Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The NBA Turning Into A 3-Point League

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are off to an amazing 38-4 start to the 2015-2016 season.  Stephen Curry is undoubtedly been the NBA's MVP during the first half of the season. 

The statistic I find most fascinating about Stephen Curry's run this year is the number of three pointers he's shooting.  As of this writing, he's got 193 three pointers on the year.  That's good for a pace of 376 over 82 games.  Keep in mind, he missed a couple of games due to an injury earlier in the year.  For a good part of the year prior to that injury he was on pace for over 400.

Regardless, any of these numbers will completely shatter the NBA record for three pointers in a season, which Curry already owns.  He had 286 three pointers last year to set the record.  That beat his prior record of 272 which he accomplished in 2012-2013.  With 261 in 2013-2014, he owns three of the top five three point shooting seasons in NBA history.

While Curry is going to annihilate this record, it's really an indication of how much the NBA has changed in terms of the three pointer being used as a weapon.  The NBA changed three point line distances several times starting in 1994 before settling into what it is today in the 1996-1997 season.  Ever since then three point shooting has gone up and up.  From 1997-2001 teams averaged 4.6 three pointers per game.  Then from 2001 to 2005, NBA teams averaged over 5 per game.  Then from 2006 to 2012 it grew to over 6 per game.  From 2012 to 2015 it jumped to over 7 per game.  And now in the 2015-2016 season, teams are currently averaging 8.3 three pointers per game.

The change in the game can be perhaps be illustrated best by looking at Michael Jordan's early career.  Debated as the best basketball player of all time, but minimally the best shooting guard of all time, some of Jordan's pre-1994 three point statistics can look comical by modern day measurements.

For example, Jordan lead the league in scoring each year from 1986 to 1989.  However, he made an phenomenally unimpressive 46 three pointers in those three seasons.  Yes, that's 46 three pointers in THREE SEASONS.  As a comparison, Stephen Curry has made 47 in his last eight games.  In the 1987-1988 season, Jordan made a comical 7 three pointers total and had a horrible 13.2% shooting percentage on three pointers.  Even during a championship year in the 1991-1992 season, Jordan made only 27 three pointers on 27% shooting (the league average was 33.1%).

Later, Jordan's three point shooting grew just as it did for the rest of the NBA, but it's comical looking at some of those early numbers.

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