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The Three-Point Difference

Atop everyone's offseason wish list for the Sixers is a three-point shooter. This isn't going to be another post about who could possibly fill that role, instead, we're going to try to take a statistical look at how hard it will be to meet the need.

Let's get some perspective on the situation first. The Sixers averaged 4.2 made threes on 13.1 attempts, good for 31.8%. Their makes/game were 2nd to last in the league (only OKC made fewer), their attempts were also second to last (again, OKC was the only team to attempt fewer). They were dead last in percentage. The league-average three-point percentage was 36.7%.

In Sixers wins, they averaged 4.5 made threes on 12.3 attempts, good for 36.5%.  In losses, they averaged 3.8 made threes on 13.8 attempts, good for 27.5%. They shot better at home (33.1%) than on the road (30.6%).

So when we talk about the need for improved three point shooting, exactly how much improvement is needed? If they were able to make 2 more threes per game, that would push their average up to 6.2, good for 20th in the league. Three more threes per game and they'd be 10th. The raw numbers don't tell the whole story, obviously. In fact, three of the bottom four teams in threes made per game (Philadelphia, Detroit and Utah) all made the playoffs. The team who made the most threes per game didn't even sniff the post season (New York). If you go by percentages, the teams left standing were ranked #2 (Cleveland), #6 (Orlando), #13 (Denver) and #20 (Lakers). In fact, 8 of the 16 playoff teams were in the bottom half of the league in three-point percentage. Five of those eight were knocked out in the first round, the other three advanced.

From a purely statistical standpoint, I'm not sure where you'd rank three-point shooting. It's a completely mixed bag when you look at it from a long view. However, I think we can all agree that when you look at the micro, the ability to hit the three is absolutely necessary in today's NBA. It opens up the lane for drives, it eases pressure on your post players, it swings momentum. it punishes teams for mistakes. The Sixers have been on the wrong side of all of these advantages far too many times.

Now let's take a look at where the Sixers' threes came from:

  • The team hit 341 on 1,072 attempts.
  • Andre Iguodala: 80 for 261
  • Lou Williams: 63 for 220
  • Thad Young: 56 for 164
  • Willie Green: 51 for 161
  • Royal Ivey: 39 for 114
  • Donyell Marshall: 25 for 55
  • Andre Miller: 15 for 53
  • Kareem Rush: 10 for 33
  • Marreese Speights: 2 for 8
  • Sam Dalembert: 0 for 2
  • Reggie Evans: 0 for 1
Let's set the modest goal of moving from 29th in the league to 20th in three pointers made. So moving from 4.2 per game to 6.2 per game. That means the team would have to add 170 more threes. From the guys on the team, let's say there's a moderate improvement. Andre Iguodala gets back to his career percentage of 32.5%, that would give him a total of 85 made threes on the same number of attempts. Let's say Lou Williams improves to a passable 30% on the same number of attempts, that would be another 66 makes. Thad could both improve his percentage and take more shots, let's say he makes one per game, 82 on the season. Willie's minutes should be cut back, so we'll mark him down for 35 and we'll pencil Ivey in for the same, which is probably generous. Assume Miller is gone. Maybe Speights gets a few more looks in the offense, so let's bump his number up to 15. Let's add in Jason Smith as well for the same number, 15. Rush and Donyell both probably hit the bricks.

Using the numbers above, that would put the Sixers roster as it currently stands at 318 made threes, 193 short of the goal of 6.2 per game.

Here's the list of guys who hit a minimum of 193 threes last season:

  • Rashard Lewis (220)
  • Ray Allen (195)
That was a long way of saying, one guy isn't going to solve this problem. One guy won't move the needle enough to get into the top two-thirds of the league unless the Sixers get really, really lucky. If we're looking to a rookie to solve this problem, only two rookies made more than 140 last season, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Fernandez.

If you think a trade can act as a silver bullet, say by replacing Andre Miller's minutes with Kirk Hinrich, well, Hinrich's career high was 145.

There's another piece to the puzzle here. Willie Green played 1,828 minutes last season. That number will be cut drastically, however the bulk of his minutes will probably (or at least should probably) go to Elton Brand with Thad moving to the three and Iguodala moving to the two. Ostensibly, that means one fewer three-point shooter on the floor. This is why I think the key is going to be getting a point who can knock down the three, to be more precise, the key is going to be to get a three-point shooter who can also run the point.

Let's go back to Hinrich for a second. If the Sixers were somehow able to land him, and they reconfigured their offense enough to get 145 threes out of him, then this type of improvement would be possible, especially if they'd also be willing to give some of Ivey, Lou and Willie's minutes to a shooter they drafted or acquired through the MLE.

Another option would be to trade up for Stephen Curry and give him 5 or 6 attempts from three per game. If there's a rook out there who I think could step in and shoot close to 40% from three, it's Curry, but I'm beating a dead horse on that one at this point.

The point of this convoluted post is that it's going to either take a big move with a big payoff, several smaller moves or some kind of drastic improvement from the guys on the roster right now to change the Sixers from a dreadful three-point shooting team to simply a below-average three-point shooting team in 2009-2010. Honestly, I don't think the odds are good in any case, and I'd say it'll be nearly impossible for the Sixers to shake things up enough using only the MLE and the #17 pick. It's going to take some kind of trade, some kind of drastic move to improve the shooting on this team enough to make a dent.

You'll notice that I haven't dealt in three-point percentage for the bulk of this post, mainly because if we were talking about raising the number of threes made and percentages the math would've taken up more words than I'm willing to use. Put it this way, though. If the Sixers get a shooter who hits two threes per game and drops their team-wide average, they've made a horrible, horrible miscalculation, not only in who they drafted/signed, but in the direction of their offense. If that's the case, at this time next season we'll be much more intersted in the draft, because we'll be a lottery team. Of that, I'm sure.


by Brian on May 25 2009
Tags: Basketball | Offseason | Sixers |