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BBR Mailbag: Biggest Yearly Declines in 3-Point Attempts

Posted by Neil Paine on July 30, 2010

This is a question from Erik, who writes:

"I noticed the rather severe change in Josh Smith's 3-pt attempts from the last several seasons to the one that just wrapped up. After attempting 87 3's last year, 99 the year before and a cringe inducing 152 in '06-'07, Smith only attempted 7 3's in '09-'10. I was curious if you knew of any other players who had experienced such an attack in common sense? It seems like a huge drop off and a decision made for the betterment of the club. He played more games & minutes, had more shot attempts total, scored more points and did it all while basically eliminating the 3-pt shot from his game. Thoughts?"

From 2006 (his second NBA season) though 2009, Josh Smith attempted a 3-pointer on 12% of his field goal attempts -- despite the fact that he made just 27% of them, a rate 9 percentage points worse than the league average. And then, suddenly, he stopped shooting them: in 2010, threes didn't even make up 1% of his FGA (he went 0 for 7 on the year). In other words, apparently Smith finally got the message that he wasn't good at the 3-ball, and he abandoned it completely. How unprecedented is this? Here are the biggest single-year declines in 3-point tendency (3PA/FGA), relative to the league average, since 1981:

Season Previous
Rank Player Year Age Team 3pTend 3FG% 3pTend 3FG% Diff
1 Brian Cook 2006 25 LAL -3.8% 7.0% 27.5% 3.6% -31.3%
2 Devin Harris 2006 22 DAL -15.0% -12.0% 16.2% -2.0% -31.2%
3 Keyon Dooling 2004 23 LAC -5.6% -17.3% 24.1% 1.0% -29.7%
4 Greg Anthony 2002 34 TOT 16.2% -5.9% 45.8% 5.5% -29.7%
5 Darrell Armstrong 1998 29 ORL 1.9% 2.2% 31.3% -5.6% -29.3%
6 Ron Harper 1998 34 CHI -3.3% -15.5% 25.1% 0.2% -28.4%
7 Michael Curry 1998 29 MIL -13.8% 9.9% 13.7% -6.1% -27.5%
8 John Salmons 2006 26 PHI -3.5% -5.9% 23.7% -1.5% -27.3%
9 Jamaal Tinsley 2005 26 IND 10.3% 1.6% 37.2% 2.5% -27.0%
10 Derek Fisher 2003 28 LAL 9.2% 5.1% 34.3% 5.9% -25.1%
11 Greg Buckner 2007 30 DAL 13.2% -4.8% 38.0% -0.4% -24.8%
12 Earl Watson 2008 28 SEA -4.5% 0.9% 19.5% -3.0% -24.0%
13 Tyrone Nesby 2002 26 WAS -7.0% -7.7% 17.0% -8.1% -23.9%
14 Dale Ellis 1987 26 SEA 10.5% 5.7% 33.0% 8.2% -22.6%
15 Muggsy Bogues 1998 33 TOT -11.0% -9.6% 11.3% 5.7% -22.3%
16 Nick Anderson 1998 30 ORL 12.4% 1.4% 34.7% -0.7% -22.3%
17 Kyle Korver 2007 25 PHI 15.1% 7.2% 37.3% 6.2% -22.2%
18 Craig Hodges 1991 30 CHI 25.2% 6.3% 47.1% 15.0% -21.9%
19 Yi Jianlian 2010 22 NJN -14.9% 1.1% 5.6% -2.4% -20.5%
20 Quentin Richardson 2006 25 NYK 20.7% -1.8% 40.8% 0.3% -20.0%
233 Josh Smith 2010 24 ATL -21.5% -35.5% -12.2% -6.8% -9.4%

Viewed this way, Smith's transformation was not very rare in NBA history. However, Smith wasn't a mere role player like most of the names on that list -- he was big name, playing more than 2,000 minutes in both 2009 and 2010, and taking more than 800 shots each season. As a percentage of his shots, the difference wasn't huge, but Smith's change is far more unprecedented when you look at the decline in his raw 3-point attempts.

Among players who played at least 2000 MP in back-to-back seasons, Smith was actually the very first player in NBA history to go from taking 80+ 3-pointers to taking under 10 the following year (the previous record for fewest 3PA the year after an 80-attempt season was Derrick McKey in 1990, who went from taking 89 to taking 23). This was a very good thing for both Smith and the Hawks -- by cutting back on his threes, he turned into a more efficient player (109.4 ORtg vs. 103.5 in 2009), a more willing passer (he passed on 57% of his touches instead of 43%), a better offensive rebounder (9.0 ORb% vs. 6.5 in 2009), and the Atlanta offense improved to become the NBA's 2nd-best during the regular season.

The moral of the story: It's amazing what cutting out a gratuitous, inefficient aspect of your game can do.

17 Responses to “BBR Mailbag: Biggest Yearly Declines in 3-Point Attempts”

  1. P Middy Says:

    My guess is you could show the inverse using Antoine Walker.

  2. Bryan Says:

    I don't understand the numbers in the table. How can 3pTend (3PA/FGA) be negative? How can 3FG% be negative? Do these numbers refer to the differences between seasons? If so, what is the difference column for?

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    It's all relative to the league average. For example, if you have a 3pTend of -15%, it means your 3PA/FGA was 15 percentage points lower than the league's 3PA/FGA, etc.

  4. Anon x 2 Says:

    No mention of Shawn Marion? How about a complete career reversal. From 2002 to 2008:




    I didn't bother doing the math percentage, but I'm going to imagine it's one of the most drastic changes in approach to a game we've ever seen.

  5. JB Says:

    @Anon X 2:

    The scope of the article was largest yearly decreases. While Marion's 3PA's were certainly a huge reversal in the long run, his year-by-year declines weren't as tremendous. His shot selection changed more gradually -- 72.4% decrease for Marion from '07 to '08, compared to a 91.9% decrease for Smith from '09 to '10.

    Also of interest, Marion's changing numbers are likely due to new teams to which he'd been traded. His big shift in 3PA's occurred in '08-'09, after his first offseason with a new team (MIA). It probably owed as much to a new system he was in as it did to any personal decision.

    Smith, on the other hand, had no observable catalyst for his change. He had the same basic core around him (Bibby, Johnson, Williams, Horford) and the same head coach (Woodson). It appears that he simply decided over the offseason that he sucked at shooting the long ball and gave it up cold turkey.

  6. JB Says:

    It also makes me laugh when I see Marion on NBA 2k10 with a "D" for outside shooting, because I distinctly remember him running around with a 3 pointer icon next to his name in the NBA Live games around the middle of the decade.

    It's hard to account for "could but doesn't" vs "can't" on a video game.

  7. Anon x 2 Says:

    Smith changed because he realized he stunk at shooting 3s.

    Marion changed because....? While not a great 3 point shooter, he wasn't bad.

    You'd think in Dallas he'd shoot em. I understand that Josh Smith's % decline is greater, especially year by year, but he topped out at 152 3s. Marion shot 364! From 4.5 3s a game to 1/3! During that stretch he averaged over 3.5 per game compared to like 1.5 for Smith.

    My point is that Smith was from an ineffective 3 point shooter who at times shot them to a non-existent 2 point shooter while Marion went from a high volume effective 3 point shooter to a non-existent 3 point shooter.

    It's a matter of scale. One seems more drastic, even if more gradual.

  8. Anon x 2 Says:

    2 point shooter should have been 3 up there. darn typos.

  9. JTaylor21 Says:

    @JB, it is because NBA Live sucks. 2k beats it in every aspect. If you haven't seen the light and switched to 2k you may never recover from weakgameitis.

  10. C Says:

    Josh Smith finally listened to his coach and stopped shooting them. He said he really never thought about it before. But wanted to do whats best for the team. Out of those 7 he shot last year im sure 3-4 were buzzer beaters at the end of the qtr or shot clock. Hes really became a beast because of it.

  11. AYC Says:

    Marion has shot under 20% from 3 since leaving PHX; sounds like he's still shooting too many to me. He had two outlier seasons where he shot about .390 from three (before Nash btw), but otherwise he was never better than avg from 3, even in PHX.

  12. Jason J Says:

    Wait, wait... did I read that right? Atlanta was 2nd in the league in offense last year? I knew Jamal Crawford was da bomb!

  13. Romain Says:

    I wish Lebron were on this list...
    It always pains me to see him average between 4 to 5 3PA per game and making just a third of them year in year out.
    I mean, last year he shot .56 from 2 points. Why the hell did he keep launching so many 3s !!

  14. edk Says:

    a more willing passer (he passed on 57% of his touches instead of 43%),

    Neil, where did this come from?

    (Also, can you implement comment previews?)

  15. Neil Paine Says:

    That's from Bob Chaikin's work on "touches"; I talk about it in the Blog-tionary:

    It estimates the # of times a player touched the ball in an attacking position on the floor, and from there you can calculate the % of times each touch ended in a completed pass, a shot, a turnover, or a foul drawn. Smith's pass/shoot/tov/fd in the '09 regular season was 43/37/13/7 on 0.97 touches per minute, but in 2010 it was 57/28/10/6 on 1.28 t/mp.

    Also, we'll see what we can do about comment previews.

  16. Learn how to play basketball Says:

    Smith's percentages could also be affected by criticism on and off the court. This, however helped the Hawks and made Josh Smith a more strong conscious player on-court.

  17. james Says:

    It should be pointed out that Josh Smith changed positions. He entered the league as a SF, last year he was listed as a PF. All these numbers and crazy stats... um... he's a power forward now. Might have something (A LOT) to do with it.