After an underwhelming first round, the Conference Semifinals have provided a much-needed influx of crunch time drama. Though some games have been poorly officiated, and others lacking in high-quality shots, there have been entertaining finishes nonetheless.
The ubiquity and efficiency of three-point attempts has been a lead story all season long. Consider it a side effect of the well-deserved Golden State fascination — everybody has an opinion on the proliferation of the three-point shot. Unsurprisingly, the discussion has continued into the postseason.
While it is easy to understand why so many "pundits" are eager to share their thoughts about teams or players who shoot threes, it is more confusing why there's even a debate. Outside of Charles Barkley, any knowledgeable fan would accurately say that teams should attempt a healthy dose of shots from outside the arc.
Something that has not gotten much airtime has been the idea of parceling up three-pointers by zone. At the Sloan Conference earlier this year, shot-chart savant Kirk Goldsberry led a panel about the expansion of the three within NBA offense. Aptly named "The Curry Landscape," the panel began with him unveiling a map of the most efficient players by zone from 2002-2015 (blurry picture here). The idea of "zone dominance" is an intriguing one, and can depict a player's role within his team's offense, or his preferred areas on the floor.
Using shot charts from the 2015-2016 regular season via Statmuse, I divided three-point attempts into 5 different regions. There is a high level of variance in the efficiencies taken from different areas. At the macro-level, the league average on corner threes is much higher than on above the break attempts. That's hardly breaking news, as every team looks to take the corner three when they can. Gregg Popovich has prioritized the corners on defense for over a decade, and the Spurs' ability to limit those attempts has been a hallmark of their airtight defense for much of the Duncan-Pop dynasty.
Looking from player to player however, the differences in FG% by zone become more interesting. Even Stephen Curry has a huge gap in his FG% on above the break threes from the left and right sides. Taking roughly the same amount from each side, he shoots at a 7.6% higher clip on those from the left (49.1% vs 41.5%). And while he has been pretty dominant everywhere, he is not the king of every zone. So without further ado, the best shooters from each region:
Rather than just showing the best player in each zone, I used shot-chart data to show shot frequency within the region. The dividing lines are not perfect, as some shots were on the border between two zones. I also included the counting stats for FGs and FGAs, and the player's FG% compared to league average. The darker the shade, the more efficient that player is compared to league average. The size of the hexagonal point indicates shot frequency from that spot.
To create this I cropped the player's shots from each zone, and then put each on a blank court design. There were also minimum thresholds for shot attempts in order to qualify. For example, Wesley Matthews, Hollis Thompson, and Steph Curry all shot over 50% from the right corner. Yet none of them attempted over 60 such shots, and were thereby deemed ineligible.
Most interesting is the case of Redick, whose efficiency stands out even alongside Steph. He had a dominant season, comparable to Kyle Korver's virtuoso 2014-2015 campaign. The right side above the break was not even Redick's most dominant area of the court. In a combined 83 attempts from the corners, he shot a ridiculous 55.4%.
Trevor Ariza's appearance may surprise some, who perhaps have confused him with Corey Brewer (coincidentally 2nd worst from the left corner). While his FG% spikes to nearly 51% on left corner threes, Ariza predominantly hoists from the right corner. He took 146 such shots this season, opposed to his mere 63 from the left side. In fact, he attempted 49 more right corner threes than second place (Klay Thompson).
Ariza's gap in attempts is not statistical noise either. Last year he took 137 right corner threes, and just 77 from the left. In 2013-2014 (with Washington), he took 103 from the right corner, but just 77 from the left. While his left corner dominance this season may be skewed by the small sample size, his preference for the right side is not.
Finally, there is Steph. It is hardly surprising to see him reign over two plots of three-point land. His unprecedented volume manifested itself in above the break 3's. He attempted 745 of them this season, 161 more than runner-up James Harden. And his 45.5% mark on these shots was the best of anyone with over 350 attempts (~4 per game).
Curry's 45.1% shooting from straightaway crushes nearly everyone, from high-volume scorers to fungible rotation players. Omri Casspi actually had the same 45.1% mark, albeit in 133 fewer attempts. As for the larger-scale guys, Damian Lillard (32.4%) does not come close to Curry's efficiency. Klay Thompson (36.5%), CJ McCollum (37.6%), James Harden (39.9%), Kyle Lowry (39.7%), Kemba Walker (38.1%), and Paul George (37.2%) are all above league average, but still not in Curry's neighborhood. Mirza Teletovic attempted the 6th-most straightaway threes of anyone in the league, and he was nearly 10% off Steph's league-leading pace.
Of all the high-usage guys, Kevin Durant comes closest to matching Steph. In 173 attempts, he shot 41.6% from straightaway. And Curry's reign over the left side above the break is even more one-sided. Other than Steph, the most trigger-happy guys from the that zone were Lillard (41.2%), JR Smith (39.7%), Klay (39.9%), Robert Covington (36.2%), and Lowry (40.2%). They all finished above league average, but none could approach Steph's torrid 49.1% mark.
The only player who was in the realm of Curry's efficiency from that zone was Doug McDermott, who shot 46.6% from the left side above the break. But the former All-American did so in only 73 attempts. In many ways, this shot map confirmed what many already knew: no shooter can come close to Curry's feats.
While the first chart focused on the best shooters in the league, there is always the downside to high-volume shooting. So which players were most detrimental to their team from the outside?
Like the first map, there was a required amount of attempts in order to receive this coveted honor. Obviously, the mark is much lower for these guys to qualify.
Jamal Crawford probably seems the most out of place on this chart. Guys like Winslow and Westbrook hardly have the long-range pedigree of Crawford, who holds the all-time record for 4-point plays. And though Crawford did not have his most efficient season beyond the arc, he still managed a 3P% of 34.0%, very much in line with his career average of 34.9%.
So why did he shoot just 23.9% from the left side on non-corner threes this season? Unsatisfying an explanation as it is, Crawford's mark can probably be attributed to randomness. It stands as a huge outlier when compared to his past seasons. He shot 34.9% on such shots in 2015, 38.5% in 2014, and 40.6% in 2013. And despite his 17-71 performance this year, his 41.2% shooting from the corners and 40.9% from straightaway keeps his overall average afloat.
Barnes' awful mark in the right corner is equally incongruous. He shot 37.3% from the opposite corner, and a bad (but not horrible) 32.2% overall. His shot chart is completely weighted towards the left side. In the two right side zones, he finished a combined 37-141 (26.2%). He was above league average everywhere else.
Finally, there is Westbrook. His awful three-point shooting is perhaps the only blemish on his stat sheet, but it is a glaring one. Attempting 4.3 threes per game each of the past two seasons, Westbrook has shot a combined 29.7%. Yet inside the arc he is an efficient scorer, and that does not even account for his propensity to draw fouls and get to the free throw line.
His athleticism and explosive first step are enough to combat his shooting woes almost entirely, but they cannot suppress his hubris. What other explanation is there for him attempting 341 threes this season, and 48 in OKC's 8 playoff games thus far?
Westbrook's low mark from the right side is an outlier. While he is not an efficient long-range shooter whatsoever, 24.7% is not sustainable. Still, that does not mean he should attempt threes at the same rate as George Hill or Patrick Beverley.
Of the 5 players on this map, Westbrook has the least reason to be on it. None of the other players are blessed with the physical gifts of Westbrook. He simply needs to pick his spots better, and be more self-aware. But if he instead tries to shoot his way into efficiency, his face may soon don more than one region.