The Increasingly Popular Deep Three-Point Shot

Brett Davis – USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, the frequency of three-point attempts is at an all-time high. Earlier this week, I posted an article analyzing this ongoing three-point revolution. In this article, I want to look at one specific aspect of this recent movement — the increasing frequency of long three-point shots.

Imagine showing this clip to somebody fifteen years ago. With ten minutes left in the quarter and twenty seconds on the shot clock, a player pulls up without hesitation from 35-feet out. Lillard takes (and makes) shots like these so often that he’s earned the nickname ‘Logo Lillard,’ referring to the shots he takes near the mid-court logo.

Lillard’s certainly not the only player taking deeper 3-pointers than ever before. It’s a league-wide trend. Trae Young hit 25 shots from at least 30 feet away from the basket last season. The entire NBA made just 20 such shots in the 2001 season.

Of course, it’s been a league-wide trend to shoot more 3-pointers in general, However, comparing the increase in 30-footers to the increase in overall 3-pointers demonstrates that there’s a difference between the two.

It is not surprising that there’s been an increase in the frequency of shot attempts greater than 30 feet from the basket. It’s the extent of the increase that comes as a surprise. It makes sense, though.

In 2019, there were 664 total attempts from at least 30 feet away from the basket. 205 of these attempts were successful, meaning the shot was worth approximately 0.93 points per shot. Compare this to two-pointers that aren’t shot near the rim:

Based on percentages, it’s more efficient to shoot 30+ foot bombs than it is to shoot two-pointers away from the basket. Think about that for a second. Here’s another way to visualize it (credit to Kirks Goldberry).

It would be a bit disingenuous to make a direct comparison between mid-range jumpers and deep 3-pointers without some nuance, though. After all, a 30+ foot bomb is more situational than elbow jumpers. It’s based more on what the defense is giving you. In the clip at the top of this article, Lillard chooses to pull the trigger because nobody is coming up to guard him. They’re not respecting his range. If they did, though, a contested shot from that far would not be good shot selection. Meanwhile, players routinely shoot contested mid-range jumpers which they create off of the dribble. They’re not exactly shooting them because the defense leaves them open. In other words, I theorize that shot contest has a greater effect on jump shots at greater distances.

Let’s look at some of the numbers to see if my theory is plausible. Last season, NBA players hit 42.3% of their open (nearest defender 4+ feet away) mid-range jumpers — that’s 0.85 points per shot. Meanwhile, they hit 36.6% of their open 3-pointers, which is good for 1.10 points per shot. That’s a difference of 0.25 PPS. When a mid-range jumper is tightly contested, though, the PPS drops to 0.74. Tightly contested 3-pointers were worth 0.88 PPS. While the contested 3-pointers were more efficient than open mid-range jumpers, shot contest did have a bigger impact on PPS for 3-pointers than for mid-range jumpers. Remember that this stat lumps all 3-pointers together. For 30+ foot shot attempts, I would imagine that the effect is even more severe.

Back to the point, though. We’ve established that deep 3-pointers, like all 3-pointers, are efficient. They are more efficient than mid-range jumpers. It’s one very good reason to take more of these shots. I have an idea for a second reason: misses on deep 3-pointers are more likely to result in offensive rebounds than other shots.

Think about it. If you a miss a point blank layup, the ball isn’t going to go very far. If you miss a 3-pointer, it certainly might. ‘Long rebounds’ in the NBA have become more and more common because 3-pointers are shot more and more frequently. Maybe this is correlated with a higher offensive rebound percentage because if the defense boxes out properly, the ball will be more likely to go over their heads. I analyzed a play-by-play data set from the 2018-19 season to test this hypothesis.

Nope. There does not seem to be a significant increase in the probability for an offensive rebound on longer three-pointers. A more sophisticated study could be done, but the preliminary results do not support my hypothesis.

Well, the ‘efficiency’ reasoning for the increase in deep three-point attempts is still valid. I’ll go ahead and wrap this article up by plotting every player who has attempted a 30+ foot shot since the 2001 season.

Steph and Dame are in a tier of their own in terms of how often they shoot 30-footers (although Trae will be there soon … he’s 21-years-old). Kobe, Harden, and LeBron have below average efficiency on these types of shots. It’s not as bad as some of the players who couldn’t be shown here due to space, though. John Wall is 2-21 in his career on these shots. Kevin Durant has hit 3 of 27. Jrue Holiday has the most attempts (10) without a make. Seth Curry has the most makes without a miss (4). And here’s the best for last: Devin Booker has the lowest non-zero percentage for any player with just 1 make on 23 attempts. Yeah. Ouch. Remember, end of quarter heaves were not counted in any of the stats in this article. It’s just as bad as it sounds.

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Takashi Sugiyama

Dear Ahmed Cheema

I read your article, the Increasingly Popular Deep Three-Point Shot, published on December 14th, 2019.
I’m interested in this article.
Now I’m writing a review article about the change of direction speed in basketball players.
Could you give me permission to use a figure of your article, the 30 ft shots attempted by year, in my study as a cited figure?

best regards,

Takashi Sugiyama, form Japan