≡ Menu

Help Wanted: Three Point Shooter


Currently, almost 35% of the Rockets points result from three pointers, tops in the league. That’s nine percentage points higher than last year’s rate of 26%, and seven points higher than last year’s top team, the Hawks. That the Rockets shoot a lot of 3s is well known. What’s less well known is that they aren’t particularly good at shooting 3s (something I mentioned last year), and that their offensive pace is slowing down.

Rob Dover pointed out to me that the Rockets currently rank 8th in PACE, compared to 5th last season and 1st the year before that. The situation that’s developing is the Rockets are a volume shooting team without a large volume of opportunities. Perhaps as a result, the Rockets offensive efficiency has suffered. The team ranks 19th in the league in that category, compared to 4th last season and 6th the year before that.

The importance of the 3-point shot is not going away, especially not on the Rockets. What’s needed, then, are better 3-point shooters. However, the definition of a good 3-point shooter, usually measured by 3PFG%,  is inaccurate. And we need to understand this inaccuracy before proceeding. Here’s what I mean.

The Wedge



This is a chart of 3-point field goal attempts plotted against 3PFG% from last season. Only players with at least 100 3PFGA were included. Notice that the chart basically has an empty bottom “wedge.” All data are to the top and left, with very little to the bottom and right. The reason for this is simple–if you’re going to shoot a lot of 3s, you better make a lot of them, or you’re going to stop shooting them.

I want to point this out because it addresses a question I’ve heard a few times, basically a variation of, “Is the difference between a 38% shooter and a 40% shooter really that important?” This question is misleading because it doesn’t consider the amount of shot attempts a player takes. If both players take 100 shots, then no, a 2% difference is not that important. But if player A makes 40% of 500 shots, and player B makes 38% of 100 shots, then it’s a big difference. Most importantly, player B can’t just take 400 more shots and still expect to make 38% of them because he has to be much less picky with his shot selection just to hoist up 400 more shots. With that much extra volume, player B’s 3PFG% would probably be in the mid 20%s.

Because of this wedge, I dislike it when announcers say “he shoots 40% from 3.” Last year, Steph Curry (sorry Rahat) shot 42% from 3. BUT HE TOOK OVER 600 3-POINTERS. And at that volume some were very difficult shots. Saying Curry shoots 42% from 3 makes it sound like he would make 42% of the shots he takes from 3 in an empty gym. If he were actually in an empty gym, he’d probably make 85% of his 3s. With his ability, Curry is going to take 3s as long as his 3PFG% is high enough that the trade off (driving, passing to a teammate, etc.) is a worse option. For him, that’s over 600 attempts. For someone else, that might be 150 attempts.

As it stands, a lot of players should have stopped shooting 3s a long time ago. See that super low hanging dot on the chart? The one that looks like a saggy boob? That’s Tony Wroten. He shot 188 3s last year and made 21% of them. LOL.

So who are the good ones?




This is the same chart as above, but I added lines that represent the top 10% of players in 3PFGA and 3PFG%. Last year, there were three players who were in the top 10% in both categories. They were two Golden State Warriors (sorry Rahat), and Jose Calderon. The cliche that “everyone is shooting 3s” is grossly misleading. Everyone might take a 3 here or there. Few take a lot. Even fewer take a lot and make a lot. Those who fall into that last category are very valuable, probably more valuable than their contracts indicate. The Rockets, represented in red, are clearly lacking in this department.

This year



Here’s the same chart with this year’s data. I limited it to players with at least 50 3PFGA. Because the season is still a little young, players are still feeling out there 3-point shots, but already you can see the wedge starting to form as players get the hint that they should stop taking 3s. The four double top ten percenters are now JJ Redick, Danny Green, Klay Thompson, and the mind-blowing Kyle Korver, currently shooting 52% from 3 with heavy volume. The hanging boob of this chart is Lance Stephenson, who currently makes 15% of his 3s. LOL.

The Rockets, unfortunately, have two players in the quadrant that really should not have any, those who take a lot but make very little. Those two dots, from left to right, are Harden and Ariza.


The situation is a little mystifying because the Rockets have parted ways with Troy Daniels and Robert Covington (also Parsons, but that one is in a different category of parting ways), two good 3-point shooters. In Covington’s case, he’s actually demonstrating his ability by shooting 43% at 5 attempts a game, which would extrapolate to over 400 3PFGA over a season.

Of the additions, only Jason Terry is contributing significantly in the 3-point department, having established himself ages ago as an above-average shooter at above-average volume. Josh Smith… yeah. Corey Brewer, despite his 3-point outbursts since joining the Rockets, is a career 30% 3-point shooter, even though he only takes a little over two per game. Ariza had an amazing shooting year last season, but over his career he shoots 34% at just 2.8 attempts per game. I’m not holding my breath for him to return to last season’s 41% at 5.5 attempts/game form. KPop currently shoots 29% at 3.3 attempts/game, and seems to have fallen out of the rotation entirely.

Without a doubt the two players with the most potential to become 3-point threats are Beverley and Canaan. They’re young enough that their ceilings are still unknown, and thus far their floors seem pretty high. Beverley is shooting 40% at 6.2 attempts/game and Canaan 41% at 4.0 attempts/game. Confusing everyone involved, Canaan has been pushed to the end of the bench, leaving only Beverley holding all our hopes to become a high-volume and high-efficiency 3-point shooter. I’m not entirely comfortable with that.

People keep asking what to do with that Pelicans pick. I can think of a lot worse than targeting an undervalued but prolific 3-point shooter.

About the author: Richard Li is an independent researcher and consultant. He likes numbers and pictures.

in essays