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Who Takes and Makes the Most Difficult Threes in the NBA?

It’s true that some NBA players appear  to shoot better with a hand in their face. In reality, this usually isn’t the case statistically. Despite this, it seemed like a worthwhile investigation to figure out which players attempt the most difficult threes, and which players make the most difficult threes.

Factors of Analysis

Two factors were used to answer the first question. First, the percentage of three point attempts that are contested was looked at. The reasoning was that it is much more difficult to shoot when contested. Secondly, the percentage of three point attempts that were unassisted was looked at. Taking an unassisted three pointer requires a player to create space on his own. This typically makes the eventual shot attempt far more difficult. Thus, in theory, contested, unassisted threes are among the most difficult.

Who Attempts the Most Difficult Threes?

threes-nba-contested-unassisted
This graph looks at the percentage of threes that a player takes that are unassisted (x-axis), and the percentage that are contested (x-axis). Those up and to the right attempt the most difficult threes.

Essentially what this graph shows is that James Harden far and away attempts the most difficult threes out of any player. Not only does he attempt the most threes in the league, a high percentage of his threes are extremely difficult shots. For one thing, he takes 30% more unassisted threes than any other player. Additionally, only he and Jamal Crawford take at least 40% of threes as contested shots.

Who is Best at Making Difficult Threes?

To answer the second question, the x-axis remained the same. What changes is the y-axis to reflect the player’s actual shooting percentages on contested shots.

threes-nba-unassisted-contested
This graph looks at the percentage of unassisted threes that a player takes and compares it to their 3P% on contested shots.

What we see here is that in general, the less unassisted threes that a player attempts, the higher their shooting percentage. This also reinforces the idea that unassisted, contested three point attempts are extremely challenging to make.

The red line indicates the league-wide three point average of 35.4%. Players with their names above the line shoot contested threes at a rate higher than the average player shoots an average three. Among those qualified, 11 players managed this feat. Furthermore, four players managed to shoot at least 40% (which is elite for regular threes) on contested threes. Paul George, however, was the sole player to shoot at least 45% on contested threes. Considering that George ranks third in threes made this year, this is exceptional.

Items of Interest

Darius Miller and Gerald Green are noteworthy as they both managed to shoot above the league average on contested threes. This is intriguing because they are the only two among the 11 who are typically neither considered either a star (a la George, Curry, Irving, Middleton and Booker), nor an elite shooter (Ellington, Redick, Korver and Covington).

Harden’s place on this graph is noteworthy because of his 31% on contested threes. While below average, it is still respectable considering that over 86% of his three-point attempts are unassisted. Even with his low shooting percentage on these tremendously difficult shots, Harden owns an elite 62.1 TS% for the season.

Kevin Durant’s 25% on contested threes is a striking statistic considering our perception of KD. Generally, he is seen as a seven footer with a first-class, unguardable shot. However, with a hand in his face, Durant is only making a quarter of his threes. Granted, he is having a down year shooting the three, but it’s nonetheless interesting.

Conclusion

There are definitely other factors that contribute to the difficulty of a three-point attempt. The distance of the three attempted and the amount of time left on the shot clock, for instance, were not considered. The two factors used in this analysis, however, were most readily available and appeared the most likely to have a correlation. The main takeaways are that James Harden likely attempts the most difficult threes and that Paul George appears to shoot the best on difficult threes this season.


Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com

Featured image courtesy of Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

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