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Do Superstars Increase Their Teammates’ Three-Point Attempts?
October 13th, 2009 by Jon Nichols

A common approach for NBA teams is to surround their superstars and offensive playmakers with efficient shooters who are more than willing to hit the open three-pointer when given a chance.  The playmakers draw much of the defense’s attention and command double and triple teams.  Therefore, it is prudent to collect efficient shooters around them.

Do the numbers support this way of thinking?  Do teammates of superstars take more threes when the superstar is on the floor?  To answer these questions, I turned to the play-by-play data available at Basketball Geek.  I picked 10 superstars and broke down their team’s three-point shooting data to see how often the team shoots three-pointers when the player is on the court versus how many it shoots when the player is off the court.  The superstar’s own three-point shooting was not counted.  To measure three-point frequency, I calculated the total number of three-point attempts divided by the total number of field goal attempts.

Let’s take a look at the chart:

As you can see, most of the players increase the three-point frequency of their teammates while they are on the court.  The most extreme case is Dwight Howard, who increases the Magic’s three-point attempt percentage from 32% when he’s off the court to a staggering 43% when he’s on the court.  In other words, if you’re playing with Dwight Howard, there’s a 43% chance your next shot will be a three-pointer.  Big men in general tended to have the largest effects on three-point frequency, supporting the common strategy of having a dominant post player who demands double teams and can kick out the ball for open threes.  The Magic, in particular, killed teams with this strategy.

Two of the three point guards I looked at had similar effects as the big men, while swingmen were a mixed bag.

Why do some superstars not increase the three-point frequency of their teammates?  I had a hypothesis about this: when those particular players subbed out of the game, three-point shooters were replacing them.  This, of course, would make the three-point frequency when those superstars were off the court deceptively high.

To test my hypothesis, I went through the play-by-play data of the four superstars that did not increase three-point frequency: Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy, and Steve Nash.  Which players were substituting in for them?  The following tables report the top subs for each player and the three-point attempt percentages for those subs:

Except for Steve Nash, it appears as though my hypothesis was correct.  Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, in particular, had subs that can be considered three-point specialists.  If these superstars had subs that were equally as fond of two-pointers, I imagine their impact on team three-point frequency would be similar to the other superstars I looked at.

So what’s the deal with Nash?  His subs weren’t particularly in love with three-pointers, yet Nash did not increase team three-pointers.  I think there could be two things behind this.  For one, Nash is not a typical superstar that overwhelms his opponents with his physical abilities.  He may draw the attention of defenders, but he’s certainly not demanding many double teams.  Second, Nash may just be really good at setting up open looks by the basket, as I imagine Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion can attest.  In the end, if one player doesn’t fit in with the rest of the superstars, I’m not very surprised if it’s Steve Nash.

It’s nice when the statistics confirm the common dogma among NBA teams.  Teams collect three-point shooters to surround their superstars, and these strategies appear to be valid.  These same shooters, when the superstar is off the court, don’t shoot nearly as many threes.  I believe the results of this study should serve as further encouragement to NBA front offices that they should continue to acquire efficient, three-point shooting role players if they have a superstar on the roster.

5 Responses
Crow writes:
October 13th, 2009 at 2:34 pm

A check for stars good at setting up open looks by the basket for teammates would be another good list. The stars who create the most 3 point attempts + inside shots for teammates are likely to have the most cumulative positive impact on teammates.

Jon Nichols writes:
October 13th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I was actually thinking about doing that next. You should see something posted in the next few days…

steve writes:
October 13th, 2009 at 8:52 pm

going further into that i wonder how quality of teammates plays into it

like last years heat team the supportiung cast sucked so they maybe didnt have the confidence to shoot off of wade’s kickouts, despite the lane being more packed to stop wade than it could be to stop lebron or howard who have better shooters and more quality teammates around them

then when wade hits the bench the heat shoot 3’s becuase they couldnt create anything else offensivley

hmmmm…. interesting indeed. Think the HEAT had more 3pters with wade on the court in 2006 for instance when wade had better teammates and shooters around him?

Or Kobe’s team in 08, they had more shooters with radman in the lineup instead of ariza and also odom at pf instread of bynuma t center

but kobe’s team in 06 sucked so they probably hadmore 3pters with him off the court than with him on it, despite the constant doubleteams and packing the paint, right?

Arv writes:
October 13th, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Could you go a little further down the superstar totem pole; get guys like Chris Bosh, Danny Granger, and Andre Iguodala in?

It’s True: Star Players Get Their Teammates More Threes | MOUTHPIECE Blog // A Chicago-Addled Sports Blog writes:
October 14th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

[...] math exists. Awesome (and awesomely designed) sites like BasketballStastistcs.com can double-check this sort of thing. Thanks, Mayans! The conclusion? Most stars do indeed get their shooters more looks. Good to [...]