Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the Lakers’ shooting regression, as they went from being one of the top 5 three point shooting teams in the NBA to a bottom 5 team in the span of a month. This got me thinking: in an NBA where the highly volatile three-ball is king, should we be feeling confident about the Clippers being the league’s top three point shooting team, or are they destined for a similar fate?
First, let’s talk about what happened to the Lakers. Put simply, this is just the Law of Averages doing what it does best. If we look at the Lakers’ current rotation players (defined as those who play 10+ minutes per game in at least 15 games played), their average combined three point efficiency over the last 3 years is only at 35.2%, which isn’t too far off from where they find themselves now. While they’ve definitely been abnormally bad since the middle of January, they were abnormally good up until that point. Ultimately, they’ve been more or less what we expected them to be from deep and that’s probably where they’ll end the season too.
So what about the Clippers? And what about the other top shooting teams that have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack—namely the Nets, Jazz, and Bucks?
Well, unlike the Lakers, thus far none of these teams have had much of a drop-off in 3-point efficiency when we look at their monthly shooting splits:
But that doesn’t mean they won’t have a drop-off, it just means it hasn’t happened yet. So performing the same exercise that we did with the Lakers, let’s first look at the 3-year averages for each team’s rotation players to predict what the Law of Averages will do:
Now one caveat, these numbers (and the numbers used to evaluate the Lakers) admittedly leave out any developments from the current year, such as James Harden shooting fewer threes, Donovan Mitchell shooting more threes, Nic Batum changing his role entirely into a stretch 4, Kevin Durant being out, etc. But they’re based on a much larger sample size than this short season, and it’s just as likely that those current season developments will revert back to the norm at some point during the year too. So with that in mind, if we take those historical averages and extrapolate out the rest of the season, here’s where it’d leave these four teams:
The obvious expected drop here is with the Bucks. Maybe Donte DiVincenzo and Pat Connaughton and Torey Craig have all turned from mediocre shooters (33% combined career 3P%) into a trio of JJ Redicks (combined 40% current season 3P%). But it seems more likely that they’ll come back down to earth at some point, and bring the Bucks’ overall average with them. The Bucks don’t have any truly historically elite shooters, and their best shooters (Khris Middleton and Bryn Forbes) aren’t really shooting more attempts, they’re just on fire right now. My guess is the Law of Averages will get them, just like the extrapolation suggestions.
Then we have the Jazz. They’ve already seen some regression as guys like Jordan Clarkson who were making everything come back down to reality. But they just have a team filled with guys that have a solid shooting history. Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Georges Niang have always been elite. Royce O’Neale is having the best three-point shooting season of his career, and though he’ll probably regress a bit (he’s always left open, but that was the case in prior years too), he was always above average from distance. Mike Conley is the most obvious playrs who continues to outperform his historical rates, but it’s because he’s getting more wide open three point looks and knocking them down. Their system is working to perfection right now, and if they remain healthy I’d guess the Jazz will stay where they are, trailing (but not by much) the league leaders.
Next up are the Nets. Their historical rate is driven largely by absurd efficiency from Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris (combined 42.2% from downtown over the last 3 seasons). And with Kyrie shooting the second most threes per game of his career, and Harris by far eclipsing any prior season, those two will continue to drive that percentage up. Will Harris keep knocking down 50%+ of his threes? Normally I’d say no, but given that he’s now the third or fourth player that defenses focus on (depending on KD’s health), he’s going to keep being wide open all the time. His shots are more assisted than ever before. He’s shooting from the corner more than ever before. Now, Harden and Jeff Green are both shooting the lights out, while taking more or less the same shots as they had in previous years, so I would expect those two to regress. Still, both Harden and Green are shooting less, so I think the Nets still have a good chance of beating out that extrapolation to remain a top-two three point shooting team this year.
Last up are your LA Clippers. Somehow, after shooting unsustainably well through January, they’ve gotten even better during February. For every bad shooting game they’ve endured, they’ve matched it with two incredible ones. The Clippers currently have four rotation players shooting over 44% on threes. That’s insane. And just below those four are Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams, and Reggie Jackson. None of the other elite shooting teams have more than two players shooting over 44% and/or an eighth best shooter hitting at 37.9% like Reggie. More than any other team, the Clippers are doing this as a committee. But that also means that their likelihood for regression is decreased, as they’d need all of these guys to dip simultaneously to bring down their team shooting percentage.
Now, based on that 3-year average we calculated, a lot of these guys should eventually drop down from the stratosphere, right? Well, let’s look at them individually:
- Paul George 47.3%: It feels borderline impossible for Paul George to continue making threes at this rate, particularly given that he’s currently making almost 50% of his contested threes and 67% of his corner threes. But this is Paul George we’re talking about, and watching the games it just feels like his shots are coming more naturally within the offense than last year. PG was teased for his comments about his offensive role under Doc on the All The Smoke podcast, but his shooting numbers this year really seem to back up those statements. He’ll likely regress some, but he’s got a ways to go before he stops being elite from downtown.
- Marcus Morris, Sr. 46.9%: This seems equally unsustainable, driven mainly by Mook’s 63% corner three point percentage. But considering that he’s almost doubled-up his percentage of wide open threes in this new offense, it seems a lot more plausible that he’s going to shoot as well as he’s ever shot (almost 44% back in NYC).
- Nic Batum 44.6%: Right off the bat, this looks like an outlier shooting year. Batum had one decent year in Charlotte, but otherwise he hadn’t even been an average three point shooter since 2014. But this year has been different: almost 60% of his threes are wide open. He’s been at his career average on the rest of his shots, but he’s making 50% of those wide open ones. Sure, there might be some slippage (as he’s typically been in the mid-40’s on wide open threes), but if they’re going to be this consistently wide open, I wouldn’t count on it.
- Luke Kennard 44.0%: Luke’s been a very good (if tentative) shooter throughout his career. And his uptick this year isn’t even an outlier either—he’s just doubled up his percentage of corner threes, which he’s making at a predictably efficient rate. He just needs to shoot more! Now, his lack of playing time might mean his positive impact on the team’s 3P% will decrease, but his replacement Terance Mann is shooting 50% from deep in the month of February.
- Patrick Beverley 42.7%: Likewise, Pat’s been a proven shooter in this league since 2015. Nothing about his shot selection or profile is really different, so he’s just been on fire so far this season and will probably regress slightly toward his career averages at some point—but his career averages are still very, very good. For reasons that have never made sense to me, teams continue to leave him open and dare him to shoot (about 50% of his threes are wide open), and Pat continues to make them pay.
- Kawhi Leonard 39.2%: Kawhi’s uptick this year is almost entirely due to him making 63.6% of his corner threes, which is far above any of his previous years. Noticing a theme? The 2020-21 Clippers love getting their best shooters open corner threes. In Ty Lue’s offense, as opposed to Doc’s iso-heavy offense, Kawhi has already taken 5 more corner threes than he took all of last season, on pace with previous seasons in Toronto and San Antonio. He’ll probably stop making corner shots at this scalding hot rate, but thanks to the improved offense, he’ll undoubtedly end up with one of his best shooting seasons.
- Lou Williams 38.9%: Lou, like Kawhi, Nic, Mook, and PG, is seeing improved efficiency by virtue of the corner three as well. More of his threes are coming from the corner, and he’s making them at a higher efficiency. Otherwise his shot profile is more or less the same as past years. Since he’s not making the corner threes at a totally unsustainable rate (48.3%, a number he’s hit in the past), I don’t see why he’d regress at all. He’s shooting his career average efficiencies, just selecting better shots.
- Reggie Jackson 37.9%: While this is higher than his career average, Reggie’s been an improved three point shooter since he changed his shot selection in the 2018-19 season. From that point on, a third of his three point attempts were of the catch-and-shoot variety, where he’s always shot over 40%. This year is no different, so I don’t expect this percentage go down.
Will the Clippers’ three point shooting regress?
So to recap, while we might see some of the Clippers’ rotation players have slight drops to their career averages, plenty of them have tangible reasons for their improvement this year, and there’s no one player making shots they have no business making. Players are either getting more wide open shots, more corner threes, or both. While the Clippers’ team efficiency from distance may dip slightly, I don’t think it’ll drop as much as their prior year averages would indicate. And with the Nets and Jazz hot on their heels, I fully expect the Clippers to shoot over 40% from long range, remaining the #1 three point shooting team in the NBA.