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How the NBA’s Top Shooters Do Their Damage

Eric Saar takes a look at how the top three-point shooters in the NBA do their damage.

Eric Saar

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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.

Based in Arizona, Eric Saar is an analyst for Basketball Insiders. He has covered the league for several years. He loves to converse about the NBA on Twitter, so follow him at @Eric_Saar. Eric graduated with honors from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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NBA AM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch

Will we see Rudy Gobert win another Defensive Player of the Year Award? Or will we have a new winner this year?

Dylan Thayer

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In the fourth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Rankings, Basketball Insiders continues to look at the players excelling on the defensive side of the ball. The Utah Jazz continues to be a powerhouse in the Western Conference amidst a surprising season, and they will still be well represented in these rankings. But there’s another newcomer to the list, an MVP-caliber player looking to lead his team to the NBA Finals. Ready to take look at the rankings? Let’s get into it.

1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 2)

The 28-year-old center out of France is one of the best defensive big men the game has seen in recent years – and this year is another example of that as Gobert has been the anchor of the best team in the NBA. Better, he has been a vital piece to their unanticipated success by taking part in all 35 of the Jazz games thus far.

Looking at Gobert’s numbers, he is still second in the league in blocks with 2.8 blocks per game, trailing only Myles Turner in that category.  Gobert has had three or more blocks in 18 games, even reaching four in 12 of them. 

In the defensive rating category, Gobert ranks third in the league with a rating of 103.0, per NBA Advanced Stats. This number is just enough behind Lebron James at 102.6 and teammate Mike Conley, who leads the NBA with a rating of 100.8. These three players are also in the top three for defensive win shares, with Gobert sitting in third with a DWS of 0.154. Gobert should be the current frontrunner as he has led the best team in the NBA on defense through the first half of the season. 

2. LeBron James (Previous: 4)

As a reminder, LeBron James has not made an All-Defensive Team since 2014. How about breaking that streak with a DPotY award as well? He very well could.

Without Anthony Davis, James is unarguably the tone-setter for the defense. The Los Angeles Lakers’ victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Feb. 26 is a prime example of this. During that contest, James had 3 blocks and 4 steals as the Lakers won by 9. Furthermore, James has managed to average 1 block and 1.3 steals per game since the injury to Davis.

Notably, James ranks in the top three in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. James is just behind Conley in defensive rating at 102.6 compared to Conley’s 100.8 rating. Keep an eye on James’s defensive impact for the defending champs as the season continues to unfold.

3. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)

Embiid has been very neglected on this list, but now is the time for him to make his appearance. Yes, it is very high for a player to debut on this list, but he’s been on a tear as of late. 

In his career-high night on Feb. 19, Embiid went off for 50 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in a matchup with the Chicago Bulls. This is the game that put the league on notice of Embiid’s brilliant season, both offensively and defensively, as he leads the first-place Philadelphia 76ers. As things stand right now, he’s averaging 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.

Taking a deeper dive into Embiid’s floor presence is what makes him stand out. He’s 13th in the NBA in defensive rating at 106.6. He also ranks 10th in defensive win shares with 0.131, per NBA Advanced Stats. The coaching change in Philadelphia has allowed Embiid to run the Sixers’ offense and, as things stand right now, he’s certainly in both the MVP and DPotY conversation. 

4. Mike Conley (Previous: 1)

Since an extended absence, Conley returned to make an instant impact in the Jazz lineup, averaging 2.0 steals over his last five games. The unexpected success has been due in large part to Conley’s improved play. Of course, Conley is high up on this year’s All-Star snub list, but his significant individual improvements won’t go unnoticed here.

Conley is currently tied for third in the league in steals per game at 1.5. He is also first in defensive rating with a rating of 100.8. Beyond that, he then ranks second in defensive win shares with 0.168. Without Conley, it’s hard to see the Jazz having the success they’ve enjoyed this year. Watch out for him as the season approaches the midpoint as he tries to become the first guard to win the award since Gary Payton during the 1995-96 season. 

5. Myles Turner (Previous: 3)

Despite a slip in the standings for the Indiana Pacers, Myles Turner has been a very bright spot for the team defensively. He leads the league in blocks with 3.4 per game and has a pretty sizeable lead over Gobert in that category. Add in the fact that he is averaging 1.1 steals per game, it’s easy to see why Turner is so high in these rankings.

If the Pacers can manage to get things back in order amidst a sub-.500 record thus far, Turner could rise into the upper part of these rankings again.

Honorable Mention: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: N/A)

While voter fatigue may hinder the chance of Giannis earning his second consecutive DPotY award, he should be in the conversation again. The Milwaukee Bucks are amongst the top three in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks to the stellar defensive play from the two-time MVP. 

It will be interesting to see where he finishes in the voting after the season’s end. Maybe he gets this award for a second-straight year, while the voter fatigue towards him takes place in the MVP ballots.

While these rankings have gotten competitive as of late, there’s still plenty of time for rising and falling in Basketball Insiders’ weekly Defensive Player of the Year rundown.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are Good Now?

The Washington Wizards went from 5-15 to 13-18 out of nowhere. Much improved from their early-season play they make a run? Dylan Thayer examines.

Dylan Thayer

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After the swap of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, the Washington Wizards did not look like they were going to be a playoff team. 20 games into the season, the team found themselves at 5-15 with trade rumors constantly buzzing. At one point, they even had the worst record in the NBA, while looked like a trade of Westbrook, Bradley Beal or even both was a certainty with the team was set to pivot into a true rebuild.

Now, all of a sudden, Washington has the look of a team that could make the postseason play-in game. 8-5 in their last 13 with wins over the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers, the Wizards have started to climb the conference, now just 2.5 games back on the Charlotte Hornets for the East’s eighth seed.

But what’s changed? Let’s take a step back and look at what exactly made them start the season out so slowly.

Early in the year, the former MVP Westbrook was playing through a left quad injury. He wasn’t nearly explosive with the ball as he’s always been, settling for low-percentage jumpers and outside shots, perhaps the biggest weakness in his game. Between the injury and COVID-19 postponements, Westbrook and many other Wizards were away from the court for a significant time — the whole team was in flux.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, the team took the floor in Boston and destroyed the Celtics; the 104-91 final doesn’t truly reflect that, but at one point the Wizards led by as many as 25. A national game beatdown, their play led into the best stretch the Wizards have seen this season.

Westbrook, over his injury, looked like his former explosive self. He’s posted six triple-doubles since, while he came within a point or assist of doing so in three other contests. And, back on the court, the entire team was also able to spend some time together, which allowed them to further jell as a unit and build some momentum toward future games.

It was a surprise when Beal came out and said he did not want to be traded from Washington, with more than a few curious as to how the NBA’s leading scorer could be satisfied with such subpar play from the rest of his roster. But he “shared a consistent viewpoint” with the team, according to Shams Charania, as to what they have done to build around him. The Wizards’ clear leader, Beal has signaled he’s in it for the long-haul, while additions like Westbrook should only serve to solidify that commitment.

Beyond their two stars, the Wizards roster has also stepped up in their most recent stretch. Sophomore Rui Hachimura has proven capable alongside the star-duo in the first unit, while Robin Lopez has stepped up in the absence of Thomas Bryant, who was lost for the season to a torn ACL. Deni Avdija and Garrison Matthews have both flashed as well, with Matthews shooting 41.3 percent from three and even earning a starting role.

If they can sustain their recent success, Washington could easily make the postseason in an underwhelming Eastern Conference. In fact, the tightly-packed nature of the East — while they’re 2.5 games behind Charlotte, just four games separate the Wizards and the fourth seed Celtics — should only serve to benefit Washington in their quest for their first postseason berth since the 2017-18 season. And, if the Wizards want to bolster their team for a playoff run and look to buy at the deadline, they certainly have the pieces to make some interesting moves. With most of their draft capital for the foreseeable future, along with some interesting contracts they could flip for more win-now type players, anything could happen.

The Beal-Westbrook, while it started rough, has not nearly been as bad as most people would think. For the team, the 2020-21 season has proven more promising than they may have thought and, if they can continue to elevate their game, don’t be shocked to see the Wizards on the big stage come May.

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