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Ranking the Best 3-Point Shooters This Season

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

You probably know that the NBA is embracing the three-point shot more and more. But you might not know how colossal the shift actually is.

Take a look at the below graph, which gives the total three-point shots attempted per game over the past five years:

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 6.09.04 PM

That’s a big deal, you guys. In just five years, the league has increased its attempts from long range by 27.7 percent. If this rate continues, squads will be jacking up a combined 60 threes per contest by 2020. Sixty.

Naturally, it’s becoming more and more important to evaluate players’ three-point shooting ability. Teams need to know which players can produce from long range and space the floor for their teammates the best.

In this article, we’ll be looking at my original three-point shooting metric to determine which 10 players have been the most effective shooters from behind the arc in this young 2015-16 season.

Methodology

No one statistic is adequate in defining a players’ three-point shooting ability.

Percentage can’t be used by itself, because someone who shoots 50-of-100 (50 percent) playing all 82 games in a season is considerably less helpful than someone who goes 200-of-500 (40 percent) while playing every contest. Volume isn’t the answer, either — someone can make three three-pointers per game, but if they’re shooting only 30 percent, they’re actually a liability.

So we’ll combine some statistics related to those areas, but also conceptualize them using a couple other numbers related to how difficult a players’ attempts from three-point range are.

We’ll be using four categories, each accompanied by respective statistic(s):

  • Accuracy (three-point percentage), worth 45 points
  • Frequency (three-point makes per minute), worth 25 points
  • Volume (three-point attempts per game), worth 20 points
  • Difficulty (percent of three-point makes that are unassisted and an original metric for shot openness that will be explained below), worth 10 points

Accuracy is extremely important. Any three-point shooter worth his salt needs to hit a respectable percentage of his shots from there.

Frequency ensures specialists who come in specifically to drain threes get a somewhat fair rating. They may not make a ton of threes throughout an average game, but their per-minute rates are high.

Volume rewards players who are simply able to get a lot of three-point shots off per game, certainly an important mark of skill. If you’re an excellent three-point shooter who only plays 10 minutes per game, you’re obviously not good enough at your craft to carve out a larger role.

Difficulty is basically the context behind the shots. By including percentage of three-point makes that are unassisted (worth five of the 10 difficulty points), this number rewards players who shoot a lot off the dribble, since that’s a more difficult shot.

The other part in the difficulty equation is shot openness, also worth five of the 10 points. I’ve crafted a way to quantify this using NBA.com’s SportVU player tracking data, which classifies all shot attempts by how close the nearest defender is; the options are “very tight,” “tight,” “open” and “wide open.” How I did this was by assigning values to each degree of contest: very tight was worth 10 points, tight was worth seven points, open was worth three points and wide open got nothing. Each player’s total points yielded from that point system was then divided by his total three-point makes to get his shot openness score.

To get a perfect score in a category, a player must lead the league in the accompanying statistic. For example, Langston Galloway has the best three-point shooting percentage this season (55.8), so he gets the maximum 45 points in accuracy.

Essentially, the league’s top player in a specific statistic sets the curve for that category. Since Galloway shoots 55.8 percent from distance, a player shooting 27.9 percent (half of Galloway’s success rate) would get 22.5 points in the Accuracy category, half of what Galloway got.

The same concept was also applied to the Volume, Frequency and Difficulty categories, although a player would have to win both sub-categories in the Difficulty category to get the full 10 points there.

The scores from all four categories add up to produce a player’s 3PR, or Three-Point Rating, which has a maximum possible score of 100. This is the final tally that will be be used to order the league’s top 10 long-distance marksmen of this season. Players’ rankings in specific categories will also be given in parentheses next to their scores in said categories.

To qualify for the list, a player must average at least one made three-pointer per game. He also has to have participated in at least half of his team’s games. Scores in both specific categories and overall 3PR were rounded to the nearest tenth.

If you have any questions as to where your favorite player ranks after reading the list, feel free to hit me up on Twitter @jaredtjohnson21, as I have the data on every player who’s made at least one three this season.

I’ll also be updating the statistic every month or two throughout the season, and will be writing pieces with the updated data in this space whenever that happens.

Honorable mentions: Nicolas Batum (62.7 3PR), C.J. Miles, (62.5), Paul George (62.1), Jerryd Bayless (61.0), Jason Terry (60.0)

Note: All statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com and accurate as of November 21 unless otherwise indicated.

10. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns

Accuracy Score: 33.2 (32)

Frequency Score: 13.9 (10)

Volume Score: 11.6 (9)

Shot Difficulty Score: 4.6 (34)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Knight’s breakout from three-point range not only has his own stock around the league soaring, but also his team’s stock.

The Phoenix Suns, seen as a mediocre team who would probably finish in that 9-to-12 seed range in the West, have played better than expected and sit in the playoff picture.

Knight, meanwhile, has knocked down approximately 2.8 three-pointers per game this season, shattering his previous career best of 2.0. His 41.3 percent success rate also tops all of his other years by more than two percent.

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

Accuracy Score: 43.0 (2)

Frequency Score: 12.2 (27)

Volume Score: 6.5 (75)

Shot Difficulty Score: 1.8 (101)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Just when you think Dirk might be done as a legit No. 1 option on offense, he pulls out a huge start to the year for the surprising Mavericks. The sweet-shooting German giant is averaging 18.6 points in just 28.9 minutes, and a big portion of that is coming from dead-eye three-point shooting.

Nowitzki is draining 53.3 percent of his threes, good for second in the NBA. However, he does a lot of his work in the post and the mid-range area, so his relatively low volume prevents him from climbing into the very top tier of this list.

A high percentage of Dirk’s makes also come off the catch and when no defender is near him, so that hurts him some in these rankings.

8. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

Accuracy Score: 37.9 (5)

Frequency Score: 13.5 (12)

Volume Score: 9.9 (21)

Shot Difficulty Score: 2.9 (71)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Beal’s improved scoring this year has a lot to do with an increased aggressiveness from behind the arc.

Despite only playing about one more minute per game, his three-point attempts per game have jumped from 4.1 to 5.8, though that latter number did drop after Saturday night’s game (not included in this statistic) in which Beal took zero three-pointers.

One key for Washington will be pushing Beal to keep firing away, taking advantage of a pristine 47.1 percent success rate from three.

7. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

Accuracy Score: 33.5 (30)

Frequency Score: 13.9 (11)

Volume Score: 11.7 (8)

Difficulty Score: 5.8 (21)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Lowry tends to have months in which he just goes bananas from three (like 46.9 percent on 2.9 makes per game last February), so time will tell if the 29-year-old keeps his current pace (41.4 percent on 2.8 makes) up.

His newly-toned physique can only help, though. Lowry will find it easier to keep up his stamina throughout the season, and his improved quickness will continue to help him create cleaner looks for himself off the dribble.

6. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Accuracy Score: 36.0 (14)

Frequency Score: 13.3 (15)

Volume Score: 10.2 (17)

Shot Difficulty Score: 6.0 (16)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Consider this your reminder that KD is still one of the very best three-point shooters in the league, even though he’s definitely more of an all-around scorer than just a gunner from behind the arc.

A hamstring injury is what’s keeping the superstar on the sideline for now. Hopefully, that won’t affect Durant’s pretty 44.7 percent success rate and 2.6 makes from three per game once he returns.

You’ll notice from the above score breakdown that KD is just an all-around destroyer from downtown. He’s accurate, he gets off plenty of shots, he puts in a lot of threes per minute and his shots aren’t particularly easy.

5. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Accuracy Score: 30.2 (55)

Frequency Score: 14.0 (9)

Volume Score: 13.9 (3)

Shot Difficulty Score: 7.4 (4)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Lillard is a perfect example of why this statistic was worth making. You look at his good-not-great 37.5 percent success rate from three and wonder why he’s considered so dangerous from three, then you remember that there are several other factors to consider when measuring ability from the great beyond.

The 25-year-old point guard finds a way to get off a whopping eight three-point attempts per game, many of those off the dribble and well defended thanks to his huge offensive role for the Blazers.

If Lillard were a supporting player and shot mainly off the catch on open looks, his accuracy would go way up.

4. Langston Galloway, New York Knicks

Accuracy Score: 45.0 (1)

Frequency Score: 12.3 (25)

Volume Score: 5.8 (94)

Shot Difficulty Score: 3.4 (61)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Meet the biggest surprise of this list.

Kristaps Porzingis stuffs the stat sheet better, but Galloway has been more consistent and, in my opinion, has been the Knicks’ second-best player so far this season.

His 1.8 bombs per game on a league-leading 55.8 percent are insane, especially when you consider those numbers were just 1.4 and 35.2 last season, respectively.

3. Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls

Accuracy Score: 41.3 (3)

Frequency Score: 15.6 (7)

Volume Score: 6.2 (82)

Shot Difficulty Score: 3.7 (51)

Total Score: 68.3

You have Mike Dunleavy’s back surgery to thank for McDermott’s inclusion here.

Dougie McBuckets has been an offensive revelation (there’s a reason I clarified “offensive” there) in a bigger role for Chicago thus far, making 1.8 three-pointers per game on 51.2 percent shooting from that distance. Since he’s only playing 20.7 minutes per game, that means his per-minute rate is excellent.

The Bulls made a huge mistake trading Kyle Korver for cash and a measly trade exception three years ago. If McDermott can become the overall player Korver has turned into in Atlanta, that would be huge for Fred Hoiberg’s squad.

2. Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers

Accuracy Score: 36.0 (15)

Frequency Score: 18.5 (3)

Volume Score: 8.1 (33)

Shot Difficulty Score: 5.9 (20)

Total 3PR: 68.3

Say what you want about Swaggy P, but you have to admit he’s an elite three-point shooter.

Young, in just 19.8 minutes per game, is finding a way to put in 2.1 three-point makes per game on 44.6 percent shooting from distance. Although nobody really knows what Byron Scott is doing with the Lakers, Young’s value is directly tied to his ability to take and make a bunch of threes, so he’ll probably have to keep doing that to remain in Scott’s rotation.

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Accuracy Score: 35.6 (18)

Frequency Score: 25.0 (1)

Volume Score: 20.0 (1)

Shot Difficulty Score: 6.0 (17)

Total Score: 86.4

If you ever had your tests graded on a curve growing up, you probably remember that one annoying nerd who always wrecked the curve for everyone else. It wasn’t fair for you to be compared to someone who asked the teacher for harder homework and spent every second of their free time spouting off random scientific stats to anyone who would listen.

For the purposes of this stat, Steph is that nerd.

Curry dwarfs the rest of the league in the frequency and volume categories, as he takes a whopping 11.5 threes per game and makes 5.1 bombs per 36 minutes. While Steph gets 25 and 20 points in those categories, second place in each of those is 18.8 and 16.7, respectively.

Steph may tone it down a bit once the Warriors settle into the heart of the season, but I have no doubt he’ll also occupy this spot at the end of the season. And he’ll probably have it by a huge margin then, too.

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