Published on May 20, 2019 by Connor Wolf  

The sport of basketball is continually evolving and forcing players to change with it. Over the past decade, the popularity and usage of the three point shot in basketball have skyrocketed. Consequently, players’ attempts to launch these long balls from absurd distances have become much more frequent and expected. The incredible shooters of today’s game, such as Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, are shooting more threes, and from longer distances, than ever seen before. This trend in the sport has led fans and players alike to believe that such deep sharpshooters are necessary to make a team successful. But do the statistics provide any evidence of a correlation between winning and three point shooting?

A Trend in the Game

Before we analyze the relationship between team success and three point shooting, it is important that we have some context as to why this is significant in today’s game. The following charts show the steady increase in three point shooting in the NBA over the past 10 seasons.

Avg. 3PA Graph

Avg. 3PM Graph

As seen above, the three point shot has become gradually more abundant across the league as a whole over the last 10 seasons. The average number of three point field goal attempts per team per game has risen from 18.1 to 32.0, while the average number of threes made per team per game has risen from 6.4 to 11.4. This statistical evidence highlights the importance of the three pointer in the NBA today strictly due to its growing quantity and popularity.

Does it Lead to Success?

As we have already seen, the three point shot is more prevalent in the NBA today than ever before. But why is this? Is there a clear relationship between shooting the long ball and winning? Let’s see what the statistics show us.

Games Won vs 3PA Graph

The graph above has a correlation coefficient of r = .313, which is a weak positive correlation. This tells us that there may be some evidence to support attempting more threes leads to winning more games, but the evidence is not strong. However, through linear regression, we find that on average attempting one more three per game leads to about .875 more wins per season.

Games won vs 3PM Graph

This graph has a correlation coefficient of r = .487, another weak positive correlation. We have a little stronger evidence here that making more threes per game leads to winning more games, but the evidence is still not convincing. Through linear regression, however, we find that on average making one more three per game leads to about 3.883 more wins per season.

games won vs 3P% Graph

This graph gives us our strongest correlation coefficient yet of r = .542, a moderate positive correlation. This evidence proves that having a higher three point percentage directly leads to winning more games. By raising your team’s three point shooting percentage average by one percent, you can expect to win 4.254 more games in a season.

As we can see, there is little evidence to support that attempting more threes wins more games, some evidence that making more threes wins more games, and good evidence that shooting a better percentage wins more games.

But What About Ultimate Success?

From the explored relationships above, teams may not be entirely convinced that three point shooting is a necessity for success. We only found weak to moderate correlations that link three point shooting to winning. Is a weak to moderate statistical correlation enough to make players and coaches focus more on the long ball? Probably not. However, observing the statistics of the last five NBA Finals champions may give us exactly the proof we’re looking for.

Last champs Graph

The table above shows the number of three pointers made and attempted by each of the last five Finals champions and also their three point shooting percentages. The last five championship winning teams have ranked 8th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 12th, respectively, in three point makes per game. This shows that four of the last five champs have been in the top ten for 3PM, with the fifth team falling just outside. Similarly, those five teams ranked 17th, 5th, 3rd, 4th, and 16th, respectively, in three point attempts. This shows three of the last five champs landing in the top five for 3PA. Lastly, these championship-winning teams have ranked 1st, 3rd, 7th, 1st, and 1st, respectively, in three point shooting percentage. All five champs ranked in the top seven in the league for 3PT%, with three of them landing the #1 spot!

Keep Shooting From Deep

As the three point shot has continually grown in popularity and frequency in today’s game, many have been left to contemplate the direct effects it has on team success. Statistically, we have evidence to prove that attempting more threes, making more threes, and, most importantly, converting them at a higher rate does lead to more wins, and even championships. Teams in the NBA are now living, and winning, by the three more than ever!


About the Author

Connor just completed his sophomore year at Purdue University, where he is pursuing a double major in actuarial sciences and applied statistics, with a minor in management. He has had a passion for both sports and statistics since a very young age, and enjoys discovering all the new information statistics can give us about sports.