Numbers to Know: 25.8%


Oct 15, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy calls out to his team during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena. Pistons win 104-84. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

With the Opening Night just around the corner, Nylon Calculus is previewing the upcoming season by taking you through some of the most important numbers to know, numbers that help tell stories about players, teams and league-wide trends.

The game of basketball is always evolving. Perhaps the biggest strategic shift of the past few seasons is the increase in three-point attempts. The simple fact that three is bigger than two, coupled with the increase in spacing a team gets from having capable outside shooters has made three point shooting a centerpiece of the offensive strategy of most teams.

Last season 25.8% of all shot attempts were three-point attempts, the highest in NBA history, surpassing the previous high of 24.1% from the 2012-13 season. The jump in the proportion of three-point attempts of 1.7 percentage points was the biggest jump from one season to the next since 1997-98. As you can see from the graph below there was a slow, steady increase in the proportion of 3 point attempts starting around 2000-01 season but that seemed to have stagnated up until the last three seasons when 3 point attempts started rising again.

Also noticeable is that this increase has mostly come from above the break three-pointerss. Last year was the first year where there were more above the break three-point attempts than 16+ foot two-point jump shots. It appears as though teams are realizing rather than taking an 18-foot jumper, it’s better for most players to take a step or two back behind the three-point line before shooting.

One might wonder if this increase in the proportion of three-point attempts in the last few years is because teams are forcing up more three-pointers or if they are finding more ways to generate them within the context of their offense. If they are forcing up more three-pointers, we would expect  three-point percentage to drop. This has not been the case as three-point percentage in the past few seasons has hovered around 35-36% and last two seasons were among the highest in league history. So not only are teams taking more threes but they also seem to be getting better at making them. From this it would be reasonable to think that teams are still getting better at generating good looks from behind the three-point line. Until defenses can find a way to stop this we should expect the trend of increasing three-point attempts to continue.

The return of Stan Van Gundy could play a small part in increasing the league-wide three-point attempt ratio this season. When he took over in Orlando no team had ever had taken 30% of their shots from behind the three-point line. Since then, 14 teams have done it and five of them were coached by Van Gundy. Detroit was near the bottom of the league last season at 21.8% and although the Piston’s roster isn’t as suited to shooting a lot of threes as Van Gundy’s Magic teams, I would expect their three-point ratio to increase under their new coach. Going in to last night’s game 28.7% of their shots in the preseason have been three-pointers.

On the other end of the spectrum, this preseason Byron Scott has tried to get the Lakers to go in the opposite direction. Last year nearly 29% of the Laker’s shot attempts were three-pointers. Only 11% of the Laker’s shots this preseason have been three-pointers. The last time a team had a three-point attempt ratio that low for a single season was 2002-2003. Even with the Lakers being so low, if the preseason is any indication, the 2014-15 season will see an even higher proportion of three-point attempts. Up until last night’s games, over 27% of shot attempts this preseason have been three-pointers.