In 2017, good 3-point shooting wins games and championships in the NBA. It has moved way past the gimmick stage, and all trends suggest that deep shooting will only continue to rise.
Several players stood out from behind the arc this season, a record-breaking one for long shots. Most of them played for winning teams.
Using my original 3-point shooting metric that takes into account a variety of important statistics, let’s count down the top 10 shooters from behind the arc this season. If you’re unfamiliar with the statistic, I’d highly recommend reading the brief methodology explanation here — the full data from the 2015-16 season, the 2015-16 playoffs and the current season are all available on this spreadsheet, as well. The 2016-17 postseason data is still in progress.
In the below rankings, all players will have their total 3PR in parentheses next to their names and their ranks in the individual categories below.
Honorable mentions: J.J. Redick (77.0), Damian Lillard (76.3), Bradley Beal (75.5), Ryan Anderson (75.5), C.J. Miles (74.5).
10. KYLE KORVER, ATLANTA HAWKS/CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (77.7)
Accuracy ranking: 2
Frequency ranking: 11
Volume ranking: 33
Shot Creation ranking: 125
Shot Openness ranking: 37
Was the Cavs’ trade for Korver a success? In the regular season, most definitely. Threezus banged in 97 3-pointers in half a season off Cleveland’s bench, making 48.5 percent of those looks. Korver is the quintessential LeBron James teammate on the offensive end — defenders stay on him like velcro off the ball, and he makes shots when they don’t.
Of course, the playoffs didn’t go quite as well for Korver. The veteran’s lack of explosiveness on the defensive end was exposed against better competition, which cut into his minutes and rhythm. It will be interesting to see if Cleveland re-signs him this summer. Korver will have to accept a discount contract if he plans to stay with the Cavs.
9. TROY DANIELS, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (77.9)
Accuracy ranking: 46
Frequency ranking: 2
Volume ranking: 34
Shot Creation ranking: 57
Shot Openness ranking: 13
No. 9 isn’t No. 4 (where Daniels ranked in 3PR last year), but it’s still awesome. Daniels is a very similar to Korver — both are fantastic 3-point shooters from a standstill and on a dead sprint, but their defensive shortcomings and lack of offensive game inside the arc keep them as reserves.
Don’t be surprised if the 25-year-old Daniels plays a slightly bigger role with Memphis next season, though. After an offseason to work more comprehensively on David Fizdale’s defensive schemes, he could become a more competent team defender and make himself a less pronounced negative on the floor.
8. ERIC GORDON, HOUSTON ROCKETS (79.5)
Accuracy ranking: 65
Frequency ranking: 4
Volume ranking: 3
Shot Creation ranking: 58
Shot Openness ranking: 101
Gordon managed to win the 3-Point Shootout at the All-Star weekend despite being in the midst of a very mediocre stretch of shooting throughout the last four or five months of the season. He hit 3.7 3s per game on 42.5 percent accuracy in 2016, then dropped to 2.9 makes per contest on 32.7 percent shooting to close the regular season.
Remember, Gordon isn’t James Harden, so he’s not getting hounded by defenders and carrying a massive load on offense on every possession, which makes his season-closing slump a bit more concerning. Houston did go 30-4 throughout the campaign when Gordon drained four 3=pointers (including playoffs), so getting him rested and comfortable in his role for next season should be a priority for Houston this summer.
7. KEMBA WALKER, CHARLOTTE HORNETS (80.9)
Accuracy ranking: 32
Frequency ranking: 16
Volume ranking: 8
Shot Creation ranking: 8
Shot Openness ranking: 4
How’s this for improvement? In the three seasons between 2013 and 2016, Walker made just 81 of 316 3-point shots (25.6 percent) when facing a tight or very tight contest. In 2016-17, he made 99 of 253 shots under the same circumstances. Those numbers helped bump his Shot Openness ranking from 26th last season to fourth this season.
FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring wrote an excellent piece in February about how Walker’s shooting technique allows him to get these difficult shots to go without compromising his body mechanics in the face of tight pressure. Credit Walker and Hornets assistant coach Bruce Kreutzer for working on improving the All-Star point guard’s stroke over the last couple of years.
6. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS (81.2)
Accuracy ranking: 113
Frequency ranking: 15
Volume ranking: 2
Shot Creation ranking: 1
Shot Openness ranking: 2
Admittedly, the 3PR metric probably overrates Harden’s 3-point shooting a little bit. The Beard’s accuracy ranking was in the 20th percentile for qualified shooters, which isn’t good. However, I don’t think the metric overrates the impact his shooting has, if that makes sense.
Teams still try to go over most screens on Harden, despite the fact that he’s a dangerous slasher when he gets a sliver of daylight. They also hesitate to give him much room to move on the perimeter, as evidenced by the preposterous number of fouls he draws shooting 3s. Harden’s 3-point shot is a weapon that helps make the Rockets’ offense a juggernaut.
3PR is made precisely for guys like Harden, who don’t get the respect they deserve when people simply look at 3-point percentage. The Beard has to take more difficult shots than anyone else in the league, and he still makes an acceptable number of them.
5. KYLE LOWRY, TORONTO RAPTORS (81.2)
Accuracy ranking: 15
Frequency ranking: 17
Volume ranking: 6
Shot Creation ranking: 9
Shot Openness ranking: 18
Lowry, like Walker, is another point guard who realized the need to improve his 3-point shot to reach the All-Star level as a player, and did just that. He’s a certified tough shot maker whose most impressive statistic from 2016-17 might be his 3-point percentage when pulling up after seven dribbles (44.6, as he made 37 of 83).
Of course, the consistent bugaboo on his resume is a lack of playoff success. He made just 1.6 long-range shots per game (half of his regular-season average) in this year’s postseason before injuring his left ankle against the Cavaliers. Until he plays (and shoots) at a star level in the playoffs, his production feels a bit empty.
4. NICK YOUNG, LOS ANGELES LAKERS (81.3)
Accuracy ranking: 26
Frequency ranking: 3
Volume ranking: 12
Shot Creation ranking: 81
Shot Openness ranking: 5
I was a little bit sad when the Lakers shut down Young for the season in March. While I have absolutely no rooting interest in the Purple and Gold, it’s never fun to see players lose their chance to play the game they love, especially when they’re as entertaining to watch as Young.
Swaggy P had the best 3-point shooting season of his career by a long shot, and many teams will be willing to pay him a tidy sum for that service this summer. That’s assuming he opts out of his current contract.
I think most of us would love to see Young land on a contender. It has been five years since Swaggy P has played in a playoff game, and that’s too long.
3. KLAY THOMPSON, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (81.7)
Accuracy ranking: 12
Frequency ranking: 5
Volume ranking: 5
Shot Creation ranking: 98
Shot Openness ranking: 48
Thompson’s accuracy didn’t benefit from the spacing Kevin Durant provided as much as I expected. His 3-point shooting percentage went down from 42.5 to 41.4 since last season, however, he did well to keep his volume high (8.3 attempts per game, compared to 8.1 attempts in 2015-16).
The playoffs showed that Thompson actually does suffer when Stephen Curry and Durant take over the offense. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors prioritize the importance of Klay’s shooting when next season starts.
2. ISAIAH THOMAS, BOSTON CELTICS (81.7)
Accuracy ranking: 58
Frequency ranking: 9
Volume ranking: 4
Shot Creation ranking: 16
Shot Openness ranking: 3
There are a lot of impressive things about this ranking for Thomas. First, he was the second-best shooter in the league this season — that’s amazing. Second, his ranking in 3PR last year was 22nd, which means he improved his outside stroke a lot.
The most surprising development is how good his shot openness ranking is. At 5-foot-9, he somehow made 107 3-pointers when a defender was 4 feet or closer this season, making exactly one-third of those shots. How does a guy his size do that?
Well, IT explodes off the ground on his jump shot both off the dribble and on a catch, getting fantastic elevation. Would-be shot blockers don’t usually have enough time to rise and block the shot before it’s in the air.
1. STEPHEN CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (91.5)
Accuracy ranking: 17
Frequency ranking: 1
Volume ranking: 1
Shot Creation ranking: 20
Shot Openness ranking: 44
At some point, the 3PR title won’t be Curry’s anymore. That probably won’t be for several more years, though.
Even though Steph had a less impressive 2016-17 campaign from behind the arc compared to his 2015-16 campaign, the difference between his 3PR and No. 2 Thomas is bigger than the difference between Thomas and No. 19 C.J. McCollum.
Curry found his groove from behind the arc from late March all the way through the Finals. With the chemistry he developed with Durant in the postseason, expect a (relative) bounce-back year for Steph in 2017-18.