Debunking NBA Myths: Teams Need to Shoot a Ton of 3s to Win

12/28/2020

NBA myths can be dangerous and it is time someone comes in to address this. Today, we look at the myth that suggests teams need to shoot a ton of threes to win. It is a myth that has grown over the last five years as the NBA has become 3-point obsessed, that to win a championship, a team must be among the league leaders in 3 point attempts. 

They will point to the exchange in value between 3 points instead of 2 as justification for this myth. For example, they'll point to the fact that if two teams were to take 50 shots in a game, the team that only took two-pointers and shot 50% from the floor would lose to the team that took just three-pointers and shot a much lower 36% from the field.

While this makes sense, I am also a big believer in the age-old adage that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. 

What we have seen is the three-point boom of the mid-2010s led us to equilibrium for three-point attempts. An equilibrium point that many have misinterpreted and therefore exceeded in their chase for greatness.

This is because while there is a benefit in taking a lot of threes, it also comes with disadvantages. Disadvantages that grow with the more three-pointers a team attempts after a certain point.

 For example, the long three rebounds that lead to easier fast break opportunities for your opponent. Or how the three-point shot is easy to defend after a certain point, leading to decreased efficiency and effectiveness. Yet, NBA teams attempt more and more three-pointers every season.

The myth is that to win a championship, a team needs to be amongst the top in the NBA in three-point attempts. The template is based on the three year period where the Golden State Warriors revolutionized basketball; finishing fourth in the league three point attempts in 2014-15, first in 2015-16, and fifth in 2016-17.

What the NBA got wrong is that they misinterpreted what the Warriors were doing. They assumed the Warriors were revolutionizing basketball in that the team that took the most threes had an edge over the league. 

A key point in this misconception came in the 2015-16 NBA Playoffs. 

The Final was between the Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished 3rd in three-point attempts at 29.6 a game, and the Golden State Warriors, whose 31.6 attempts a game, led the league. Because these two were in the top three in attempts and met in 4 straight finals, many concluded that this was the secret to success. And thus, the myth was developed,

Well, that was a classic case of misinterpretation.

It turns out the Warriors were not seeking to lead the league in three-point attempts. They were trying to reach a sweet spot; it just happened to be an amount that led the NBA in three-pointers.

It's why while the league kept chucking up more and more threes a game, the Warriors held steady to the point where they had fallen from first in attempts in 2015-16 all the way to 17th in attempts during their 2017-18 championship.

That leads to the point where we're at now, where the 31.6 three-pointers a game the Warriors led the NBA with in 2015-16, amidst their five straight finals appearances, would have ranked 23rd in the league last season, an astonishing increase in league-wide three-point attempts in just four years.

So if the league keeps shooting more threes, does that mean the equilibrium point changes? Well, I want you to keep that 31.6 attempts a game in mind.

In 2017-18, the Warriors won the championship while shooting the 17th most threes in the league at 28.9 a game.

In 2018-19, the Toronto Raptors won the championship while shooting the 11th most threes in the league at 33.8 a game.

This last season 8 teams took over 36 three-point shots a game, and not a single one reached the Conference Finals. To make matters worse, three of those teams were drafting in the lottery come season's end.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers, on route to their championship, finished 23rd in the league in three-pointers attempted at how many a game?

The Lakers in 2019-20 shot the same 31.6 threes a game the Warriors shot when they led the league in attempts in 2015-16 and reached the NBA Finals while setting an NBA record of 73 wins in the regular season.

At the very least, that tells you there is an equilibrium the NBA may have already reached, and shooting more and more 3s beyond this point starts to have a detrimental effect.

I hope this has been effective in getting you to realize that it is a myth that a team has to shoot a ton of threes to win the championship. History shows us that the sweet spot is around 30 three-pointers a game, no matter what the rest of the league is doing.



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