Yes, three-point shots are that good

Sacramento Kings v Golden State Warriors

Continuing his anti-stat rhetoric, Doug Smith of Toronto Star had the following to say after the Raptors lost to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night:

We read breathless analysis a week or so ago that the best shot in basketball is a three-pointer and it may be analytically correct.

As lone as someone one makes one every now and then.

After throwing up a 4-17 furball from distance on Wednesday night – that’s an atrocious percentage by any standards – Toronto is now shooting, as a team, 22.8 per cent in its last five games (26-for-114) and 28.6 in its past 10 (59-for-206).

That’s not efficient and no one can possible tell me that it is so if they are going to believe in that “take lots” theories, they might want to mention to the GM that they need people proficient from beyond the arc. Heck, they’d probably settle for marginally good rather than proficient because, right now, they suck.

It is true that the Raptors are not very good at making three point shots and could use some help in that department. But does that mean that the team should stop taking three-point shots?

In their past 10 games the Raptors are indeed making only 28.6% of their three-point shots. But because three-point shots are worth an extra point when they go in, it’s not fair to use simple field-goal percentage to measure three-point accuracy. That’s where Effective Field Goal percentage (eFG%) comes in handy. eFG% is calculated using the following formula:

eFG% = [FGM + 0.5 x 3PM] / FGA

Using the formula, we can see if going 59-206 from three hurts the Raptors:

Type of Shot Made Attempted FG% eFG%
3PT 59 206 28.6% 43.0%
2PT 305 605 50.4% 50.4%
Field Goal 364 811 44.9% 48.5%

As you can see, making 59 of 206 three-point shots is equivalent to hitting 88.5 of 206 (43%) two-point shots. At the same time, the Raptors were shooting 50.4% on their two-point shots. So yes, the Raptors’ bad three-point shooting hurt them. But notice how relatively small the impact was? The eFG% drops from 50.4% (when we only count two-point shots) to 48.5% (when we also count three-point shots). So it’s a relatively small drop. Now don’t get me wrong: shooting efficiency is the single most important factor when it comes to basketball productivity. But watch how quickly eFG% increases when you start making more three-point shots:

Type of Shot Made Attempted FG% eFG%
3PT 59 206 28.6% 43.0%
3PT 60 206 29.1% 43.7%
3PT 61 206 29.6% 44.4%
3PT 62 206 30.1% 45.1%
3PT 63 206 30.6% 45.9%
3PT 64 206 31.1% 46.6%
3PT 65 206 31.6% 47.3%
3PT 66 206 32.0% 48.1%
3PT 67 206 32.5% 48.8%
3PT 68 206 33.0% 49.5%
3PT 69 206 33.5% 50.2%

Had the Raptors made a mere ten more three pointers, they’d have broken even. While this proves how bad their shooting has been, it also proves how important three pointers are. And it’s likely the Raptors have simply been on a cold streak, in the last 10 years only 38 of 296 teams have failed to hit the required mark from three that would have kept the Raptors “good from three”.

Let’s even follow up on this analysis for the whole league. Are there any teams hurting their efficiency with their three point shooting? It turns out only two teams fit this mold: the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Timberwolves!

Denver shoots 34% from the arc, which is ranked 24th in the league. Their real problem is they are efficient from two. They shoot 51.4% from two point range, which is good for fourth in the league. Their three point shooting isn’t actually hurting them (although, Dre would love for it to improve!), it’s just not as good as their two point shooting.

Minnesota is another story. They cannot hit from deep. At 30%, they are the worst team from deep. It doesn’t help that Kevin Love has missed over fifty games this season.

The Raptors have been hurting themselves from deep during the recent stretch. Over the season though, their three point shooting has helped. Unless you are a team crippled by injuries like the Wolves, it is simply bad business to stop shooting threes because of a cold streak. Three pointers are crucial to the modern game. Teams are still catching on, so Doug Smith’s chatter might still be taken seriously. That said, the end message we have is simple: keep shooting from three, it’s worth it!

– Devin

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