Can the Pelicans’ Hot 3-Point Shooting Continue?

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Published: December 14, 2017

Thanks to an incredible recent surge, the Pelicans are up to 6th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (38%) while putting up about the league average number of attempts on a per-48 minute basis (29.6). Leading the charge are wing players E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller who are shooting a combined 47% (!) on the 3rd and 4th most attempts (122 & 118) on the team. Moore is a career 38.5% 3-point shooter and Miller is hovering just over 40% (on just 256 attempts, mind you). Whether achieved due to luck or actual improvement (likely a combination of both), are their current rates sustainable? No, probably not. Does that mean the Pelicans as a team are due for a major regression? In my opinion, maybe a bit, but not as drastic as some may fear.

To better understand all of the context that surrounds the Pelicans’ 3-point shooting ability, it is important to look not just at deviation from the mean, but also volume. For example, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo are shooting 36% and 37% respectively from long range this season, well above their career averages. However, in total this season, they have made 28 out of 77 attempts. Had they each missed just two more shots than they have so far, their combined 3P% drops to 31%, which most would consider to be quite poor and also more in line with their career numbers. Long story short – these two probably aren’t moving the needle much on the Pelicans’ overall 3-point shooting success, even after accounting for the fact that Rondo missed the first month of the season (AD shoots around 2 per game, Rondo shoots about 3 per game).

On the flip side, there is Jrue Holiday, a 36.2% career 3-point shooter who is only making them at a career low 31.9% clip this season. Holiday has attempted the 2nd most threes on the team (141), almost twice as many as Davis and Rondo combined. Point being that a return to the norm for Holiday would be more impactful to the team’s overall shooting numbers than a regression from both Davis and Rondo combined.

A couple other caveats to mention:

  • The “Boogie-Brow” effect. Moore & Miller having career years from distance isn’t an accident. For example, over 90% of Moore’s 3-point attempts have been either “open” or “wide open” according to NBA.com’s stats tool, a career high that is up from about 80% last season. Miller is also at over 90%, up from 78% in his last full NBA season (2013-14). Again – yes, both will regress, but there are enough data points out there to suggest the strong overall shooting will continue. Additionally, an incredible 98% of Holiday’s threes have been either open or wide open, giving even more reason to believe that his numbers should improve with time. As a team, 94.4% of the Pelicans’ 3-point attempts have been either open or wide open; for reference, most teams hover around 88-90%.
  • League-wide 3-point trend. It is also important to remember the fact that for some big men, the thought of working on 3-point shooting didn’t even register as a priority until the last few years. Admittedly, I have criticized Cousins’ 3-point shooting numbers before, but the reality is that he totaled 69 3PA over his first 5 seasons, then attempted 210 and 363 in the next two, and is on pace for over 400 this season. For players like himself, Davis, and Cunningham, it stands to reason that their career 3-point percentages are a slightly understated representation of their actual shooting ability.

At season’s end, I expect the Pelicans to finish with a team 3-point percentage between 36% & 37%, with a decent chance of finishing with a top-10 rate in the NBA. For comparison’s sake, the median NBA 3P% is currently 36.3%. Given all of the concerns shared by some regarding the lack of perimeter shooting on the roster surrounding Davis and Cousins, it would be difficult not to consider such results a success.

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