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John Schuhmann

Aaron Brooks has taken more 3-pointers this season than anyone in the league.
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

League-wide decline in 3s traced to shot selection

Posted Mar 4 2010 11:05AM

For three years in the mid-1990s, the 3-point line was moved in to a uniform 22 feet from the basket. As a result, both the number of 3-pointers attempted and 3-point percentage went up league-wide.

The shooting reached a peak of 36.69 percent in 1995-96, the second year of the shorter line, but dipped down a bit the following year and more drastically when the line was moved back for the 1997-98 season. Since then, 3-point percentage has climbed steadily and last year, it fell just short of the all-time mark at 36.68 percent. In fact, if the league had made just five more threes last season, it would have topped the '95-96 mark. Blame Rashard Lewis, who missed more threes (334) than anyone else.


Of course, with 3-point shooting trending up, it was expected that the league would surpass the '95-96 mark this season. Instead, the league is shooting its lowest percentage in six years.

League-wide 3-point Shooting, Last Seven Seasons
Season 3P% 3PA%
2003-04 0.347 0.187
2004-05 0.356 0.196
2005-06 0.358 0.202
2006-07 0.358 0.213
2007-08 0.362 0.222
2008-09 0.367 0.224
2009-10 0.352 0.220
3PA% = Percentage of field-goal attempts that are threes

The problem may be that players are taking threes from the wrong spots. It's no secret that the corner three (at a distance of 22 feet) is a better shot than a three from wings or the top of the key (at 23 feet, nine inches).

With the help of StatsCube, we can look at 3-point shooting from the different zones on the floor. We find that 3-point shooting is down from last season in every zone, unless you count shots taken beyond the midcourt line, which account for about 1 percent of all threes taken. But the percentage is down a lot more on the wings and at the top of the key than it is in the corners.

League-wide 3-point Shooting Percentage, By Location
Location 2008-09 2009-10 Diff.
Left Corner 0.393 0.390 -0.003
Left Wing 0.364 0.343 -0.021
Top 0.357 0.335 -0.022
Right Wing 0.362 0.350 -0.012
Right Corner 0.395 0.389 -0.006
Backcourt 0.025 0.035 0.010
Totals 0.367 0.352 -0.015

The problem is that the league is taking more shots from those spots. Last season, 70.2 percent of all threes were taken from the wings or the top. This season, it's up to 72.1 percent.

Percentage of 3-point Attempts, By Location
Location 2008-09 2009-10 Diff.
Left Corner 0.152 0.141 -0.011
Left Wing 0.275 0.277 0.002
Top 0.150 0.159 0.009
Right Wing 0.276 0.284 0.008
Right Corner 0.134 0.125 -0.009
Backcourt 0.012 0.013 0.001

Perhaps defenses have become smarter and know how important it is to prevent open corner 3-pointers. Yet it's clear that this season's dip in 3-point percentage is not only about missing more, but also taking more of the wrong shots.

In addition to shooting from the right spots, teams could do a better job of shooting threes at the right time. As the game goes on, more threes are shot, but they're shot at a lower percentage.

3-Point Shooting, By Quarter, 2009-10
Quarter 3PM 3PA 3P%
1 2735 7317 0.3738
2 2788 8001 0.3485
3 2813 8088 0.3478
4 3055 8898 0.3433

Three-point percentage is at its lowest (31.3 percent) in the last five minutes of a game, but that's likely because teams that are behind more than one possession take bad shots out of desperation.

Here are more notes and trends regarding the 3-point shot.

• Despite the dip in 3-point percentage, overall scoring is up this season. The league is scoring more than 200 points per game (200.01 to be precise) for the first time since the 1994-95 season. But that's more about pace than offensive efficiency. At 95.2 possessions per team per 48 minutes, this is the fastest pace the league has played at in the last 10 years. Efficiency is actually down from last season as the league is scoring 104.2 points per 100 possessions, down from 105.4 in 2008-09.

• Along with the dip in 3-point percentage, the mid-range game continues to fade. The percentage of mid-range points (points not scored at the line, in the paint or beyond the arc) is down to just 20.6 percent. Points in the paint are higher than they've been since the league started tracking them in the 2000-01 season. Those baskets account for 41.7 percent of all points this season, up from 40.1 percent a year ago.

• Scoring from the mid-range area isn't a trend that good offensive teams have. Chicago scores 26.9 percent of its points from mid-range and ranks 27th offensively. Detroit scores 26.6 percent of its points from mid-range and ranks 26th offensively. Dallas (25.2 percent, 10th) and Portland (24.9 percent, seventh) go against the grain, thanks to the shooting of Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge.

• Of the league's top 10 teams in 3-point percentage, seven are in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. But of the 10 teams who defend the three the best, only five are in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. In fact, the Knicks rank eighth in 3-point defense (allowing their opponents to shoot 34.4 percent from downtown) and 27th in defensive efficiency (allowing 107.6 points per 100 possessions). On the other end of the spectrum is the Magic, who rank 24th in 3-point defense (36.5 percent) and third overall (99.8 points per 100 possessions). The reasoning is simple: Orlando has a big presence in the paint, while New York has none.

• The 3-point shot is more efficient (1.06 points per attempt) than the 2-point shot (0.98 points per attempt), but that gap has shrunk this season. Not only is the league shooting worse from beyond the arc, but at 48.9 percent, field-goal percentage from inside the arc is at its highest since the 1994-95 season.

• By far, the Magic attempt the most threes in the league. A whopping 35.2 percent of their shots come from beyond the arc (the league average is 22 percent). That's the highest percentage in NBA history, topping their mark of 33.5 percent last season. You can't say that they live and die by the three, because they're a great defensive team, but the Magic are 22-7 when they shoot better than their season average from 3-point range of 36.2 percent, and 20-13 when they shoot worse.

• Last season, the Knicks set the record for most threes attempted in a season with 2,284. That was more than they attempted in the first eight seasons (1979-80 through 1986-87) of the 3-point shot combined.

All stats are through Wednesday, March 3 and were compiled with the help of the NBA and StatsCube.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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