In today’s NBA, basketball is played noticeably differently then how it was decades ago — even ten years ago. When discussing the changes in our beloved game, many factors come into play, not the least of which is the advanced statistics phenomenon.
Recently, thanks to some very brilliant minds, teams and fans alike have begun to dive headlong into APBRmetrics (acronym for Association for Professional Basketball Research Metrics), only to discover that it’s less of a pool than an enormous ocean. To go more in-depth here would be deviating from my point, but one favorite of the advanced statistics community is efficiency, and this has caused a reformation in the NBA among the teams’ use of the three-point shot.
The Knicks in particular have taken it to an entirely new threshold this season.
When siphoning through the statistics, the aforementioned three-point escalation becomes obvious. The league average for total three-point attempts in this 2013 season was 1636. Compare this to previous marks:
- 2003: 1204
- 1993: 734
- 1983: 185
These are severely sharp rises, even when you consider rule changes such as the defensive three seconds call and the allowance of zone defense. With teams becoming more three-point dependent, the question becomes, “to three, or not to three?”
Our question: Are teams that base their offense around the three-pointer likely to win more? This is a pivotal question, particularly when you consider that our 2012-2013 New York Knicks have attempted more treys this season than any one team in league history.
Efficiency-wise, the three-point look from the corner is the second-most efficient field goal attempt in the game, the third being a three outside of the corner. To explore if there would be a correlation between three-point attempts and winning, I charted out the winning percentage and the percentage of field goal attempts that were threes adjusted for pace of each team in the league, per NBA Stats:
Although it’s a bit subtle, you can see the common decline between winning percentage and three-pointers attempted in an offense. Notice, aside from the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls (two outliers, both winning with great defense and mediocre offense), the top teams are in the mid-to-high 20’s in three-pointers attempted percentage. Meanwhile, on the bottom end, nearly every team is in the low 20’s. This goes deeper than threes attempted, however. Indeed, a big part of running a successful three-heavy offense is the type and caliber of the three pointer attempted. Take Milwaukee, for example, where Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are jacking up any long bomb that looks appealing.
The Knicks, on the other hand, finished the regular season fifth in the league in 3PT% — clearly they’ve done plenty right. This is primarily because the Knicks’ offensive system is designed to get wide open threes, and pivots on great spacing, smart passes and individual shooting ability. With this last factor, you’ll notice that not only does New York utilize a hefty amount of first-rate shooters; a majority of them have shot the deep ball better this year than they have throughout their careers:
Let’s not forget the two Knick rookies either:
- Pablo Prigioni: 39.6%
- Chris Copeland: 42.1%
This Knicks roster has an arsenal of — if not deadly — extremely capable shooters. With the Knicks running a huge chunk of their offense through the three-point shot, it’s hard to imagine most shooters’ percentages not rising. As far as swinging the ball around well, no team does this better than New York. Additionally, the Knicks lead the league in lowest turnover percentage, which has become a staple of their season since opening night. This flawless team passing makes for a much more fluid offense, one that doesn’t easily concede the ball to the opponent.
As for great spacing, the Knicks employ one of the most effective offenses. Key to this has been one of the most lethal stretch four in the game, Carmelo Anthony. Anthony’s comprehensive scoring ability, in particular his knock-down shooting touch when spotting up, makes him the perfect fit for this type of offense — driven as it is by Anthony’s isolations and a plethora of pick-and-rolls.
Per Synergy Sports, the Knicks rank second in the league in spot-up attempts, which also accounts for the highest percentage of New York’s overall offense. The Knicks are shooting 38.1% from downtown (76% of their spot-up attempts were from three) on these shots, which makes for the third-best three-point percentage in the league. These open looks are provided by Carmelo Anthony’s remarkable scoring ability and the difficult to guard Raymond Felton-Tyson Chandler pick-and-rolls collapsing opposing defenses, leaving wide open shooters to let it fly.
Intent on drowning the opposition in a monsoon of threes, this offense is what’s carried the Knicks thus far. How far this crutch can carry them, with the Knicks now one win shy of moving on to the second round of the Playoffs for the first time since 2000, has yet to be seen.