I've spent a lot of cyber-ink over the past three years lamenting the lack of three-point shooting on Washington Wizards rosters. With the team possessing a speedy point guard like John Wall who himself lacks a jumper, it seemed like more emphasis should have been placed on finding players who could space the floor.
So it definitely intrigued me to see Tom Ziller write that taking lots of three-pointers correlates most closely with having a high effective field goal percentage. In layman's terms: the key to shooting efficiently is to take lots of three-pointers rather than attempt shots at the rim.
If you look at the correlation between shot rate at each of Hoopdata's specific ranges, we'll see that the two efficient zones are not created equal. The percentage of a team's field goals taken at the rim has a small positive (0.06) correlation with actual eFG. That's essentially negligible. But the percentage of a team's field goals taken from beyond the arc has a 0.48 correlation coefficient with eFG. Assuming a linear relationship, that indicates that about 23 percent of a team's actual shooting percentage is explained solely by how frequently the team takes three-pointers.
Ziller used a HoopData stat called Expected Effective Field Goal Percentage, which looks at each team's shot profile (the percentage of shots attempted from close range, 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, 16-23 feet (long twos) and three-point range) and imagines how well they'd shoot overall if they just hit a league average from each spot. In other words, this can help identify which poor-shooting teams could potentially improve if they changed their shot distribution.
There's a lot of extra stuff in there that's interesting, but for the Wizards' perspective, the importance of three-point shooting takes on extra meaning because those shots have too frequently been long two-pointers. Via Ziller again:
It's also worth nothing the biggest problem with long-two pointers: that they are not three-pointers. The share of FGAs taken as long two-pointers has a -0.44 relationship with actual eFG. Shot shares at the two other inefficient ranges -- short and mid -- also have negative relationships with actual eFG, but with much, much smaller correlation coefficients. Why are long two-pointers such a problem? Check out the correlation between rate of long twos and rate of threes: -0.57. In other words, very few teams take lots of long twos and lots of three-pointers. So every long two is basically a three-pointer not taken.
Last year, the Wizards took 26.5 percent of their shots from 16-23 feet and only 19.6 percent from three-point range. The league average for long two-pointers was 24.5 percent. The league average for three-pointers was 22.6 percent. The gap here isn't large, but it's definitely there. The Wizards took too many long two-pointers and not enough three-pointers, and their shooting suffered.
That's a problem, but the solution isn't clear. The addition of Bradley Beal should help the Wizards space the floor better, but nobody else they added, outside of Martell Webster, is a deep shooter. Trevor Ariza will take long jumpers, but he won't hit them very much, seeing as he shot 33 percent from 16-23 feet and from three-point range last season. Moving Nene to power forward to start either Emeka Okafor or Kevin Seraphin won't help matters, and even if Jan Vesely's jumper improves, his range is only out to the 16-23 foot range. Jordan Crawford, too, will take threes, but he shot 29 percent on them.
If Ziller's hypothesis is correct and the key to shooting efficiency is to take more three-pointers, the Wizards are going to be in trouble. This roster will likely trot out several lineups with Beal as the only proficient deep shooter, unless Webster takes a ton of minutes from Ariza and Chris Singleton.
The best hope, then, is that the Wizards are so proficient with their shooting from 16-23 feet that they go high in the "good shooting/bad selection" quadrant. That may mean a shooting profile like last year's Lakers, who were eighth in the league in percentage from 16-23 feet and 26th in the league in three-point shooting. But even that isn't a great solution. Overall, the Lakers were 13th in effective field goal percentage last year, a league-average mark. That's far better than where the Wizards were, but if the Wizards want to be a good team, they'll need to be better than 13th in at least one other area from this list: rebounding, turnovers, drawing fouls and, most importantly, defense.
All that's possible, but the easier solution may have been to find better long-range shooters.