The 2015-16 NBA season continues to hammer down this point: you live by the three, and die without it.
The Golden State Warriors broke the record for wins in a season by consistently taking advantage of the area directly behind the arc, the Cleveland Cavaliers sprinted through the Eastern Conference by shooting flames from downtown and a handful of other teams (the Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors, to name a few) overachieved by improving their long-range attacks.
Total three-point attempts also took another jump, with teams combining for an average of 48.2 shots from deep. That was up from 44.9 in 2014-15 and 36.8 five seasons ago. It’s never been more important for squads to have good three-point shooters, and preferably elite ones.
Throughout the past season and a half, I’ve created and have been tracking a five-pronged statistic, called 3PR (three-point rating), to measure a player’s overall three-point shooting ability. The methodology can be found here, with one slight modification — the Shot Difficulty category is now separated into two separate categories (Shot Creation and Shot Openness), each worth five points out of 100.
Using the procedures and qualifications laid out in the previously linked article, let’s review which 10 players shot three-pointers the best during the 2015-16 regular season, along with their rankings in individual categories that are noted in parentheses. Full data for every player who made a three-pointer this season can also be found here and is sorted by total 3PR.
Honorable Mentions: C.J. McCollum (66.4 3PR), C.J. Miles (65.4), Isaiah Canaan (65.1), Paul George (65.0), Robert Covington (65.0), Jerryd Bayless (64.2), Eric Gordon (63.1), Seth Curry (63.0), Kemba Walker (62.7), Nikola Mirotic (62.5)
10. J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers
Accuracy Score: 37.2 (25)
Frequency Score: 14.5 (9)
Volume Score: 11.8 (12)
Shot Creation Score: 0.6 (82)
Shot Openness Score: 3.1 (42)
Total 3PR: 67.2
Smith was somewhat feast-or-famine from three-point range during the regular season (2.9 makes on 42 percent in wins, 2.2 makes on 35.1 percent in losses), but he’s been even more so during the postseason.
Pipe has had some awesome moments in these playoffs, but he hasn’t played well when the Cavs’ offense sputters (or maybe the Cavs’ offense sputters because he isn’t playing well?). He’s 11-of-33 from downtown (33.3 percent) in four Cleveland losses and a scorching 40-of-80 (50 percent) in the team’s 12 wins.
Still, you have to love what the guy brings to the table. He shoots threes whether he’s open or not and usually makes a pretty good percentage no matter the circumstance.
9. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Accuracy Score: 35.9 (40)
Frequency Score: 12.1 (27)
Volume Score: 11.9 (11)
Shot Creation Score: 2.7 (16)
Shot Openness Score: 4.6 (5)
Total 3PR: 67.3
The “scorer” moniker has always fit Durant better than the “shooter” one. His combination of ball-handling, size, athleticism and finishing ability is incredible to behold, even though he is darn good at tickling the twine from long distances.
One of his most memorable performances was a 7-of-11 masterpiece against the Warriors in late February. If you merely watched the highlights from the game, you might remember it for Stephen Curry’s game-winning deep three, but Durant kept pace with the MVP all game until he fouled out at the beginning of overtime.
One notable number from Durant’s 3PR is his shot openness score of 4.6, which ranks him fourth in the league. He’s facing a lot of defensive pressure on his shots, but his long 6’11” frame allows him to get off any shot he wants without worrying about a block.
8. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Accuracy Score: 36.0 (35)
Frequency Score: 12.5 (21)
Volume Score: 12.7 (6)
Shot Creation Score: 2.4 (21)
Shot Openness Score: 3.9 (13)
Total 3PR: 67.5
It was nice to see Lowry close his playoff run with a bounce-back shooting stretch following a nightmarish beginning to the playoffs. In his first nine contests, the All-Star point guard was 9-of-57 (15.8 percent) and looked like a totally different player. In his final 11 games, he responded with a 33-of-81 showing (40.7 percent) that was nicely in line with his regular-season numbers.
Lowry is a top-five floor general in the league, and three-point shooting just may be his best skill.
7. Mirza Teletovic, Phoenix Suns
Accuracy Score: 36.6 (29)
Frequency Score: 18.0 (3)
Volume Score: 10.4 (19)
Shot Creation Score: 0.4 (97)
Shot Openness Score: 3.5 (27)
Total 3PR: 68.9
Meet Teletovic, arguably the most underrated long-distance marksman in the league. On a Phoenix Suns squad mostly devoid of quality experience and offensive talent in 2015-16, the 30-year-old Bosnian managed to bag 181 threes off the bench.
Typically, good stretch 4s are guys who catch opponents off guard by popping out to the three-point line and then hitting a decent percentage of those threes.
The thing that sets Teletovic apart as a shooting big man, though, is that opponents are expecting him to attempt a lot of threes, and he still makes them. His shot openness score of 3.5 meant he had the 27th-most difficult set of long-distance makes in the league, tops among all power forwards and centers.
6. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Accuracy Score: 33.4 (73)
Frequency Score: 12.7 (16)
Volume Score: 14.3 (4)
Shot Creation Score: 3.6 (6)
Shot Openness Score: 5.0 (2)
Total 3PR: 69.0
Harden may not be the most revered player in the league after a let-down season, but don’t forget that he’s still one of the five most dynamic offensive talents in the league (somewhere in the group of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook) who can create heaps of good shots for himself and his teammates.
One of his greatest skills is how he quickly squares himself up for shots off the dribble and attempts them without regard for the defensive contest he’s receiving. Watch him put Andre Iguodala on skates, then can an on-balance three in his face after Iggy recovers to bother the shot.
The Beard’s overall accuracy from long range was run-of-the-mill in 2015-16 (35.9 percent), but the shot always commanded defensive respect and helped Houston score the points it needed to stay competitive.
5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Accuracy Score: 34.9 (52)
Frequency Score: 14.4 (10)
Volume Score: 14.5 (2)
Shot Creation Score: 4.0 (4)
Shot Openness Score: 3.9 (12)
Total 3PR: 71.7
2015-16 was an exciting season for the Trail Blazers. The young team earned the No. 5 seed in the West and a second-round playoff appearance despite losing four of its starters from the previous year and many pundits predicting them to be one of the worst squads in the league.
The lone returnee from the starting unit, Damian Lillard, was the biggest reason for the team’s success. His increased volume from three-point range was expected (his attempts per game increased from 7 to 8.1), but who saw such a healthy bump in accuracy coming? Dame knocked down 37.5 percent of his long bombs in 2015-16, up from 34.3 in 2014-15.
That’s an impressive accomplishment, especially playing next to a lot less experience this season.
4. Troy Daniels, Charlotte Hornets
Accuracy Score: 45.0 (1)
Frequency Score: 20.8 (2)
Volume Score: 5.1 (118)
Shot Creation Score: 0.4 (96)
Shot Openness Score: 2.0 (101)
Total 3PR: 73.3
If you thought it was impossible for end-of-the-rotation players to score high in 3PR, Daniels’ spot here is your counterargument. He barely qualified, playing just 43 games (just over the requirement of 41) and knocking down 59 threes, easily the lowest total of the top 10.
Sliding in with a paltry 11.1 minutes per game average, the former VCU standout was cold-blooded from downtown in his limited playing time. His role may have been in question throughout the season with Charlotte, but his shooting never was. He actually led qualified players in accuracy with a 48.4 percent success rate from long range, which is tough to do with inconsistent minutes.
The most interesting thing about Daniels’ marksmanship is his improvement since college. In his four-year career as a Ram, he made only 46 three-pointers in 125 games, despite playing a large role in his final two seasons. In 2015-16, he made 59 threes in 43 contests playing a small role.
Daniels is likely to stick around the NBA for a long time if he keeps honing his stroke.
3. J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
Accuracy Score: 44.2 (2)
Frequency Score: 16.0 (6)
Volume Score: 10.0 (24)
Shot Creation Score: 0.5 (88)
Shot Openness Score: 3.3 (36)
Total 3PR: 74.0
Every team wants a guy like Redick on its roster. It’s not easy to find players who love operating without the ball, weaving in and out of screens and accurately rising up for catch-and-shoot threes when they get an inch of daylight.
The Clippers shooting guard always gets a ton of respect from opponents, and he still finds a way to knock down a healthy sum of long-distance shots. He and Chris Paul truly are an offensive match made in heaven in the Los Angeles backcourt.
2. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Accuracy Score: 39.5 (9)
Frequency Score: 17.4 (4)
Volume Score: 14.5 (3)
Shot Creation Score: 0.5 (86)
Shot Openness Score: 3.4 (28)
Total 3PR: 75.3
It’s appearing as if the regular season was just a warm-up for the second-best three-point shooter in the NBA. After draining 3.5 trifectas per game on 42.5 percent accuracy during the first 82 games, he’s upped those numbers to 4.3 and 44.6, respectively, in the postseason.
Part of what makes Thompson so special is the amount of time (or lack thereof) it takes him to go from receiving the ball to having it out of his hands. Most shooters need a split-second or so to dip the ball down slightly while getting their feet set and lining up their shot. Not Thompson. He positions his feet going into the catch and is 100 percent ready to release upon securing the ball.
In 10 years, we’ll probably be talking about Klay as the second-best three-point shooter ever.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Accuracy Score: 42.2 (4)
Frequency Score: 25.0 (1)
Volume Score: 20.0 (1)
Shot Creation Score: 3.4 (7)
Shot Openness Score: 3.7 (18)
Total 3PR: 94.4
I promise you that I didn’t manipulate the statistic to make Curry look good. He does a pretty good job of that on his own.
Steph wrecked the curve in the frequency and volume categories, what with his insane averages of one three-pointer per 6.7 minutes of playing time and 11.2 total attempts from long range per game. If that wasn’t enough, he was also very accurate, created a relatively large portion of the threes on his own and was guarded closer on his makes than all but 17 players in the league.
Chef Curry dominated this statistic all season, and I fully expect him to do so for the next several years.