How unique is it being left-handed?
Just about roughly 90 percent of the human population is right-hand dominant, an overwhelming majority. However, August 13th presents the opportunity to recognize the other ten percent as it is International Left-Handers Day.
While many lefties have had to adapt to a society governed by right-handed tools, one area that has embraced their uniqueness has been sports. Sports tend to over-highlight just how many left-handers there actually are in the world because the demand to find an unorthodox skillset brings a higher concentration of these sinistral individuals together.
Anytime that you see a left-handed athlete for the first time, you might casually point it out, at least I do. “Oh, I didn’t realize they were a lefty” is usually my go-to phrase.
Just consider how something as simple as preferring the use of the opposite hand impacts sports. A left-handed pitching prospect always holds just a little bit more weight in Major League Baseball. Having a left-hander at your disposal means that you are theoretically, and even statistically, more well-equipped to offset the threat of their left-handed hitting counterparts.
Consider this effect in other sports such as football too. The narrative that you must have an oh-so-important left tackle suddenly flips once you employ a left-handed quarterback. Now your focus is shifted to starting an indispensable right tackle so that they can provide the necessary blindside protection for said quarterback. I think you get the point.
Being left-handed in the NBA
Now let’s get to the stuff you’re actually here for, basketball. Like other sports, having left-handed individuals makes for just one more element that will aid your team through an unfamiliarity advantage. Everyone has most likely guarded a lefty at some point, but how many reps are you truly getting against someone who excels on the left side of the rim?
Of course players are taught to be able to finish on both sides of the basket, but it’s a different game when a true lefty knows how to pick their angles and get to their spots. Even a good amount of right-handed stars noticeably struggle when forced to go left. These may be minute observations in the grand scheme of things, but true competitors are going to look for any advantage that they can get. That’s why there’s such an emphasis on scouting player tendencies.
With over 40 lefties playing in the NBA this past season alone, the league’s heightened exposure to left-handed players appears to be on a steady incline.
In fact, the number of NBA players who are recognized as lefties is likely skewed when you consider the level of ambidexterity it requires to master the game. Many players such as LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Rudy Gobert are actually left-handers, but shoot with their right hands. If you don't believe me just Google some images of them giving out signatures.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon though. This tidbit dates back to the likes of Bill Walton, Larry Bird and Gary Payton. It appears that GP passed the left-handed gene down to his son and former member of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Gary Payton II, who actually shoots with his dominant left hand.
As fans of the Houston Rockets, you’ve had the pleasure of watching one of the best southpaws in the history of the league in James Harden. But wait, he’s not the only one! Counting from former first overall pick and current assistant coach, John Lucas II, to Cuttino Mobley, Goran Dragić, Harden and currently, Kevin Porter Jr., the Rockets have had a strong history of employing crafty leftys. Joining KPJ on this year’s squad is Jae’Sean Tate and potentially the undrafted rookie, Trevor Hudgins.
Happy #InternationalLefthandersDay with The Beard, the all-time NBA leader in points scored by a lefty!— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 13, 2021
James Harden: 22,045
David Robinson: 20,790
Bob Lanier: 19,248
Gail Goodrich: 19,181 pic.twitter.com/K2qEMbvUfj
While the sample size in basketball may still be too small to declare that there are any significant advantages to being left-handed, I still personally like the idea of having a couple on the team, even if it’s just for aesthetic purposes.
Growing up, I loved watching Chris Bosh’s feathery jumper, but I’m not certain I would have loved it as much had it been a mirrored-image. On the flip side, my despise for Manu Ginobili was only amplified by him being lefty as he relentlessly weaved through the lane, often leaving defenders looking foolish. And now, after watching years of Harden break down defenders to weaponize his lethal stepback three, I continue to appreciate the beauty of a lefty’s craft.
That brings me back to Porter Jr., someone I’ve had my critiques about, but someone I recognize as having immense potential. Somewhat of an enigma, KPJ entered the league as one, if not the most polarizing player in his draft. Everyone knows that the boy is indeed nice, but the other stuff surrounding his character has understandably overshadowed the early stages of his career.
As for his on-court play, KPJ has shown glimpses of All-Star play. A strong stretch to end the season saw him put up 25 plus points in six of the last seven games. Not only that, his role as a distributor has improved and he will enter this season with another chance to solidify himself as a legitimate point guard.
Coming out of college, Porter Jr.’s player comparisons ranged from Harden, to spark plugs such as Nick “Swaggy P” Young and J.R. Smith, while bottoming out at the floor of former Boston Celtics’ pick, James Young (also a lefty). While the Harden comp is surely unfair, it’s good to see that KPJ is trending closer to his ceiling rather than his floor.
Like Harden, KPJ has shown the ability to shift defenders and create room with his handle, but I still think it’s too biased to expect his path to replicate The Beard’s. Harden was vastly the more superior and efficient player in his third season, albeit he was playing with two other future MVPs at the time.
Now going into his fourth year, Porter Jr. doesn't have to worry about the threat of losing minutes to another primary ballhandler or established veteran. It’s completely his show to run these days and I think just like some of his other young left-handed peers, he’ll take a leap as a lead guard. I can envision KPJ making similar strides to Jalen Brunson, who will have his own team now, and doesn't have to play in the shadow of Luka Dončić.
Lefties on the rise
Those aren’t the only guys with room to develop though. I could also see growth from a certain lefty guard in SacTown. After curiously trading away Tyrese Haliburton mid-season, De’Aaron Fox has fully regained the reins in an attempt to lead the Sacramento Kings back to the playoffs for the first time in *gulps* SIXTEEN years. And lastly, I can’t believe what I’m about to write, but even Ben Simmons has a chance at redemption depending on how the dust settles over at the Brooklyn Nets.
I don’t see the lefty wave slowing down anytime soon. Between the previously mentioned players and guys like Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Domantas Sabonis, Herb Jones and many more, I think there’s going to be a lot more southpaw highlights to go around.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a lot of talent in the NBA, and it really doesn’t matter which hand a player shoots with as long as it goes in the hoop. For today though, an international holiday, we celebrate all the lucky lefties that make this league exciting.
Let us know some of your favorite left-handed legends in the comments below!