Analytics Art: Stars who most improved their 3-point shot


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard powers the Spurs to a record-setting win

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

There’s no denying the robust correlation between a team’s efficiency from 3-point range and their overall success. If the Golden State Warriors’ meteoric rise over the past two seasons wasn’t enough to showcase the significance of that relationship to you, take a look at the PointAfter visualization below. The second tab, plotting every team’s 3-point percentage against their win total, is especially striking.

Premier marksmanship can make up for weakness in other areas. When a star player significantly improves his shooting touch, it adds an entirely new dimension to his team’s offense.

The following five players all increased their 3-point efficiency by at least five percent in 2015-16 while launching at least three 3-pointers each game. It’s no coincidence that four of these players are playoff-bound, too.

5. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.3 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 40 percent

Percent Difference: 5.7 percent

The Hawks have a good problem in that they possess two starting-caliber point guards in Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. The latter might hold more potential as an explosive force off the dribble, but Teague turned his once iffy jumper into a stark advantage over his promising backup this year.
The 27-year-old reached the 40-percent mark for the first time in his career, boosting his scoring rate to a personal-best 19.8 points per 36 minutes. Teague rarely escapes to the corner in Atlanta’s offense, so his improvement on 3-pointers above the break (39 percent) was essential to reaching those landmarks.

Note: You can see Teague’s shooting percentage in PointAfter’s seven zones by hovering over the above shot chart.

4. Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 30.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 37.1 percent

Percent Difference: 6.7 percent

For a large portion of Kemba Walker’s tenure in Charlotte, a lack of spacing limited the progression of the team’s offense. The Hornets rarely boasted several above-average shooters who could usher their scheme into the modern style of the NBA.

Thanks to the rapid improvement of Walker’s jump shot (and some savvy acquisitions by GM Rich Cho), Charlotte is home to one of the league’s top-ten offenses by offensive rating. After ranking last in 3-point percentage last season, the Hornets jumped all the way to eighth behind 3-point percentage champ Troy Daniels (48.4 percent), veteran Marvin Williams (40.2 percent) and their star guard Walker.

Walker more than doubled his raw 3-point total from a season ago while exceeding the league average for efficiency for the first time.

3. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.1 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 34.5 percent

Percent Difference: 7.4 percent

Will Barton’s first full season in Denver following a midseason move from Portland in 2014-15 signaled his first with an established role, and he seized the opportunity.

A contender for Kia Sixth Man of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player, Barton took his game to another level in 2015-16 by becoming a bona fide 3-point threat.

The 6-foot-6, 175-pound wing has always been regarded as a good ball-handler for his size. His maturation as a shooter signaled that he can be a weapon without the ball in his hands, too. In today’s NBA, that’s a major plus.

2. Al-Farouq Aminu, Portland Trail Blazers

2014-15 3-point percentage: 27.4 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 36.1 percent

Percent Difference: 8.7 percent

Okay, maybe Aminu isn’t a “star.” But the versatile defender played like one at times for the Trail Blazers, starting all 82 games and enjoying the best offensive season of his career.

His first double-digit scoring season (10.2 points per game) can be tied directly to his marked uptick in 3-point percentage.

With his newfound stroke in his arsenal, Aminu was granted the green light far more often than during his previous three stints with the Clippers, Pelicans and Mavericks. A whopping 49 percent of Aminu’s shots were 3-pointers, up 10 percent from 2013-14 and 35 percent from last season.

As a result, Aminu now has the ability to carry Portland’s offense once in a while. In Portland’s March 31 game against Boston, with both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum enduring off nights, Aminu poured in a career-high 28 points on 6-of-11 3-point shooting to guide the Blazers to a 116-109 victory.
If Aminu plays like that during the playoffs, his national profile will surely rise anew.

1. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

2014-15 3-point percentage: 34.9 percent

2015-16 3-point percentage: 44.3 percent

Percent Difference: 9.4 percent

It is true Kawhi Leonard‘s shooting cooled off a bit as the season went on. But there was really nowhere for Leonard to go but down after bursting out of the gates on a stunning four-month hot streak.

Leonard converted at least 47 percent of his 3-pointers from November to February. No other player recorded more than two full months with a 3-point percentage over 47 percent (minimum 20 attempts).

Even with the dip in efficiency as the season turned to spring, Leonard’s overall improvement from 3-point range was staggering. After never eclipsing 38 percent in his previous four seasons, Leonard sustained a truly remarkable long-range run and finished fourth in the NBA with a 44.3 percent clip on treys.
That’s one spot below Curry, whose exploits largely overshadowed Leonard and the Spurs during the regular season. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see those two face off when the stakes are raised in the playoffs.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

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