Three Point Shooting: Strength or Weakness?


With four games remaining in the season, and the Boston Celtics are in a four team race for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots and this season has already surpassed many expectations. The Celtics have a chance to take a young and exciting team into the playoffs after a one year hiatus.

The Celtics offense has scored an impressive 101.2 points per game this season, but their offense has one major issue: 3 point shooting.

Coming into tonight’s game vs. Cleveland, the Celtics are ranked 27th in the NBA in team 3pt% at 32.5, a glaring hole for an offense that has been seen as above average this season. On the current Celtics roster, only Jonas Jerebko is shooting above 38% this season.

Feb 25, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) celebrates a three-point basket against the New York Knicks during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

In contrast to that statistic, the Celtics are also capable of putting five people on the floor at the same time that are all able to hit 3 pointers. With Kelly Olynyk at center and Jerebko at power forward the Celtics are able to play all five players around the perimeter who at least stretch the floor with the threat of a three point shot.

The low shooting percentage in contrast to their ability to stretch the floor raises the question as to whether 3 point shooting is a strength or weakness for the Celtics.

The NBA has evolved over recent years with 3 point shooting becoming an even greater part of the game. This season, the Houston Rockets are attempting 32.9 3 pointers per game, and have attempted over 400 more 3 pointers this season than any other team.

Feb 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and fans celebrate Harden

The added distance of the shot comes with added reward. The Celtics also shoot a large amount of three pointers, coming in at 12th in 3 point attempts per game. Over the past three seasons, the Celtics have increased from 17.2 attempts per game in 2012-2013, to 21.1 in 2013-2014, to 24.6 this season.

Another way to look at three point shooting instead of shooting percentage, is looking at points per game coming from 3 pointers. By multiplying the Celtics 3 pointers made per game (7.99) by 3 points, the result is 23.98. This statistic improves the Celtics to 13th in the NBA in points per game from 3 pointers, a great improvement from their 27th when looking at 3 pointers simply from their shooting percentage.

Although the Rockets are shooting below the league average on 3’s this year, the team is leading the NBA in points per game from threes with 34.43. Rather than viewing the Celtics as a team almost at the bottom of the NBA in 3 point shooting, the team is better viewed as slightly above average.

The Celtics take 28% of their field goal attempts from behind the 3 point line, a statistic in line with their per game point totals at 13th in the NBA. A more troubling statistic for the Celtics is the high percentage of “long 2’s” shots outside 16 feet but inside the 3 point line. The Celtics take 19.4% of their field goals from that range, the 8th highest rate in the NBA.

Apr 8, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass (30) shoots the ball over Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe (10) during the first quarter at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

That statistic is troubling as only two of the 5 teams with higher rates than them are playoff teams, the Wizards and Clippers. Though the Celtics are shooting an above average 41% from this range, that field goal percentage leads to the same expected point value as shooting 27% from 3 point range.

The Celtics offense would be much better off decreasing that percentage by either stepping back and making sure those shots are threes, or taking less pullups and continuing to the basket. The Celtics 3 point shooting and ability to stretch the floor can definitely be a strength for the Celtics if they use it to their best interest and attempt to maximize their efficiency.

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