Fun With Synergy: Why Can't NBA Players Shoot Transition Three-Pointers?

BOSTON, MA - MAY 07: Ray Allen #20 of the Boston Celtics celebrates his basket in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on May 7, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Miami Heat 97-81. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

NBA teams are shooting more three-pointers in transition than ever, but why aren't they converting them at a higher percentage?

Fun with Synergy is a new weekly feature that takes a look at some of the interesting numbers presented to us by They've have been kind enough to give us a free subscription to the scouting service, so we're going to take a look at a trend each week and analyze what it might mean. This week, we take a look at the transition three-pointer.

The NBA has changed in so many ways from what it was 20 years ago, but by far the biggest change is the importance of the three-point shot. Twenty years ago, the average NBA team attempted 626 three-pointers over the course of the entire season. Now, after 33 games, the average NBA team has taken 598 three-pointers.

Maybe it's the rule changes, such as moving the line closer for three years, although attempts stayed consistently higher even after it was reverted back to its original distance. Maybe it's the crackdown on hand-checking and the relaxing of zone defenses, which in turns puts more of a premium on spacing the floor. Maybe it's just a slow realization that three points are worth more than two. Whatever it is, the three-point shot has become so much more important in today's NBA.

Even more recently, that development has led to another interesting one: the transition three-pointer. It used to be that teams only ran to get layups and dunks. Now, teams are running for the specific purpose of shooting a three-pointer. Why? I assume it's because you tend to be open far more often when shooting a three-pointer in transition, and three-pointers are worth more than two pointers. That makes some semblance of sense.

So riddle me this, then: Why does the NBA stink at shooting transition three-pointers?

According to, there were a total of 2,300 three-pointers shot in transition in the first half of the NBA season. Of those 2,300, 810 were converted. That's a shooting percentage of 35.2 percent, which is half a percentage point over the NBA league average of 34.7 percent. There's all this running for three-pointers, and yet, players are not converting them at a much higher rate than they're converting all of their three-pointers.

What gives? A couple possible explanations:

  • Way too many pull-up jumpers: I haven't been able to identify how many of these three-pointers are assisted, but there are definitely more and more players who think they are Steve Nash and can stop on a dime and shoot a three while running at full speed. To those folks: It's hard for a reason. Don't try to be Steve Nash. Stop PUJIT abuse.
  • It's harder to set your feet for a transition three than it looks: This goes back to the first explanation, but I think many players think they can run full speed, catch the ball on the run, set their feet and shoot a balanced shot. That's a lot of stuff to coordinate, especially if the man delivering the pass is a beat off or throws the ball too low. In half-court sets, it's often easier to just stand by the three-point line and set your feet without moving at full speed.
  • The shot is so alluring: It's like a drug, isn't it? If you hit the shot, your team gets three points, the crowd goes crazy and it's a huge momentum swing. For a player, that can be so addicting. But of course, when the shot itself is so addicting, it usually gets abused. There have to be plenty of transition three-pointers attempted that are bad shots designed only to get the crowd going.
  • This includes end-of-quarter attempts: counts full-court heaves as transition three-point attempts, so if you take those out, the percentage probably rises a little.
  • Three-pointers are never easy shots: I think sometimes we take for granted that it's not easy to shoot a 23-foot jumper in the flow of the game. That's a long shot, even for professionals and even when they're open.

In any event, maybe this should serve as a lesson to some players. The transition three-pointer is alluring, but there's nothing wrong with taking it strong to the rack every once in a while.

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Some other fun transition three-pointer facts:

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