Is the Three-Point Shot Overrated?

When Steph Curry and Klay Thompson led the Warriors to the NBA’s holy grail, the 3-point shot became THE next big thing in the world of basketball. Suddenly, players were taking more shots from the rainbow territory.

Steph and Klay – the Splash Brothers – made the 3-pt shot more fashionable in the cage kingdom. (Sporting News)

Indeed, the 3-point shot has become more and more popular in today’s game. In the NBA this season, teams are shooting a record number of treys. In some instances, the 3-pointer has become the first option for the offense. This tells us that more and more players, including centers who used to strictly roam the shaded lanes, are making good use of the 3-point bomb. In fact, since 2007, point guards and wingmen have dominated the NBA MVP Awards, with the likes of Lebron James, James Harden, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant displaying their 3-point artillery range as a highlight of their offensive arsenal. It looks like the shot is poised to dominate the sport.

However, many cage oldtimers lament this big-time obsession for the three and its impact on the next generation of players. The venerable coach Greg Popovich has openly criticized the 3-point basket. In a recent interview, he noted the growing emphasis on the shot, and how it has altered basic coaching doctrines. There being a seeming obsession for the long range shot, Coach Pop has sarcastically suggested the creation of a 4-point and even a 5-point line.

Spurs Coach Greg Popovich laments how the game has evolved from a big man’s game to its present form. (Yahoo! Sports)

But has the 3-point shot really taken over as the main ingredient that will spell a team’s victory or defeat in today’s game? Has it now overshadowed other factors as the lynchpin to a team’s success?

Lucky for us, today’s game is now scrutinized more intensely. With the help of advanced analytics, games are broken down to determine what exactly led to the wins or losses. Hence, team statisticians and researchers can identify even the smallest blips – the extra pass, the missed switch, or even the wrong roll – that led to a win or a loss.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) does it all for the Milwaukee Bucks. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY)

Using the results of the games already played in the present NBA season, we can pinpoint which statistics more often identify with the win column. By identifying these statistics, we draw coaches’ attention to the main ingredients they should pay attention to in preparing their teams.

And which present-season statistics clearly identify with the win column? Based on research commissioned by Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports recently, topping the list as the stat most likely to produce a win is none other than……. (drum rolls please)…. Field Goal Percentage (FG%)! This tells us that the team that owns the better FG% has won 78.1% of the time in the present NBA season. Simply put, it means that better shooting will give you better chances for winning.

Klay Thompson’s FG% is one of the main factors that has propelled the Warriors to the top of the charts. (USA Today)

The next statistic that has produced the most number of wins is Defensive Rebounding (DR). The team that wins the Defensive Rebound battles has won 76% of its games.

Andre Drummond’s rebounding has led Detroit’s march up the ranks, despite the lack of superior firepower. (NBA.com)

This was followed by the Field Goals (FG) stats. The team that had more field goals attempted (this must be differentiated from Field Goal Percentage) won 75.8% of the time. This was followed by the 3-Pt Field Goal Percentage (3FG%) with 74.6% chance of winning. We also noted that Assists (69.9%), Total Rebounds (69%) and 2-Pt Field Goal Percentage (68.9%) submitted far more impressive numbers. Finally, we found the 3-Pt Field Goal (3FG) with 64% chance of winning.

True. Our statistics for 3FG produced more victories than collecting more Turnovers (58.4%), making more Blocks (58.5%) or Steals (57.6%). But winning the 3-Pt Field goal battles is certainly not the highlight figure that will lead to victory. Better overall shooting, better rebounding, more assists produced more W’s than 3-Point Scoring. By a huge margin too!

Kyle Lowry provides great assists and leadership for the Raptors. (USA Today)

Which brings us to conclude that winning the 3-Point battle is not the main event in the game after all. Case in point: James Harden and the dreaded snipers of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets posted far more 3s than the Golden State Warriors last year. This year they are once again leading the 3FG conversions, topping their opponents in 3FGs in an impressive 18 out of their first 23 games. But why aren’t they as high up the standings as they were expected? In a game early this season, they outscored the LA Clippers by a whopping 10 more treys, and still lost the game!

James Harden and the Rockets remain simply respectable at 5th in the Western Conference race. (Sporting News)

This year’s top teams are the defending champs Golden State Warriors, the retooled Toronto Raptors, the surprising Denver Nuggets, and the youthful Milwaukee Bucks. The Warriors and the Raptors lead in the FG% department, the Nuggets have been showcasing their Defensive prowess, while the Bucks lead the Rebounds department, which not surprisingly, provides them more shot attempts. So there you have it.

The game used to be dominated by big men like George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neil, all of whom made their presence felt in the shaded lane. Not anymore. The altitude level went south a bit. We had Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James. Today, we have the likes of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and James Harden – non-centers all – crowding Lebron for the centerstage. Among their arsenal of weapons is the 3-pt bomb.

The sensational Steph Curry fires away… (Sports Illustrated)

But is the shot the end-all-be-all of the game? Not so, our stats still say. As you can see, today’s key players have mutated into positionless specimen capable of doing it all; from bringing the ball up, to filling the wings, to posting up like a biggie to rebounding to defending just about anyone.

So to our budding coaches out there; to our young cagers aspiring to make it to the big-times; it’s no longer enough to learn a specific position to the hilt. More and more players are deciding to ‘slide-down’ to the lower positions. More players are learning to be flexible and innovative, and are adjusting accordingly to the new trends. More players are realizing the need to be more well-rounded in order to excel.

Indeed, the evolution of basketball continues.

(Photos courtesy of USA Today, Yahoo! Sports, SB Nation, Sixers Wire, Celtics Wire and Space City Scoop)

For more entertaining NBA articles, read:

The Empire Strikes Back

Changing the Game of Hoops

Golden State’s Small-Ball in Business

The Fascinating Evolution of Basketball

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