The most common way to evaluate three-point shooting is to simply look at the percentage of shots made from beyond the arc. You might also note their volume to contextualize the player’s 3P%. Shooting analysis rarely delves any deeper than this.
Of course, this is an extremely oversimplified way of assessing jump shooting performances. I tried to add more context to overall shooting splits with XeFG%, but it isn’t a very useful tool for comparing different types of three-point shooters. While it accounts for how open a shooter is, it isn’t able to factor many other factors which impact the probability for a successful shot: type of shot (catch-and-shoot vs pull-up), touch time, number of dribbles, etc.
I wanted to look into some of these other variables, so this series will cover that. Today, we’ll start by analyzing catch-and-shoot and pull-up shots.
A catch-and-shoot shot is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a shot in which a player catches a pass and shoots the ball without dribbling or waiting. A pull-up shot is one in which a player shoots the ball directly off of a dribble. (Sidenote: A shot can fall into neither category if, for instance, a player catches a pass and then waits before shooting it while also not dribbling. For the sake of simplicity, though, we’ll stick to these two types of shots in this exercise.)
A catch-and-shoot shot is generally more efficient than a pull-up shot. Over the past six years (since the data began to be tracked in the 2013-14 season), players have hit 37.11% of C&S three-pointers while maintaining a meager 31.65% success rate on pull-up three-pointers. That’s a significant difference, but it’s not very surprising. Think about it: players are more likely to shoot the ball immediately when they’re open and have good positioning, while they would usually dribble the ball if they need to create space. (I also feel like it’s naturally easier to shoot the ball after catching a pass than it is off of a dribble, but that’s completely anecdotal.)
Fortunately, teams aren’t stupid. It’s common knowledge that catch-and-shoot shots are more efficient, so teams attempt them more than pull-ups. Simple enough. Over the same six-year span, 73.12% of all three-pointers were of the catch-and-shoot variety.
The interesting thing is that this frequency is on the decline.
While over two-thirds of three-pointers are categorized as C&S shots, the frequency of these shots has been dwindling over the past six years. The decrease was very steady between the 2013-14 and 2016-17 seasons, but it has taken a steep nosedive over the past two years.
In addition to this frequency change in the type of three-pointer attempted, teams are shooting three-pointers more often in general. Approximately seventy percent of the 2018-19 season is complete and there have already been more three-point attempts than the entire 2014-15 season. If we look at the amount of three-point attempts per game over the past 10 years, the trend is very obvious.
We’ve become accustomed to having the record for the most single-season three-point attempts broken on an annual basis. In addition to this astronomical change, though, we’re recently experiencing the aforementioned shift in frequency for the two primary types of three-point shots.
In other words, teams are shooting three-pointers at an all-time high volume while shooting these shots off the dribble at the highest frequency we’ve ever recorded.
If you like smash-mouth basketball, you probably hate the modern NBA. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better for you either.
Fortunately, while this is obviously a dramatic shift in gameplay, shooting efficiency isn’t being negatively impacted. It may seem like players are just chucking up bad shots, but they’re getting better at these types of shots. This sounds contradictory — I previously mentioned that C&S threes are more efficient than pull-up threes, so if the NBA is shooting C&S less often than before, shouldn’t league-wide 3P% be down? Well, it is, but not by a significant amount. In fact, it will probably rebound if the current trend in shooting splits continues:
Alright, this may not look like anything interesting at first glance. However, upon closer examination, you may notice that the gap between the league-wide C&S 3P% and Pull-Up 3P% appears to be closing. The decrease in catch-and-shoot 3P% is probably just an anomaly (after all, this is a small sample size — not even a full season), but it makes sense that players would be improving at shooting off of the dribble. I think it’s reasonable to expect the league-wide pull-up three-point percentage to continue to increase. Players are shooting this shot more often than ever before. Naturally, they’ll practice it more often as well. I think there won’t be any significant chance in catch-and-shoot shooting efficiency. It has slightly fluctuated over the past six years and I expect that to continue. I could be missing something, but I don’t see a reason for the league to get worse at this shot. As I said, this season is probably an anomaly in that regard.
We’ll have to wait longer to see any conclusive results, but it’s clear that there’s a very significant three-point revolution taking place in the NBA which goes deeper than mere volume.
That’s all we have for Part I of this series. Subscribe to the site’s weekly newsletter to easily keep up with this series along with all of the other content on The Spax.