clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Stop Worrying and Love the Three

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Once, Antoine Walker was asked why he shot so many threes, and his response “because there aren’t any fours,” is the single greatest basketball quote of all time.

Auburn doesn’t shoot too many threes. You’ve heard announcers say it does. You’ve seen #auburntwitter say it does. You’ve heard the old man sitting behind you say it does. Heck, you might have said it yourself. It’s OK to be wrong sometimes, that’s how we learn. This Auburn team shoots a lot of threes, it’s true, but they aren’t shooting too many and they aren’t doing anything against the grain. Auburn’s up-tempo three-before-two offense is on-trend in basketball in 2019, and with good reason. You’ve heard me joke about how three is worth more than two, but there’s more to it than that.

In the 2009-10 season, eight teams in college basketball made 300 threes. By 2011-12 it was down to only four teams. In 14-15, it was 13 teams but that number jumped all the way to 32 by the next year. Fifty one teams made 300 or more threes in 2016-17 and a whopping 63 teams last season (17-18) made 300 or more. This season Auburn has made 330 threes already and that’s only good for 7th nationally. The three point era is here to stay.

Auburn has taken 91 more two-point shots than three-point shots. You’re probably thinking “Duh, Crow. Take the high percentage two pointer more than the three!” Well, Villanova won a national title taking around the same if not less two pointers than threes in the tournament. The Wildcats made a seemingly impossible 464 threes last year. In the NBA, the Rockets became the first team in history to attempt more threes than twos last season, and they are going to do it again this year. More than a third of all shots taken at the NBA level are now threes. You’ll hear Barkley complain about this, and you’ll hear other announcers say it makes the game worse or that teams are doing it too much but those people don’t look at the numbers.

Auburn is not a great shooting team from 5ft-18ft from the basket. Do you know how I know that? Because no team is good at those shots.

look at this graph I stole from the Ringer:

The best players on earth shoot about the same percentage from 25 ft from the basket as they do from five feet from the basket. When you look at that graph, and then you remember that the collegiate three point line is an absurd 20ft 9 in., you begin to wonder why anyone ever takes any shots from between five feet and 19 feet. Congrats, you are now a progressive basketball stats “nerd” as Barkley and the old-heads will call you. It’s plain as day from that graph above.

Here’s another handy graph:

The Warriors (everyone’s go-to example as an exception to the “don’t rely on the three” rule) aren’t just good because they have Klay, Steph and KD taking threes—they are good because they don’t have those guys taking long twos. If you shoot the same percentage from 18ft as you do from 20, why take the 18 footer if it is going to get you one less point if you make it?

Auburn is on pace to set a record in the SEC for threes made per game (11.1). I don’t think that record will last more than one year. Basketball coaching has gotten better, and training techniques have improved so guys are going to continue to jack up threes at a greater and greater rate.

If Auburn is to make any noise this month, it will be because it is shooting the seams off the ball. The three pointer is the greatest weapon in the sport right now, and Auburn is the best at it in the history of the conference.

Auburn swept Alabama this season (I will never get tired of typing that) on the back of three pointers. The play of the game last night was a steal and three by Chuma Okeke off an inbounds pass. Chuma could have easily passed to an open Jared Harper, or taken a wide open midrange jumper himself, but he dribbled back, checked his feet to make sure he was behind the line, and launched a corner three. That is basketball in 2019 and it is beautiful.

Auburn doesn’t shoot too many threes. If anything, it is shooting way too many twos. So stop worrying, lay back, and fall in love with the long ball.