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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 MySynergySports.com. 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 MySynergySports.com, 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: MySynergySports.com 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.
Some other fun transition three-pointer facts:
- Only four teams shoot over 40 percent on transition three-pointers: the Boston Celtics (49 percent on 53 attempts), the Orlando Magic (44 percent on 113 attempts), the Los Angeles Clippers (43.9 percent on 82 attempts) and the Golden State Warriors (40 percent on 105 attempts). None of these are huge surprises. The Celtics have Ray Allen, the Magic and Clippers have a gazillion shooters and the Warriors have Stephen Curry, who is 10-for-17 on transition threes this season.
- By contrast, five teams shoot under 30 percent on transition threes: the Charlotte Bobcats (29.8 percent on 57 attempts), the Los Angeles Lakers (29.6 percent on 54 attempts), the Memphis Grizzlies (28.9 percent on 45 attempts), the Philadelphia 76ers (28.6 percent on 77 attempts) and the Houston Rockets (27.8 percent on 90 attempts). The Rockets at the bottom is a major surprise. Houston is ninth in the NBA in offensive efficiency despite firing up way too many transition three-pointers. If they cut some of those out, they'd likely rise even higher in the rankings.
- Your transition three-pointer attempt leaders: Nick Young (22-47), Jodie Meeks (13-44), Joe Johnson (11-44), Kevin Martin (14-37), Anthony Morrow (16-36), Kyle Korver (14-32), Brandon Jennings (10-32), Jason Terry (11-31), J.J. Redick (14-30), Jordan Crawford (11-30).
- Your transition three-pointer all-stars (over 50 percent on at least 15 attempts): Rudy Fernandez (11-17), Matt Bonner (11-17), Stephen Curry (10-17), Mo Williams (11-19), Marco Belinelli (11-19), Brandon Rush (9-16), Ryan Anderson (13-24), Mike Dunleavy (8-15), Ray Allen (13-26), Paul George (10-20).
- Your list of players who should tone it down (under 30 percent on at least 15 attempts): Meeks (13-44), Danny Granger (8-21), James Harden (6-22), Kemba Walker (4-15), Luol Deng (4-15), Wesley Matthews (6-23), Klay Thompson (7-27), Joe Johnson (11-44), Deron Williams (5-22), Rashard Lewis (3-15), Danilo Gallinari (4-21), Kyle Lowry (3-18). Congrats, Kyle Lowry!
- One last thought on Joe Johnson: Not only is he shooting 25 percent on his 44 (!) transition three-point attempts, but when you add in turnovers and missed three-pointers, he's only scoring or getting fouled on 32.9 percent of his 70 transition opportunities. Basically, when he gets out in transition, he has a one-in-three chance of actually finishing the play. This is an all-star, mind you.