Creating Open Shots from Beyond the Arc

Written by John McCool (@Desertrose28) 


Quick Takeaways

  • 0.194 correlation between open three pointers and 3FG%
  • The Rockets, Celtics, and Cavaliers are among the leaders in open three point frequency


In today’s NBA, three pointers are valued more than the mid range jumper. However, recklessly shooting threes can hinder offensive performance and ball movement.  It is far better to create open looks from beyond the arc than to shoot a fade away three pointer with little separation between the shooter and the defender.

To measure shot quality, classifies shots based on the distance between the shooter and the closest defender. For example, wide-open shot attempts are considered as shots   at least six feet from the nearest defender. Similarly, open shots are labeled between 4-6 feet, “tight” shots between 2-4 feet, and very tightly shots between 0-2 feet categorized by the distance between the closest defender and the shooter. [1]


Teams ideally want to maximize the number of open or wide open three point attempts throughout the game. The math is simple. On open and wide-open shot attempts, teams are shooting 35.6% from behind the arc compared to 28.8% on shots 0-4 feet from the nearest defender.

We tracked teams that created open three point shots based on the frequency of open and wide open three point shots (as a percentage of all field goal attempts). For reference, the league average for open three-point frequency (shots from 4+ feet from the closest defender) is 25.9% compared to just 5.7% on close three attempts.


With a league leading 39.9 3PA, the Rockets generate the most open three point attempts. For example, over 30% of Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza’s shot attempts come from wide-open three point attempts (6+ feet). The duo combines for 6.7 wide open threes per game. In addition, the Nets, Cavaliers, and Celtics also create open three point shots above the 30% threshold.

The Celtics, for instance, average 33.1 3PA (third in the NBA) with 31% of their shots (10+ feet from the basket) coming on open 3PA. Guards Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley each average 1.5 open 3PA. However, most of the Celtics open 3PA damage comes from interior players. Al Horford, Kelly Olynk, and Jae Crowder are shooting a combined 40.8% on open 3PA.

Part of the Celtics’ ability to find open 3PA stems from Marcus Smart’s and Isiah Thomas’ ability to penetrate defenses and make pinpoint passes to open players on the perimeter. For reference, Smart and Thomas hold 10.8 and 10.7 Assist/Pass ratios respectively. Al Horford’s 9.8 Assists/Pass ratio has established him as one of the best passing interiors in the game.

Similarly, teams that tend to create open three opportunities (and shoot an above average number of threes) are among the leaders in tightly contested three point shots. Over 8% of the Celtics’, Cavaliers’, Mavericks’, and Rockets’ shots stem from “tight or very tight “ (0- 4 feet) contested three point attempts, which is 3% higher than NBA average.

A high percentage of the Los Angeles Clippers’ and Charlotte Hornets’ shots (8% and 7% respectively) also come from contested three point attempts. Unlike the other three point teams, (listed above) their open 3PA percentage is below the NBA average. This has done little to damper the Clippers’ three-point game (37.0 3P%), but the Hornets are shooting 35.2% from beyond the arc, which lags slightly below league average.

Sharpshooters on the perimeter

There are a small collection of bench and role players that generate most offensive production by clinging to the perimeter and draining threes preferably with space and time. In particular, over 38% of Patrick Patterson, Meyers Leonard, and Channing Frye’s field goal attempts come on wide-open threes.

Kyle Korver is another good example of a sharpshooter that has carved a career draining threes on open looks. Last season with the Hawks, , 64.7% of his shots came from  three-point range with 58.3% of his shot total coming on either open or wide-open opportunities.

NBA teams are increasingly shooting more threes. So far in 2016-17, teams are shooting an average 26.9% 3PA compared to 24.1% 3PA in 2015-16 and 22.4% 3PA in the 2014-15 season.  With this spike, teams have upped their 3P% by 0.5% through early February, suggesting that players are honing their three point shot, getting more open looks, or doing a combination of both. Either way, securing more open three point shots is a quick way to jump start success from beyond the arc.


[1] Shots coming from more than 10 feet from the basket  




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