basket is expected to make more of his field goal attempts than a point guard who tends to shoot from long range to avoid getting blocked by taller players.
For example, DeAndre Jordan, an athletic 6’11” center, currently holds the title for the highest field goal percentage in modern NBA history, making more than 67% of his field goals over the course of his career so far. On the other hand, Russel Westbrook, a 6’3″ guard and is generally considered a top 10 player in the league, has a 43% career field goal percentage over the same period.
In general, a good median field goal percentage across all positions in basketball is around 53-56%. However, it gets more complicated across each position. So, we decided to breakdown what is generally considered as a good FG percentage in basketball for each position during the modern NBA:
- Point Guard – 41.2%
- Shooting Guard – 42.7%
- Small Forward – 42.5%
- Power Forward – 55.8%
- Center – 53.4%
Generally, as long as player’s field goal percentage is higher than these values, they can be considered above average offensive players.
However, these percentages may not be the most accurate as the play style is also a huge factor. For example, point guards like Ja Morant and Tony Parker, who like to score in the paint via the dribble drive, routinely get field goal percentages above 50% because they can get a shot off near the basket. Whereas point guards who like to play in the perimeter like Chris Paul has only averaged 47.2% field goal percentage in his 16-year career.
As you may have noticed, it’s not only the guards that are chucking up threes these days. Centers and forwards are also starting to get more proficient from long distances. We now have big men described as stretch fours because they can stretch the defense because of their 3pt shooting ability despite playing the number four position at power forward. Players like Carmelo Anthony who, despite shooting a below average 44.7% is considered to be an offensive weapon because of his ability to shoot from downtown.
As the roles start to blend together, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the traditional method of using the field goal percentage as the gold standard of evaluating an offense has become quite outdated. These days, it seems a more refined metric had to be invented.
How to Calculate for Effective Field Goal Percentage?
While it’s a good indication of player efficiency, field goal percentage isn’t the only metric analysts use to determine a player’s offensive efficiency. It fails to incorporate the fact that 3-point field goals are also factored in despite the value of each basket being worth more than 2-point field goal attempts.
A player who attempts ten shots and makes four of them, for example, has a score tally of 12 points. On the other hand, if a player who plays primarily in the paint tries to score on ten shots and makes 6, they too only end up with 12 points. This scenario suggests that 40% shooting from three-point distance is just as efficient as shooting 60% from the paint in terms of scoring efficiency and the game’s bottom line. Analysts, therefore, had to create a new statistical category that would take these factors into account.
From this need to be more accurate, advanced metrics such as effective field goal percentage are created. You’ll find it in box scores represented by the abbreviation eFG%. The formula that basketball scholars came up with is:
(2pt FGM + 1.5 * 3pt FGM) / FGA
This formula considers those field goals made beyond the 3pt line are worth more than those made within its bounds. Essentially, this means that the eFG% of a player who makes 4 out of 10 3pt shots is equivalent to a player who makes 6 out of 10 field goal attempts at 60% eFG%.
Therefore, the eFG% is, therefore, a far more accurate representation of how efficient an offensive player is on the court than the simpler FG%. These data analysis gave rise to the modern NBA basketball where sharpshooters like Steph Curry and James Harden tend to shoot more three-pointers than their counterparts in the 90s..
Wrapping Things Up: What is a FG in Basketball?
In a way, the story of the field goal tells the story of basketball itself and how it evolved. It tells how the game transitioned from a big man dominated game to a more equitable and arguably, more exciting game that it is today.
Before the 3pt line was introduced in the NBA, the team who made the most field goals in a basketball game would essentially lock in a win. Therefore, post players who shot a high percentage near the basket dominated the game. Players like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, therefore, took the bulk of the scoring load back then.
While the rivalries between big men were entertaining to watch, the game effectively diminished the role of smaller players. The 3pt line was specifically created to help them become more impactful in the game of basketball.
However, it took decades for the 3pt line to make a real dent on the league. Players, it seemed, needed some time to adjust to this new offensive weapon suddenly made available to them. Even Michael Jordan himself failed to capitalize on the 3pt line on his early days barely scratching 30% during the early parts of his career.
However, as more and more players became accustomed to the distance, the more efficient they got. In the 90s, therefore, a more balanced approach that incorporated shot making skills in both the 3pt territory and in the mid-range has became the norm. Jordan himself began to shoot more 3pt field goal attempts that was most evident in what is now called the ‘Shrug’ game in the 1992 Playoffs when he shot 6 of 10 from 3pt range.
These days, however, 3pt specialists have become the most dominant players in the league thanks to modern data analytics. And this increased proficiency from the long-range made it necessary for the league to measure its player’s eFG% that takes into consideration the increased value of shooting from long-range.
But, at the end of the day, the same principles still stand – the team that is more efficient at making field goals is probably going to win more basketball games. The only thing that has changed is how we measure field goal efficiency.
Looking for more basketball stats? Check out our ultimate guide to basketball statistics here.