Title: 5 NBA Players With Interesting Early-Season 3-Point Shooting Trends
Date: November 13, 2015
Original Source: FanDuel
Synopsis: This article looked at SportVu data to help determine if a few early-season shooting trends were sustainable.
For as stable as basketball may seem at the player level on a night-to-night basis, the parts that make up player performance themselves are somewhat random. That is, while Kevin Durant’s 30-point average is going to have a somewhat tight distribution, some nights those points will come on strong outside shooting, some nights at the line, and some nights through some combination of both, forays to the rim, mid-range napalm and so on.
One of the most variable elements at both the player and team level is three-point shooting. In the aggregate, a greater volume of three-point shooting is better for a team’s offense, but three-point shots have a greater variance than two-point shots, hence the phrase “live by the three, die by the three.”
For the purposes of daily fantasy basketball on FanDuel, it’s worth recognizing how variable three-point shooting is at the individual level, too. This reality brings with it both an advantage and a disadvantage: High variability means more opportunity to find and exploit under- or over-performance, but it also means it takes longer for a player’s true talent to become clear.
Darryl Blackport of Nylon Calculus found that it takes about 750 three-point field goal attempts for three-point percentage to stabilize at the player level. That means it takes two fairly trigger-happy seasons from long-range before a player’s three-point percentage is more skill than noise, on balance.
That’s a great deal of uncertainty, but luckily SportVu data at least helps the descriptive side of perceived abnormal performances. Threes can be broken down by openness, by the number of dribbles, by the time left on the shot clock, and more. Slicing small samples into smaller ones won’t make three-point performance any more predictable, but understanding what’s gone in to performance to-date in descriptive terms can be instructive.
Considering a high-variance strategy is important for Guaranteed Prize Pool tournaments (less so in head-to-head formats where floor matters more than ceiling), three-point shooting is an important area for FanDuel players. With the help of player tracking data from NBA.com, here are five early-season three-point performances worth looking at more closely.
Nik Stauskus, Philadelphia 76ers
The earlier note about three-point percentage stabilization is important to keep in mind for the Canadian sharpshooter, who hasn’t exactly been the excellence of execution through his first season-and-change. Stauskus is shooting 31.2 percent over 205 attempts beyond the ark, a number far below what his reputation would suggest. And while a 16-of-56 start to the season is disappointing, Stauskus’ stroke is too pure not to regress to what’s almost surely a higher true-talent level.
With Stauskus firing 9.1 attempts per-36 minutes, fifth in the NBA, said regression could bring with it a major windfall. It’s the volume of Stauskus’ threes that most warrants continued patience, but also the means by which he gets his shots.
He’s knocking down 35.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks, but only 30.2 percent of threes classified as “open” or “wide open.” The quality of his teammates in Philadelphia may work to keep defenders tighter to him, as he’s often a bigger threat than the player his man may cheat off of him to help on. Still, Stauskus is managing over six open or wide open attempts per game. If he eschews some of his 2.7 pull-up attempts per game and continues to let fly when spotting up, good things are going to happen.
Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks
There are 69 qualified players averaging more three-point attempts on a per-minute basis than Korver, which seems insane for the two-time defending three-point marksman of the year. Korver’s attempts are down more than 30 percent from a year ago, when his shot was an integral part of Atlanta’s offense.
Without DeMarre Carroll alongside him this season, Korver’s been a great focus of opponent game plans. His enormous gravitational pull on a defense still opens things up for teammates like few others, but the end result has been less space for Korver to let fly in, and his three-point percentage is down to a still-great 39.3 percent.
Korver took 31.7 percent of his attempts last season with a defender ”tight” or “very tight” to him, up slightly from 27.3 percent the year prior. This year, a whopping 61 percent of his attempts have come with a man in his jersey. Considering the lower overall volume and the greater difficulty of the shots he is getting off, it’s probably not reasonable to expect Korver’s offensive performance to rebound to 2014-15 levels.
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Lakers
Put aside, for a second, any anger that Williams continues to see crunch-time minutes ahead of rookie D’Angelo Russell because head coach Byron Scott is oblivious to where the Lakers are on the development curve. Until Scott changes his ways, Williams is likely to continue to see plenty of run, and he’ll continue to let fly with just about any shot he deems reasonable. So, any shot, any time.
The point of emphasis with Williams, though, is his 19-percent mark from long-range can’t necessarily be regressed to his 33.8-percent career average or his 35 percent mark over the last five seasons. That’s because Williams is burdening himself with one of the most difficult shot mixes in basketball, taking half of his three-point attempts with a defender tight to him and hitting just 19 percent of those attempts.
Were Scott to find ways to get Williams more looks in catch-and-shoot scenarios, an improvement could be expected. Williams took 39.3 percent of his attempts in someone’s eye last year and managed a 34 percent mark overall because he canned 39.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples. If Scott started doing smart basketball things, Williams’ playing time would probably go down, too, so maybe the current gunner setup is best for Williams investors.
Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans
Gordon’s current 39.4 percent clip on threes may actually be due to rise.
A career 38.3 percent long-range shooter, Gordon happens to be leading the league in wide-open looks per game with 4.3. He’s also struggling somewhat on those opportunities, hitting 36.7 percent of his wide-open threes and 31.1 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities, way down from his marks of 46.9 and 48.2, respectively, over the last two seasons.
As the team gets healthier, Gordon’s touches may come down slightly, but the quality of his opportunities is reason for continued optimism.
Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers
A minor afterthought amid all of the breakout candidates in Rip City, Harkless has started the year 8-of-18 from outside. He showed tremendous promise as a shooter in his sophomore season, but it was flanked by poor performances as a rookie and in his third year. He’s now a 31.6 percent outside shooter for his career, but his early success warrants keeping an eye on.
At 6-foot-9, Harkless could conceivably begin to see run as a small four now that Meyers Leonard is on the shelf. Leonard was hoisting 3.5 triples per game, almost all of them open. Harkless is shooting 35.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes and 33 percent on open ones since the start of 2013-14, so if any of Leonard’s touches find their way to Harkless, he could see a small bump in value.