The Evolution of the 3-Point Shot

In the past few years, we’ve seen various statistics showing the NBA audience all the new 3-point records and how differently the 3-point line is used now. For comparison, the leader of the ’87 – ’88 season was Danny Ainge who made 148 3-pointers. During the ’17 – ’18 season is about 45 games in, and Klay Thompson leads the NBA with 154 3-pointers made. This post takes a look at how players have improved to take advantage of the 3-point line.

Dashboard - FTA
Since the introduction of the 3-point line in the 1980-81 season, 3-point attempts and 3-point percentages have steadily risen while 2-point shots per game have remained relatively the same.
Dashboard Scatter - all
When looking at the most prolific chuckers in the NBA, we can see that most of the entries, especially the good ones, come from the last 15 years. Era groups are shown in footnotes.
Dashboard Scatter - Modern
Even then, two names clearly stand out.
Dashboard Scatter - Top 50
Even among the most prolific 3-point makers in the NBA, the Splash Brothers are head and shoulders above everyone in attempts and efficiency. The one dot on the top right that doesn’t have a label corresponds to Ray Allen.


Dashboard - Splash
Just how special are they? They’ve maintained a high 3-point percentage while shooting at a high volume while being on the same team. The only dip came when this scrub Kevin Durant joined the team.

Few things to note:

  • Mark Jackson’s first year as head coach was the 2011-12 season. Steph and Klay immediately were clearly given the green light to shoot after that.
  • Eras are grouped as following:
    • 80s: 1980 – 1989
    • Before Zone Defense: 1990 – 2002
    • Introduction of Zone Defense: 2003 – 2010
    • Modern Era: 2011 – 2017
  • The 3-point line was shortened during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, the years Steve Kerr and Tim Legler achieved above 50% on 3-point attempts.
  • In the second scatter plot, the restrictions are a minimum of 1000 minutes played and at least 120 3 pointers made per season.

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About the Author: Benjamin Xiao

I am a data practitioner who loves making simple, powerful visualizations and working with machine learning algorithms to learn more about the world. Basketball is incredibly dynamic, and it only takes one player to change an entire game plan. Data has stories hidden within it, and I want to reveal why my favorite team is better than yours is. And why Ben Simmons is amazing.

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