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July 6, 2011
Translating Three-point Shooting

by Dan Feldman


The Cavaliers, Pistons, Kings and Warriors should feel good about at least one aspect of their respective drafts. They invested lottery picks in players who made a high percentage of their three-point attempts in their final college season, and evidence suggests that's more relevant to the NBA than it used to be.

Kyrie Irving (46.2 percent at Duke), Brandon Knight (37.7 at Kentucky), Jimmer Fredette (39.6 at Brigham Young) and Klay Thompson (39.8 at Washington State)* lead the third rookie class coming into the NBA since the NCAA extended its three-point arc to 20 feet, nine inches. The NBA arc is 23 feet, nine inches.

*Although Derrick Williams (56.8) and Markieff Morris (42.4) also shot high percentages from long distance, I didn't include them because they attempted three-pointers much less frequently than the other four players. With such a tight shot selection, Williams and Morris attempted just the three-pointers they were most likely to make. That skews their percentage, in terms of forecasting NBA accuracy.

Effect of new NCAA arc in the NCAA

The effects of moving the arc back have been fairly straight forward.

In the three years before the new arc, NCAA teams shot 35.3, 35.3 and 35.5 percent on three-pointers. In the three years with the new arc, NCAA teams shot 34.8, 34.7 and 34.9 percent on three-pointers.

In the three years before the arc, NCAA teams attempted 19.0, 19.4 and 19.5 three-pointers per game. In the three years with the new arc, NCAA teams attempted 19.2, 18.9 and 18.8 three-point attempts per game.

The differences aren't huge, but they exist.

Effect of new NCAA arc in the NBA

As expected, collectively, players' three-point shooting drops from college to the pros. But that gap has shrunk since the NCAA pushed back its arc.

There are a couple of ways to set a baseline for each rookie class's three-point shooting. (The sample for each year is rookies who attempted at least one three-pointer and played college basketball the previous year).

The first, and simplest, is to use the rookies' collective college three-point shooting percentage. That's represented by the green line in the following chart. But that doesn't account for the change in three-point attempts for players from the NCAA to the NBA, relative to their draft classmates.

To account for that, another method is to use the rookies' three-point percentage if each player shot the same percentage as he did his final year of college (using his actual total of attempts as a rookie). That's represented by the blue line in the following chart.

Either estimated baseline for NBA rookies' three-point shooting will produce similar findings, so use your preference.

An orange line represents the rookies' actual three-point shooting.

The vertical black line shows when the NCAA pushed back its three-point arc.

As you can see, collectively, players' three-point shooting drops from their final year of college to their rookie season in the NBA. But the drop is less pronounced after the NCAA pushed back its arc.

Essentially, it appears NBA teams can draft quality three-point shooters with less of a risk of that skill not translating.

Next generation of three-point shooters

Lessening the risk of a player's three-point shooting falling off is just the beginning.

The big question--does the NCAA's new arc better prepare players to shoot NBA three-pointers?--is more difficult to answer. With just two years of a sample and so much variance between each rookie class's outside-shooting ability, we don't have enough information to judge.

If I had to guess, though, the answer is yes.

In the last eight years, just eight rookies have made at least 10 more three-pointers than they would've had they shot the same percentage as they did their final year of college:

Rookies who played under the NCAA's new rules (2010 and 2011) are definitely overrepresented on that list. Despite comprising just a quarter of the sample, those years account for half the most-improved three-point shooters.

So, there's evidence the NCAA's new three-point arc will produce better three-point shooting rookies in the NBA. Perhaps, that's why FIBA moved the international three-point arc back to 22 feet, 1.7 inches.

Irving, Knight, Fredette, Thompson and their rookie classmates will give us a better idea whether the NCAA's further arc will actually improve NBA rookie's three-point shooting. But I'll be surprised if at least one member of the draft class of 2011 doesn't join the plus-10 club.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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