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The Power Forward Just Keeps Getting Stretchier

Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

Over the first couple of days of the NBA season, and over the course of the preseason, whatever that’s worth to you, one thing that’s apparent is that it seems the entire NBA is ready to buy into the stretch 4 trend. It’s a process that’s been growing, but if the start of this season is an indication, the NBA will never be the same.

Guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are getting attention for firing up threes, but they’re hardly the only ones. In fact, power forwards are not only taking and making more threes, but they’re also doing so more efficiently, and they’re increasing that rate more than the other positions. They’re doing so at a level that’s particularly eye-popping.

Using RealGM as a position guide, I looked at all the players listed as power forwards since 2011-12, and determined how many the position, as a whole, made and attempted each season. Here are the results:

stretch 4 pf

As you can see, power forwards have been steadily taking more threes each season, but even in comparison to that, the rate of increase has steadily climbed. There’s nearly a 50 percent rise in attempts from last year and a 60 percent bump in makes. And the 36.9 percent rate is also a significant improvement over last year’s 33.7 percent.

Furthermore, of the 43 power forwards who’ve played at least 15 minutes per game, 22 of them are gunning at least five deep attempts per 48 minutes. That’s 52 percent. Last year, that was 20 of 68 or 29.4 percent. So it’s not just the same power forwards taking more threes. There are more 4s shooting from behind the arc. In fact, it’s becoming the norm that your bigger forward can shoot threes, not the exception.

But, one could question: Is this just power forwards, or is this a product of the NBA just taking more threes in general? To determine that I looked at the numbers NBA-wide per 48 minutes. Here are those results:

league threes

And yes, it appears that there’s also a gradual increase in threes made attempted league-wide, though, from 2013-14 to 2014-15 it seems that rate was slowing down just a bit. So I looked to see how much of that increase was from power forwards each year compared to how much of it was from other positions in the league.

The chart below shows how much of the change in threes was from the power forward compared to the other four positions combined:

pf  to rol

The blue represents power forwards, the yellow everyone else. This is where things get interesting. In 2012-13 and again in 2013-14, the stretch 4 was responsible for a good chunk of both the increase and attempts, but it was still largely in sync with what the rest of the league was doing. But this year, while the power forwards are taking a giant increase in the number of threes attempted, the other four positions are actually combining for fewer threes attempted and made per 48 minutes.

This could be for a few reasons. One factor is probably that as the big men are stretching the floor, it’s opening up the lanes for point guards and wings  — those who’d normally be taking those threes — to drive to the rim and finish there. Another factor is that the power forwards using those possessions means there are just fewer possessions to go around. Finally, we’re dealing with a pretty small sample size yet, and things could balance out over time.

That said, the eye test gets an early confirmation. We live in a copycat league, and last year’s championship cat got his ring by gunning from deep, so it’s likely a trend that we see continue.

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