The three-point shot has become a centerpiece of basketball. Even though shooters typically aren’t as tall, strong or athletic as their peers, they can make just as much (or even more) of an impact on a game, particularly in today’s NBA.
The three-point shot stretches the defense, creating driving lanes for guards, and in recent years we’ve seen a new era of the stretch-four. These days (with a few exceptions) teams want a power forward who can shoot from mid-to-long range. The three-point line can swing games as a player can get hot and knock down several in a row, shifting momentum. That arc can help eliminate deficits in a matter of minutes, making games closer and more exciting. It’s also exhilarating to watch the automatic and effortless accuracy of these sharpshooters.
How do they do their damage? Some players like the corners (some because it’s a shorter shot, some because you can lose your defender if you drift there). Others like the top of the key. Some players like doing their damage off pull-ups, while others would prefer to catch-and-shoot.
Let’s break down how these shooters operate. While our list is in order of made threes so far in 2015-16, it’s not a ranking of the best three-point shooters. It is just about delving into the top shooters who do their damage from deep and seeing how they are so effective. All statistics are through NBA.com and their player tracking software or ESPN, while the shot charts are via StatMuse.
Some usual suspects are missing from this list because they missed time and haven’t been in enough games to make the list. This includes J.J. Redick, Kyle Korver and Kevin Durant.
Redick has only played in 18 games this season for the Los Angeles Clippers, but the sharpshooter is still shooting at an elite level with a 45.2 percentage from deep. He just doesn’t have enough volume to make the list. Redick is a catch-and-shoot specialist, as 33.3 percent of his shots come right off a pass behind the line, where he shoots 48.4 percent. He subscribes to the Ray Allen school of three-point shooters by running all around the court and getting screened by his teammates. He shoots 45.9 percent overall following a screen.
Korver also loves running off screens, where he shoots 50 percent. On the year, he is shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc in 21 games for the Atlanta Hawks. Korver shoots 47.5 percent of his shots on catch-and-shoot three-pointers and makes 41.6 percent of them.
Durant only shoots 21 percent of his shots right off the catch, but converts on 49.1 percent of them. In total, 33.9 percent of his shots are from deep and he converts 45.7 of them for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Durant has only played 15 games so far.
Expect all three of these players to jet up the three-point rankings. By the end of the season, all of them will probably be in the top 10 in three-point makes, barring injury.
Brandon Knight (Phoenix Suns)
Knight looks like he is finally healthy and finding his groove after being traded to Phoenix last season then subsequently sustaining an injury. He is seventh in the league in made threes with 57. As he is being asked to carry the offense more this season, he is averaging more shot attempts overall and more threes, which is why his three-point percentage has dipped to 37.5 percent. Three-pointers make up 37.7 percent of Knight’s shot attempts.
He shoots 40.3 percent off the catch, which accounts for 16.7 percent of his shots – while 20.7 percent of his shots come off of pull-up jumpers from behind the arc, where he converts 34.9 percent.
In terms of where he likes to shoot his three-pointers, his favorite spot seems to be the left wing as seen in the shot chart.
James Harden (Houston Rockets)
Harden shoots 41.9 percent of his shots from behind the line and converts 31.3 percent of them, which is bad for the usual player, but not for someone with his usage. He is a volume scorer who carries the offensive load for the Houston Rockets. With the amount of shots he takes, 8.5 threes a game, it isn’t too surprising he is sixth in the NBA in made threes with 61.
Harden shoots 15.9 percent of his shots as catch-and-shoot threes, where he converts 35.1 percent of them. Everyone knows he likes to isolate his defender and take them one-on-one. He isolates on 29.4 percent of his shots (the highest percentage of all qualified players). On those pull-up jumpers (defined by taking at least one dribble before shooting), Harden takes 24.3 percent of his shots that way from behind the three-point line and makes only 29.2 percent of them. Most good shooters are at their best in catch-and-shoot situations. Harden shoots slightly better when he dribbles seven or more times first. He shoots 34.1 percent off-the-catch and 38.1 percent after seven or more dribbles. He shoots 43.8 percent after two dribbles from three-point range. Weirdly, his percentages go way down (20 percent or lower) when taking either one or between three and six dribbles.
Most often (20.9 percent of his threes), Harden is just open (defined by a defender being 4-6 feet from him), where he shoots 33 percent. He’s slightly better (34.3 percent) when he is being tightly defended (opponent is within two to four feet). Harden seems to favor the right wing for his threes, practically leaving the left wing alone. It makes some sense since he is left-handed.
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Now that Lillard is the marquee player for Portland, his usage rating went way up. His currently has the sixth-highest usage in the league, which is why his three-point efficiency has decreased to 37.4 percent. But due to the high volume, he is fifth in the league in three-pointers made with 67.
This year, 21.3 percent of Lillard’s shots come on pull-up jumpers from deep, where he shoots 32.7 percent. Only 16.5 percent of his shots come right after the catch, but he converts 44.7 percent of them.
Like Harden, Lillard likes to dribble before pulling up on his three-pointers. Only a combined 3.5 percent of the time will he take one or two dribbles before pulling up for a three. However, 7.8 percent of the time, he’ll take three to six dribbles before he shoots, where he converts 41.7 percent of the time. Other times, Lillard will take seven or more dribbles (10 percent of the time) before taking a three, and he makes 37 percent of those.
As for Lillard’s favorite spot to shoot from deep, he tends to like the top of the arc (but just offset to the left).
Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors)
Thompson had a quiet start to the season, but has come on strong lately – including a strong 39-point performance against the Indiana Pacers. Thompson had eight three-pointers in the first half, and if it had been a closer game (giving Thompson enough minutes and reason to shoot more), he probably would have broken the all-time NBA record for three-pointers in a game. He made two more three-pointers that game for a grand total of 10 from behind the line, falling just two short of the record held by both Kobe Bryant and Donyell Marshall.
Thompson is fourth in NBA in made three-pointers with 68. He hardly has the ball in his hands, as only six percent of his shots come from behind the line and in pull-up situations. He shoots 44.4 percent in those situations. His usual shots are off-the-catch, as those make up 42.6 percent of all his shots.
Thompson sure seems to favor both the right and left wings, almost to where the arc turns into the corner three-pointer.
Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
The new Lowry, who seems to have dropped a lot of weight and reinvigorated his career last offseason, is tied with Paul George for second in made three-pointers with 69.
Lowry has really upped his game, averaging more points per game, as well as attempting and making more three-pointers than last year. He’s increased his shooting behind the line by nearly eight percent from a sub par 33.8 percent to an elite 41.8 percent. Three-pointers now account for 46.1 percent of his field goals.
He has a good balance between catch-and-shoot threes (23.5 percent of all his shots) and pull-ups (22.1 percent). Lowry shoots only 32.6 percent on the latter category, but an impressive 52.4 percent on the former.
Lowry definitely favors the top of the key and the area right around there for his three-pointers.
Paul George (Indiana Pacers)
George has come back strong from his gruesome leg injury that occurred with Team USA two offseasons ago. He is carrying that Pacers team and making a case to be the best player in the Eastern Conference not named LeBron James.
He is tied for the second-most made three-pointers in the league in only 20 games (fewer games than anyone else in the top seven) with 69. Three-pointers account for 38.6 percent of George’s shots, and he converts at a 44.8 percent clip. Of those, 20.6 percent are off the catch (where he makes 53.7 percent) and 17.5 percent are pull-ups (where he converts 34.3 percent).
George really can shoot from everywhere around the arc, but his favorite spot seems to be the left wing.
Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)
Curry is in a tier of his own as a shooter. It’s amazing how effortless and efficient he makes knocking down threes look. A bad shot for most any NBA player, and every kid playing in the park, is a good shot for him.
First off is the sheer volume that Curry is making. George and Lowry have 69 makes from behind the arc. Curry has 119 already. He is 50 made threes ahead of the entire league. That’s the same difference between number one and two on the made threes list as between number two (Paul George and Kyle Lowry) and number 116 (Cleveland Cavaliers’ Richard Jefferson and Brooklyn Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic), who currently have 19 made threes. Before Christmas, Curry is already 100 made three-pointers ahead of the average role player.
That’s only a quarter into the season, so his lead is probably going to increase. Keep in mind, he isn’t even playing a lot of fourth quarters. Curry is converting on 46.5 percent of his three-pointers. That is the third-best percentage among qualified players (those on pace to make 82 threes by the end of the season). The two players ahead of him are Kawhi Leonard (50 percent from three) and Doug McDermott (47.6 percent from three). The difference is Leonard and McDermott have attempted 84 and 63 three-pointers respectively — Curry has attempted 256.
Curry loves to pull up for his threes, as that accounts for 29 percent of his offense and he shoots an impressive 41.4 percent on those. He isn’t too bad in the easier off-the-catch shooting, where he shoots a predictably excellent 49.1 percent. He shoots 50 percent from deep when using no dribble or just one dribble.
It almost doesn’t matter how you guard him. Of course, if you leave him wide open (no one within six or more feet), he’ll hit 50.7 percent. If you leave most players, they will regress toward their average, but seemingly not Curry. If you leave him only marginally open (defender within four to six feet) he converts at an elite 43 percent. And if you guard him (defender between two to four feet), he’s even better (46.6 percent). You’d have to basically be standing right next to him to make him an only average (30.8 percent) shooter from behind the arc.
Curry’s shot chart is ridiculous. With Curry, it doesn’t really matter where outside the arc he is shooting from, he’s making it. He is shooting way above average from all around the court. If you had to pick his favorite spot, it would be the left wing and both corners, but he probably doesn’t have a preference.
Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old