Three-Point Explosion + Who’s Responsible

It’s 2017. The world is changing. Teleportation is common place. We have established a colony on Mars. The Cleveland Browns are no longer the worst franchise in sports.

Okay, maybe the world isn’t changing; and maybe none of those things have actually happened. However, 2017 has brought some critical changes to the sport of basketball. Most noteworthy of all of these changes is the massive increase of three-point shooting in basketball. Teams everywhere are encouraged to run up and down the floor as much as possible while spacing several shooters out along the three-point line in order to get open shots. Certainly there must be a reason behind this new trend. Just how and why has the game of basketball changed so much since the post heavy days of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’neal?

February 27, 2016, Chesapeake Energy Arena

Golden State is going head to head with fellow Western Conference giants Oklahoma City. Chesapeake Energy Arena is buzzing as the game goes into overtime.

The “Steph Curry Effect”

That’s when Steph Curry took over. He hit the game winner from way downtown to lift the Warriors over the Thunder. Curry ended the game with 46 points and 12-16 from three. That is 75%. This phenomenon is known as the “Steph Curry Effect”.

What exactly is the “Steph Curry Effect”? Let’s review. The 2015-16 NBA season saw basketball’s popularity rise, especially among the younger generation. Why? Steph Curry. Curry’s nonchalant, three-point centric playing style was sweeping the nation. Kids everywhere were trying to emulate the superstar. Little Timmy stopped working on his lay-ups and his midrange jump shot, instead opting to move back and begin practicing his three-point shot. Coaches even began to adjust their style of play to reflect the three-point explosion. Instead of encouraging their players to get to the rim, many coaches now instruct their players to utilize proper spacing along the three-point line opening up more shots. This allows for the maximum amount of points in every possession. After all, three points is more than two.

The NBA has seemingly followed this logic. The league’s average 3-point attempts per-game in the 2016-17 season has risen over 11% from the previous season. Which in turn rose 7.5% over the year before. Since the year 2000, the NBA’s average number of 3-point attempts per game has risen by over 95%. Now it would be ridiculous to give Stephen Curry all the credit for raising this number. No one singlehandedly could possibly be responsible for over 95% of growth. So, if we can’t attribute basketball’s new favorite thing entirely to Steph Curry, what are some other factors that have been helping to change the game?

September 9, 2011, A Movie Theatre Near You

The popcorn is ready and the previews have finally ended. At last, the movie is about to begin. What movie exactly? Moneyball; the movie chronicling Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s innovative pioneering of analytics in baseball. Never before had math, statistics, and data analyzation been so important in sports. 

Daryl Morey and the Rise of Analytics

How does Moneyball relate to the three-point explosion basketball is experiencing? Analytics.

Ever since being hired as the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey hasn’t been interested in keeping the status quo. Before being hired as the Rocket’s general manager, Morey was a statistical consultant for the company STATS Inc. STATS revolutionized the world of sports and was the inspiration behind the book (and later the movie) Moneyball. Using his power as an NBA general manager, Morey has certainly put his stamp on the league, and he has made the Houston Rockets the most analytically minded team in the entire league.

Daryl Morey has truly led the NBA into the “land of analytics” from which there can be no turning back. More and more teams are hiring analytics experts to give them an edge. Many teams are putting less stock into the “eye test”, instead opting to analyze complicated sets of data strings that provide information about various players. There can be no question that analytics have greatly enhanced the scouting process that many NBA and college teams undergo. Now, teams can use a combination of in-person scouting and analytics data to garner more information than ever before.

Now that we’ve seen how analytics have filtered their way into the NBA, what exactly do they have to do with everybody’s favorite new fad? The connection can be explained with one single, simple analytic. It is called Expected Value. Here is a brief explanation:

In the current 2016-17 NBA season, the league averaged 49.8% on all shots inside the arc. As a second statistic, the league has been shooting an average of 35.9% percent from three. In order to calculate expected value, the equation would be as follows:

(percentage) * (value of shot) = (expected value),

Here is the equation for the expected value on a two-point shot this season:

(.498) * (2) = (.996)

Let’s compare that number (.996), with the expected value of a three-point shot:

(.359) * (3) = (1.077)

This season, the three-point shot’s expected value is over 8% greater than that of the two-point shot! Teams now have an accurate metric in order to weigh the value and risk of a two-point shot versus a three pointer.

December 26, 2016

Chino Hills High School is dominating their opposition once again on their way to winning their 47th straight game. Late in the game, the Huskies’ sophomore point guard pulls up from half court. Half court. Swish; nothing but net.

Chino Hills

Chino Hills Varsity Boys Basketball is red hot – like piping red hot. While the California high school is most famous for producing the Ball brothers, including Lonzo Ball, the current UCLA star freshman, Chino Hills is doing some pretty remarkable things on the court. The Huskies haven’t lost a game in the last two seasons. Chino Hills is on a 58 game winning streak; on this streak, they’ve dropped over 100 points 31 times. That’s an insane figure. In 2015-16, they averaged 97.9 points per game and attempted a total of 852 three-point attempts. For comparison, that is 24.3 attempts per game (with drastically shorter quarters), only two fewer than the average NBA team takes.

The Huskies are getting national recognition due to the high quality of their players and the potency of their offense. So why on earth is a high school team throwing up so many three-pointers? Because Chino Hills, and many other high school teams, realize the expected value of the three-point shot. A team that is so reliant on three-point shots that they will shoot it from half-court? There cannot possibly be a better example of three-point reliance. People are jumping on to the Chino Hills bandwagon and they are doing it for only one reason: threes.

An Influential Trio

What do Daryl Morey, Stephen Curry, and Chino Hills all have in common? Influence. Daryl Morey put the emphasis on the three-point shot; his team is shooting nearly 50% more three pointers (39.5) than the league average (26.8). Steph Curry made it cool; nobody was able to catch America’s attention as quickly as Stephen Curry and the Warriors did in 2015-16. Chino Hills has put it into practice in the high school scene. Never before have we seen so much attention given to one single element of the game of basketball.

Who knows how long Daryl Morey will be an NBA general manager, or how long Steph Curry will be able to sustain his level of play, or how long Chino Hills will continue to dominate the high school scene. One thing is for certain: the three-point barrage is here to stay.

 

(Statistics accurate as of February 3, 2017)