On Tuesday, Ian Begley wrote a post on ESPN NY entitled “Opening Tip: Too many 3s?”, in which he questions the wisdom of the Knicks’ approach that led them to setting the record for 3 pointers attempted and made last year. His argument is as follows:
None of the four conference finalists in 2012 were in the top 10 in 3-point attempts per game; one conference finalist finished in the top 10 in 3-point attempts per game in 2011; in 2010, three of the four conference finalists were in the top 10 and two of the four conference finalists in 2009 finished in the top 10.
So, in total, eight of the last 20 conference finalists have finished in the top 10 in 3-point attempts per game in the regular season.
He ends the article with the question, “Do you think the Knicks should shoot as many 3s this year as they did last season? Or is that not conducive to winning a title?”. Let’s examine this further.
To start, let me rephrase the question a bit. Let’s try to determine if shooting more 3s in a season is helpful or harmful to winning games, never mind winning a title. I have compiled team statistics from the last 5 regular seasons, and present to you several plots. First up, let’s just look at how 3PA per game affect winning.
There isn’t great correlation there, even with this being a complex model with multiple variables affecting wins. The line fit having a positive slope does slightly suggest that shooting more 3s in a game has a positive affect on winning games, although there is a lot of noise. At worst we can say that there is no obvious negative effect on wins for a team shooting more 3s in a game. While gathering the data and seeing there is little correlation doesn’t supply as sexy of an answer as drawing conclusions from small sample sizes, it’s still an important exercise. It allows us to avoid the red herrings and focus on factors that really matter. While we can’t really determine if a team would be better or worse if they simply shot more threes, we can see that shooting 3s at a higher percentage does have a much stronger correlation to winning:
An R2 of 0.24 in a case such as this, where we have multiple independent variables affecting wins, is absolutely a significant statistical correlation. Shooting your 3s at higher percentages will statistically improve your chances of winning games. That’s not exactly a revolutionary statement, but it is important to see with real life data.
So what can we say to Mr. Begley’s question? Should the Knicks shoot as many 3s this year as they did last year? I say that the number doesn’t matter — it’s 3P% that has a much stronger correlation with winning. The real question should be, will the Knicks shoot 3s at least as efficiently as they did last year?