Mapping the NBA: To Live and Die By the Three
But not all teams follow the Book of Tré, and some who do should not. That's the purpose of this mapping project: which teams shoot more three-pointers than they ought to, and which teams would do well to take more?
To sort it out, I used Basketball-Reference.com to get data on three-pointer efficiency and frequency. Efficiency is simply three-point field goal percentage: makes divided by attempts. For frequency, I calculated what percentage of each team's shots were used by three-pointers. We should recognize that free throws are also shots, but we obviously need to adjust the raw free throw attempts numbers to account for two-shot fouls, technical foul shots, and "and-1s." The NBA rule of thumb is to multiple FTAs by 0.44 to get the most accurate estimate of shooting possessions consumed by free throws. In essence, every 2-1/4 FTAs counts as a shot.
Here's our map.
The x axis represents efficency, with teams toward the left shooting poorly from long range, and teams toward the right shooting well. The y axis is frequency, with teams toward the top taking a higher share of shots from long range, and teams toward the bottom taking threes less frequently.
What screams out to me is how sensible everyone looks in total: you can clearly see a positive relationship between efficiency and frequency, which is how it should be. If you shoot threes well, you should take many of them. If you shoot threes poorly, stop taking so many. For the most part, these teams know their place.
There's one rather glaring exception: the Knicks, who take more shots from beyond the arc than any team but Orlando, but who rank 20th in the league in three-point field goal percentage. Do you wonder why New York's offense is so bad this season? This is a good start on the path to enlightenment. The personnel and the style of play do not mesh. At all.
A few teams ought to follow the Grizzlies' lead. Memphis shoots terribly from long range -- 28.6 percent on the season -- so the Grizz rarely take the longball, registering the smallest share of three-pointers in the league at 11.6 percent of all shots. Utah pulls the same strategy ... all while shooting better than league average. But Utah's method isn't something you'd really want to tweak: only the Jazzmen who can shoot (Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver, really) do shoot. That's a smart way to play offense.
I was fully prepared to make a "ya think Chicago misses Ben Gordon?" point, but then Detroit hasn't really benefitted much from the gunner's arrival, so I ought to just shut up while I'm ahead (provided that I am, in fact, ahead). It should be noted that Phoenix and Cleveland have shot so ridiculously well from the perimeter that I feel like a fool for not waving an orange flag and swearing they'll return from the moon. The Suns have been a monument to shooting excellence, and I hope I never have to lay down flowers at its base.
* NBA players actually shot the three-pointer better last year than this season, but that's seen as a blip that will be erased by April. Most offensive categories improve leaguewide as the season rolls on, likely due to new teammate/system assimilation, early season rust and the occurrence of more suspensions being served at the start of the year.