Although the NBA was founded in June 6, 1946, it wasn’t until October 12, 1979 that the first three-point shot was made. For 33 years, the NBA did not include three-point shots in the rulebook. Even if you lobbed the ball from half-court, it still counted as two points.
It’s been nearly 41 years since Chris Ford of the Boston Celtics was credited with that historic first trey. Today, this shot has never been more important.
Consider this fact: Three-point shooters are outscoring paint scorers in the 2020 playoffs. As of Monday, there were 4,602 points counted from beyond the arc and only 4,512 from the paint.
Kirk Goldsberry wrote about this recently in an ESPN article, “NBA playoff success has never been so dependent on 3s.”
This trend of increasing points from 3s has been growing every year. Just six years ago during the 2014 post-season, only 27.9% of all the shots taken came from 3s. Here’s the breakdown: 30.2% (2015); 31% (2016); 34.8% (2017); 35.5% (2018); 37.9% (2019).
This 2020 playoff bubble: 43.4%. In simple terms, more than 4 out of every 10 shots taken is a three-pointer — easily the highest percentage in NBA history.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are to be credited for this spectacle. The 32-year-old Wardell Stephen Curry II is third in the all-time 3-point field goals made (Curry has 2,495 behind Ray Allen’s 2,973 and Reggier Miller’s 2,560). But it’s his percentage that’s mind-boggling. He converts 43.5% of all 3s that he unleashes. His teammate Klay Alexander Thompson is equally impressive with his 41.9% threes converted.
Donovan Mitchell is another standout. He recently bested the Splash Brothers when he made 33 3-pointers in one playoff series (Utaz Jazz’s loss to the Denver Nugges). That eclipsed the previous record of 32 of Curry in 2016.
James Harden is another culprit. He is not only the league’s leading scorer (34.3 PPG, regular season) but he also made the most step-back 3s this season with 195, besting Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard.
“Harden’s Rockets have been the harbingers of this whole movement. Back in 2016-17, they became the first team in history to ever take more than 40% of their shots from 3-point range,” said Goldsberry. “Everybody is the Rockets now.”
Everybody is throwing 3s. If we look back at OKC’s Game 5 loss to Houston, for example, the Thunder attempted 46 three-pointers — and converted only seven for a dismal 15% clip. That surely contributed to their embarrassing 80-114 loss to the Rockets.
Toronto won yesterday and is still in contention partly because of Fred VanVleet. For the past two playoff years, the 6-foot-1 guard has made 46% (of 3-pointers) each time they win and a measly 26% whenever the Raptors lose.
In today’s NBA, plenty of games are decided by how well (or poorly) the team shoots from behind that line that measures (from the center of the basket) 23 feet 9 inches.