Are NBA Lefties Better Than Righties?

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!

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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:

James Harden

Jalen Brunson

Miles Bridges

Domantas Sabonis

Mike Conley

Jarred Vanderbilt

Isaiah Hartenstein

Gary Payton II

Herbert Jones

Luke Kennard

D’Angelo Russell

Amir Coffey

Nic Claxton

Kelly Oubre Jr.

Julius Randle

Jae’Sean Tate

De’Aaron Fox

Terry Taylor

RJ Barrett

Derrick Jones Jr.

Thaddeus Young

Joe Ingles

Marvin Bagley III

Cameron Payne

DeAndre Jordan

Darius Bazley

Kevin Porter Jr.

Justise Winslow

Rodney Hood

Killian Hayes

Ignas Brazdeikis

CJ Elleby

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Michael Shearer is an NBA obsessive who writes to answer the questions he has about the league. You can follow him @bballispoetry. He also is a contributing writer for Fansided at Hoops Habit and writes a free NBA analytical newsletter at basketballpoetry.com that goes out every Tuesday and Friday.

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