Live by the Three...
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SECAUCUS, NJ, Jan. 12, 2006 -- On Dec. 13, 1983, the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons combined to score an NBA-record 370 points in a triple-overtime classic that the Pistons won 186-184. Care to guess how many three pointers were taken in that game?

Four. That's right. The two teams combined to shoot 2-for-4 from downtown. The four attempts were slightly below the average (4.76) for a game that season. In 1983-84, less than three percent of field goal attempts were from beyond the arc.

This past December, when the Suns and Nets combined to score 318 points at the Meadowlands, they took a total of 52 threes. This season, an average of 33.4 threes are attempted every game. They make up 21 percent of all field goal attempts.

How did such a change come about? Well, it was a slow process, aided a bit by the powers that be.

A Little Help from the League Office

Five years after the Detroit-Denver barn burner, during the 1988-89 season, the league was taking 13.1 threes per game (both teams). Five years after that, it was up to 19.8. Then, a change was made.

For the 1994-95 season, the NBA shortened the three point line from 23-9 to 22-0. The players responded by taking an additional 11 threes per game, and they shot them with much better accuracy.

It remained at the shorter distance for three seasons. Each time, the amount of attempts from downtown went up. Dennis Scott set the record (which Ray Allen broke last season) for most threes made in a season (267) in 1995-96. Before the 1997-98 season, the line was moved back. Attempts and accuracy went down, but not nearly as low as they were before the change.

Since then, with the exception of one minor blip (between '99-00 and '00-01), three point attempts per game have gone up every season.

THREE POINTERS
SEASON POSS/G 3PA/G 3PA/FGA 3PT %
2006-07 183.3 33.43 .210 .348
2005-06 180.1 31.96 .202 .357
2004-05 181.0 31.50 .196 .356
2003-04 179.2 29.85 .187 .347
2002-03 181.3 29.36 .182 .349
2001-02 180.4 29.50 .181 .354
2000-01 181.6 27.42 .170 .354
1999-00 184.8 27.43 .167 .353
1998-99 177.2 26.32 .168 .339
1997-98 179.9 25.43 .159 .346
1996-97 179.4 33.59 .212 .360
1995-96 182.4 32.10 .200 .367
1994-95 184.3 30.61 .188 .359
1993-94 188.1 19.79 .117 .333
See the table to the right. The first column is possessions per game. A possession (according to standard hoops statistical analysis) is the time one team controls the ball, and does not necessarily end on a shot (two shots by the same team with an offensive rebound in between is one possession). This column is here just to give us an idea of how the pace of the game has varied from year to year. Seemingly, the pace has no affect on whether or not guys shoot from inside the line or outside it.

Three for All

So, this year, both the three point attempts per game and the percentage of field goal attempts that are threes are almost at the level that they were at the end of the short-line era. One could guess that they will surpass that number next season.

But is it a good thing? Is it better to be shooting more threes? Somewhere in South Florida, James Posey is nodding his head.

This season, the league is shooting .349 from downtown, so for every attempt from beyond the arc, 1.05 points are scored. Meanwhile, they're shooting .484 from inside the arc, which translates to 0.97 points per shot.

So, as a league, everybody needs to keep chucking them up.

Of course, that's a pretty general statement. Don't pass up an open lane to the hoop for a 25-footer with Dikembe Mutombo in your grill. That would be just silly.

Will the following people please step forward

And of course, there are some of you out there who need to take a couple of steps in no matter who's around you. Yes, I'm talking to you DerMarr Johnson. Among players who have taken at least 25 threes, Johnson is the one who has the least success beyond the arc when compared to inside it.

Johnson is 8-of-51 (.157) from downtown, translating to 0.47 points per shot. Meanwhile, he's 20-of-37 from two-point range, 1.08 points per shot. That's a difference of -0.61 points (I'm assigning negative numbers to poorer performance from outside the line).

Perhaps giving up the No. 3 to Allen Iverson was for Mr. Johnson's own good. Others who need to quit the chucking are Corey Maggette (-0.60), Dorell Wright (-0.48), Gerald Wallace (-0.47) and Jose Calderon (-0.45).

On the other end of the spectrum, we have James Jones, who is 25-of-60 from downtown and 20-of-74 from inside the line, translating into a +.71 points-per-attempt difference. Jason Kapono (+.63), Bruce Bowen (+.59) and Luther Head (+.50) should continue to let 'em fly as well.

Mr. Three

Back to Mr. Posey. Among players with at least 100 field goal attempts, Posey takes the highest percentage (three point attempts divided by total field goal attempts) from downtown, with 93 of his 133 shots (70 percent) coming from beyond the arc. Good thing or bad thing?

Good thing. Posey is shooting .398 from downtown, translating to 1.19 points per shot. While he is shooting .525 from inside the line, that only translates to 1.05 points per shot. Shoot away, James.

Rocket Launch

Looking at the team level, Houston (led by Rafer Alston, Head, Shane Battier and Tracy McGrady) attempt the highest percentage of threes; 30 percent of their shots come from downtown. Their point differential is +0.14, so it seems to be working for them ... right?

Well, while the Rockets score more points per three attempt than they do per two, they are ranked only 17th in the league according to points per possession analysis. This is due to the fact that they are near the bottom of the league in free throw attempts per possession, which is probably a result of spending a lot of time on the perimeter.

Of course, the Suns score the most points per possession and they're just behind the Rockets with 29 percent of their shots coming from behind the line.

If we look back at the percentages, we see that the reason the Rockets are in the plus range is more likely that they're bad from inside the arc (22nd in the league) than good from outside it (10th).

There are only six teams who should be shooting less threes according to this analysis. They are Portland (-.01), New York (-.02), Sacramento (-.03), Milwaukee (-.05), Minnesota (-.06) and Denver (-.06).

Now, Portland (19.8 percent), New York (19.6) and Minnesota (14.8) are all below the league average when it comes to how many of your shots are from downtown. So, give them some credit for knowing that they should be shooting from closer in. But Denver is right at the league average of 21.0 percent, while Milwaukee (21.2) and Sacramento (21.9) are above it.

Note to the Nuggets, Bucks and Kings: Stop chuckin!

Additional Notes:

1. This season's numbers were taken through Wednesday (Jan. 10) and do not include the two games from Thursday. For the record, the Nets and Bulls combined to shoot 46 threes and the Cavs and Suns shot a total of 47.
2. For more on possessions and the basics of modern-day statistical analysis, check out this primer from the Sonics and this one from the Wizards.
3. Possessions are estimated using the math you will find in the two links above. Otherwise, you would need to go through the play-by-play of every game and count them up.

Questions or comments? Send your feedback here.