Professional basketball has been around for quite some time here in the United States. To be exact, the Basketball Association of America was started in 1946, featuring 11 teams. A lot of things have changed since those days. Now, in 2014, we have 30 teams and the rules are a bit different from how they stood during the early days of the league. Most notably, the three point shot came into existence in 1980 and forever changed the way the game of basketball would be played.
It is that moment forward that I refer to as the “modern” NBA. In this study, I take a look at team statistics over the years and discover which franchises have excelled the most (or least) in each category. This data is correct up to February 4th, 2014. Feel free to send updates using the Best Tickets Data Collective.
Let’s dive right in.
In 1980, the three-point line was a brand new thing, so it should come as no surprise that there was an average of just 2.77 three-pointers attempted per game. In 1995, to promote an increase in scoring, the league shortened the three-point line from 23’9″ at the top of the key and 22′ in the corners, to 22′ all the way around. This sparked the random surge of three point shots from ’95 to ’97. In 1998, the league wisely moved the line back to its original length and three-point attempts seemingly picked up right where they left off. The league is at an all-time high of 21.43 three pointers attempted per game this season, but are those attempts successful?
Not only are players shooting more threes, they are making them more often. The 3-point percentage during the 2009 season is tied with the 3-point percentage in 1996 for the highest ever. The difference? The 3-point line was moved nearly two feet closer in 1996. The increase in percentage has leveled off since 2000, but don’t be surprised if it continues to rise as teams continue to embrace the power of the three-pointer.
So we know that players are making threes at a high rate, but what about the good old two point shot?
The average number of 2-point shot attempts has decreased dramatically since the introduction of the 3-point line. Attempts took a sharp downturn after 1992, hitting an all-time low of 62.51 in 1997. The only notable rule change that occurred in 1992 was that the shot-clock resets only when the ball hits the rim. Previously it would reset if the ball hit the backboard or the rim. While this does change shot selection, it doesn’t totally explain the drop-off. The largest drop came in 1995 (-8 attempts per game), which is of course the first year that the three-point line was moved closer to the basket.
Since 1995, the number of twos attempted per game has leveled off, but frequency is still very low when compared to earlier years.
Here we don’t see any obvious trends. The percentage ranges by only 4.2% from highest to lowest. Overall, the trend is a decrease, but it is not a major one. 1999 was a lockout season, so players did not participate in training camp. You’ll see that, as this piece progresses, 1999 was a particularly bad year for shooting.
They aren’t the most glamorous part of basketball, but free throws can entirely change the outcome of a game. They factor into the true shooting stat as well, so we’ll have to take a look.
In the past five years, free throw attempts have been particularly low compared to the earlier years in the study. The year 2013 marked the all time low with just 22.17 attempts per game. In 1987, we saw the most attempts per game with 30.46.
Free throw percentage has been all over the place since 1980, but has never dipped below 70%. Players who are terrible at shooting free throws are truly in the minority and probably deserve to be scrutinized as harshly as they are (I’m looking at you, Dwight.). Also, the worst free throw shooting year was 1999, which is also the worst two-point shooting year. Weird coincidence?
Now for the league true shooting percentage, which takes into the total amount of points scored and shots from the field or free-throw line.
Surprise! 1999 was the worst shooting year in the NBA since 1980. For the most part, this graph suggests that shooting has been pretty consistent over the years. The highest and lowest percentages differ by just 3.33%
Below, we see the average team points scored per game since 1980. I was somewhat surprised by this.
The average number of team points scored per game has decreased by nearly 10 since 1980. With all the superstar scoring machines we have seen in the past decade or so, it is easy (albeit wrong) to come to the conclusion that teams are scoring more points, not fewer. The most obvious conclusion to draw from this chart is that scoring has become more difficult; defense has improved.
At its lowest, the per game scoring average fell to 91.6 in the 1999 season. This was a lockout season and more than 30 games were removed from each team’s schedule. Perhaps players were not motivated to play their best basketball in what seemed like a weak attempt at having a season. Whatever the reasoning may be, the 91.6 point average was very low and we hope never to see it again.
Since we’ve looked at league trends, let’s look at the numbers a little more closely and examine team by team. We’ll look at things in the same order.
The Suns, Spurs and Pelicans/Hornets have definitely been the best in the NBA over the years when it comes to three-point shooting. The Magic and the Raptors, however, have benefited the most from the three-point line, hitting an average of six per game over the years. The Sixers, Clippers and Wizards sit at the bottom of the barrel, wisely, they are on the low end of the spectrum when it comes to attempts as well. The Bobcats, sadly, are on the low end of percentage and the high end of attempts. Not a great recipe for success.
The most accurate 3-point shooting team of all time was the 1997 New Orleans Hornets, who went 591-1382 for a 42.8% 3-point percentage. The least accurate team was the 1983 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 10-96 for a 10.4% 3-point percentage.
The Lakers absolutely dominate 2-point shooting percentage. Care to venture a guess as to why?
Shaq led the league in shooting percentage for six years with the Lakers. Five of those years were consecutive. On top of that, the Lakers were home to two of the NBA’s all-time greatest stars – Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – from 1980 to 1989. That ’80s team pops up six times in the top twenty most accurate teams from inside the arc.
On top of that, we see the Spurs and the Suns right atop yet another list. Pretty impressive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we see the Bobcats taking fewer shots than any other team in the league, while also making the lowest percentage of their shots. Sorry Bobcats fans.
The Mavericks have shot 77.3% from the line over the past 33 years. A pretty impressive number. The Magic on the other hand, sit at just 72.45% – a full percent lower than the next worst shooting team.
The worst free throw shooting team since 1980 is the 2012 Orlando Magic, who missed 513 of their 1,508 free throws.
The Suns are the best shooting team since 1980, followed by the Lakers, the Jazz, the Spurs and the Celtics. The Spurs, Lakers and Celtics all turned their shooting into championships, while the Suns and Jazz, despite coming extremely close, could not. The worst shooting teams are the Bobcats, Nets, Wizards, Timberwolves and Grizzlies.
At the time of this study, the 2014 Miami Heat are on pace to be the very best single-season true shooting team since 1980, with a true shooting percentage of 59.6%.
Well, that should be more than enough shooting data to last you a good while. For those of you interested in taking a closer look, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for specific requests. You can also reach me on Twitter: @andrewpomo.
Below you will find an Excel file containing the data I used to put together this article. You are free to download it and use it however you see fit. There is plenty of analysis to be done!