So the other day I had a thought, nay received a prophecy, to create a new shooting statistic entitled adjusted three-point percentage. This statistic would measure a shooter’s three-point percentage if they were given the average player’s shot selection based on defender distance (0-2 feet, 2-4 feet, 4-6 feet and 6+ feet). This statistic can help us really find out how good three-point shooters are, compared to if they just had many well or poorly defended shots.
The top ten between the two barely differs (below), with just two players not being on the other list, however, if we take a deeper dive, we can find out who some of the league’s most underrated and overrated three-point shooters are. And so I've compiled a list of the top five positive and negative discrepancy qualifying three-point shooters.
5. Marvin Williams
3P%: 34.7%, Adj 3P%: 32.5%, Discrepancy: -2.2%
Stretch bigs typically have higher three-point percentages than adjusted three-point percentages because they have more opportunities to get open threes off the pick-and-pop, and with a team like the Charlotte Hornets, who have the second-highest on-ball screen frequency, at 23%, he gets even more than the average stretch big, shooting 50.6% of his three-point attempts from wide open, and 92.5% coming from when a defender is more than four feet away, but still, he is just a league average wide-open three-point shooter, hitting them 38.3% of the time, and a below average 4-6 foot defender distance three-point shooter, at 33.6% to the league average 35.8%.
And so for the man named after a certain Motown singer, there just ain’t no defender distance looking enough for Marvin Williams to be a good three-point shooter at this season.
4. Channing Frye
3P%: 40.8%, Adj 3P%: 38.1%, Discrepancy: -2.7%
Fun fact: when you play with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, you are likely to see more open looks than the average player, and when you have a guy who enjoys camping out on the three-point line, you are going to see a lot of looks there, and when you shoot 45% on wide open threes, congratulations, you’re about to get some pretty easy buckets.
This is probably the reason why Channing Frye has seen the second best three-point percentage of his career at the age of 33 (his first was when he shot 43.9% with the Phoenix Suns in 2009-2010, when he played with other superstars, Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire), as he takes a whopping 60.2% of his threes when he is wide open, and 92.3% when his defender is four or more feet away. And being that Frye, much like Williams, is also a stretch big, he sees similar opportunities off the pick-and-pop as well. So when you inevitably leave Channing open, the chances are, you’ll end up getting Fryed.
3. Karl-Anthony Towns
3P%: 35.4%, Adj 3P%: 32.7%, Discrepancy: -2.7%
If I was a defender, I would be very happy about letting the average three-point shooting Karl-Anthony Towns shoot a three rather than him getting a post up (68.4% field goal percentage in the post) or pick and roll (56.4% field goal percentage in pick and roll) opportunity. It’s just logic.
So although KAT can hit the open three, as the defender, you must risk that because he is just too dangerous inside, which ends up cranking his three-point percentage to higher than it should be because players tend to leave him open on the three-point line. And so it really is a kind of pick your poison deal with KAT, but to a lesser extent, and so in this situation, I guess the inside poison would be bleach, and the three-point poison would be water with blue food coloring, to make it look like Windex.
2. Buddy Hield
3P%: 38.6%, Adj 3P%: 35.4%, Discrepancy: -3.2%
I guess the rest of the NBA did not get the memo that Buddy Hield was the next Stephen Curry because 91.9% of Buddy Hield’s three-point attempts come with a defender at least four feet away. I mean, you’d think that the new Stephen Curry might need to fight a bit more for good looks, but no, not at all. In fact, being that Buddy shoots just 34.3% on pull-up threes and make up just one-third of his three-point attempts, that means that Buddy is just getting open catch-and-shoot looks, and knocking them down.
In fact, when Buddy Hield does take threes with tighter defense (four feet or less), he hits those shots at just 11%. But lofty comparisons aside, this is still a fine three-point percentage from a rookie and I would expect it to improve steadily throughout his career.
1. Marc Gasol
3P%: 38.1%, Adj 3P%: 32.7%, Discrepancy: -5.4%
Don’t get me wrong, Marc Gasol’s three-point development has been pretty amazing for the Memphis Grizzlies, but at the same time, it’s really not as good as advertised. This is very much like KAT, this is more of a backup plan for Marc Gasol than a first option. He shoots 55.1% from the post and is a spectacular playmaker, and so defenders seem to lag off of him at the three-point line, and so he knocks those wide open looks at a percentage of 40.2%.
He is really not interested in taking these tightly contested threes either, as he has shot just eight and made just one of those, and so that is why the discrepancy is so large. But for a 7’1” giant who has never taken more than 17 threes in a season before this year, it’s still pretty good.
5. Chris Paul
3P%: 40.5%, Adj 3P%: 42.7%, 2.2% Discrepancy
The probable reason why Chris Paul has a 2.2% difference between his three-point percentage and the adjusted three-point percentage is because he is just six feet tall. I say this because Chris Paul is actually one of the best wide open three-point shooters in the league with a fourth best three-point percentage of 51.5% when the defender is at least six feet away from him. However, due to his small stature, his two to four-foot three-point percentage is just 26.9%, 4.7% below league average.
This means that when Paul can see the basket, he can hit it, but when a defender is in his face, he tends to miss more often than not because he is just six feet. And because he is Chris Paul, one of the best basketball players in the world, he does not get the opportunity to shoot that many wide open three-pointers, with just 24.8% of his attempts coming from there, which is one of the lowest in the league.
4. Kevin Durant
3P%: 37.7, Adj 3P%: 39.9%, 2.2% Discrepancy
This year, Kevin Durant has had his worst three-point shooting year since 2011, but if we look at this statistic, we find out that he still is Kevin Durant, people have just become more aware that he is Kevin Durant, as similarly to Chris Paul, Kevin Durant is also one of the best basketball players in the world, and therefore like Chris Paul, compared to other players, he has little opportunity to get many wide open threes, with Durant only getting 23.2% of his attempts from there, but when he gets them, he makes them at a pretty solid 44.9%. But he is Kevin Durant, which means he is unlikely to get many wide open attempts.
Kevin Durant is also somewhat prone to taking a lot of well-defended three-pointers, taking the 21st most in the league at 91, and only hitting a slightly below average 30.8% of them. His percentage would be higher if, instead of taking these contested threes, he simply did not take those chances and either kept fighting for a better shot or passed it, which should be easier on a team like the Golden State Warriors.
3. Marco Belinelli
3P%: 35.7%, Adj 3P%: 38.2%, 2.5% Discrepancy
Over the past four years, we have seen Marco Belinelli’s three-point percentage fall somewhat significantly, going from 43% in 2013-2014 with the San Antonio Spurs, to 37.4% in 2014-2015 with the San Antonio Spurs, 30.6% in 2015-2016 with the Sacramento Kings and now back up a little to 35.7% this season with the Charlotte Hornets. But is this purely a matter of his shooting skills fluctuating periodically between seasons, or is it because he has played for teams with very different skill levels, causing for his three-point percentage to decrease and increase with every new season.
I’d say it’s the latter, and it just so happens that out of the four aforementioned seasons, his best three-point percentage year came with when he was with the best team, the 62-20 championship-winning San Antonio Spurs, in which due to a mix of guys on his team like Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan, and the fact that head coach Gregg Popovich has made ball movement a strong importance for the San Antonio Spurs, Marco Belinelli got way more open three-point shots than when he was with the Sacramento Kings last season, who simply did not have the scoring threats that the Spurs had.
This year, his three-point percentage is at an almost league average 35.7% possibly because teams have been guarding him tighter than usual because outside of Kemba Walker, there are not that many consistent scorers on the Charlotte Hornets. His adjusted three-point percentage at 38.2% is probably what we’d see from him if he were on a team that would give him a bit more wide open opportunities.
2. Wayne Ellington
3P%: 37.4%, Adj 3P%: 40.8%, 3.4% Discrepancy
The reason why Wayne Ellington’s adjusted three-point percentage is so high is because he is just so damn good at hitting wide open threes. In fact, with every other defender distance, Wayne Ellington is actually below average, but since he hits wide open threes at a second in the league 53.9%, and because he has a reputation as a capable three-point shooter (career 37.6%), they tend not to give him those wide-open looks that he so often buries.
But if Ellington was given the same defense as a league average player, he would hit them at a near 41% rate, which would be one of the best in the league.
1. Isaiah Thomas
3P%: 37.9%, Adj 3P%: 43.6%, 5.7% Discrepancy
I have some good news and bad news for Mr. Isaiah Thomas. Good news: if you were of regular NBA height, you’d probably be a top five player in this league. Bad news: you’re 5’9”. As sad as it may seem, Isaiah Thomas has pretty much maxed out the capabilities for an NBA player under six-feet, one of which would be his three-point shooting, which is at 37.9%, with his adjusted three-point percentage at 43.6%. Why is there such a big discrepancy between the two percentages? Well, that is very much like Chris Paul, for the NBA’s standards, Isaiah Thomas is quite vertically challenged, and this is about as good as his three-point shooting can or will ever get.
Due to his size, Thomas has had some trouble with the more heavily contested three-point shots, hitting them at 32.3% (imagine what it would be if Thomas could actually see the basket over his defenders head), which is still above average, but because he is such a good scorer, he ends up taking more of those than any player in the NBA not named James Harden, taking 275 three-pointers with a defender within four feet of him, which equals out to about 47.8% of his three-pointers taken.
If Thomas was not as tightly guarded as he is, however, he would see himself taking more wide open threes, of which he shoots at a 53.1% mark, good for fourth in the league, but because of his role, he does not see as many of those as he would like. So, I’m sorry IT, but much like the two other superstars on this list, your percentage has been brought down because you are too good.