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What can the Wizards expect from Rui Hachimura’s three-point shooting this season?

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Pick your forecast!

New York Knicks v Washington Wizards
Wizards forward Rui Hachimura attempts a three.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the bigger questions for the Wizards this year — and into the future — is whether Rui Hachimura can develop into a good three-point shooter. Reports of his shot looking better in training camp are nice, but could well be of the “best shape of his life” genre.

Hachimura entered the NBA with just 76 three-point attempts in 102 games at Gonzaga. His NCAA shooting was haphazard but the overall sample size was so small it was impossible to reach a conclusion. Points in his favor: good midrange and free throw shooting. Points against: a flat shot and the paucity of attempts.

Shooting well from long range is an increasingly essential skill for players to have. Some have been productive players despite being unwilling to take threes (Ben Simmons) or being unable to make them (Russell Westbrook), but when opposing teams realize there’s no threat, they sag to the paint, close off driving lanes and force the offense into taking jumpers.

And, it leaves Hachimura with few efficient options to generate offense on his own. With defenders sagging, getting to the rim is more difficult. Without an effective three-point shot, he’s left taking midrange jumpers. It’s true he shot slightly above league average on two-point jumpers last season. It’s also true he produced 0.8 points per shot on those attempts — a league average shot last season produced 1.05.

In other words, those midrange jumpers are costing his team points.

As a rookie, he shot 28.7% but on only 87 attempts. That’s bad, but not enough to conclude he won’t be a good three-point shooter, especially considering he shot 82.9% from the free throw line.

To guesstimate what he might shoot from three this season, I went looking for an old analysis I did trying to figure out whether Nenê (and other bigs) might be able to shoot threes. It was a lovely piece of work that involved regressing two-point shooting and free throw shooting, and while Nenê never bothered to hoist enough threes to test my prediction, other bigs did and I recall the results as pretty good. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared in The Great Data Loss of 2019.

Without time to reconstruct the regression, I ran a couple simple forecasts based on the analysis others did that I saved into spreadsheets at some point in time. I would give credit if I could remember where on the internets I found them.

The first is aggressively simple — the “stat padding” approach. The system works like this: made threes plus an approximation of league average made threes divided by three point attempts plus an approximation of league average three point attempts.

I use “approximation” because I have 86-240 as the padding stats but I don’t remember where those numbers come from. I do note that 86 divided by 240 comes to 35.8%, which is what the league shot from three last season. And 86-240 is pretty close to the average number attempts for 300 players (30 teams x 10 players).

So, for Hachimura, the formula is 25+86 / 87+240. The padded forecast for 2021-22: 33.9%.

The underlying theory behind the approach makes some sense. It regresses players towards average, which is good. But it also predicts Anzejs Pasecniks to be a 35.4% shooter from three. He was 0-3 last season and shot just 58.6% from the free throw line. I’m dubious.

So, I turned to a different approach I’ve had stuck in a spreadsheet for at least a couple years. It’s a regression-driven formula that predicts three-point percentage using the previous year’s three-point percentage, free throw percentage and three point attempts.

The formula: 0.175 + 0.128 x FT% + 0.0049 x 3FA100 + 0.163 x 3P%. That 3FA100 means three-point attempts per 100 team possessions. The forecast for Hachimura: 34.2%.

Huh.

Two very different approaches predict Hachimura to be around a 34% shooter from three next season. That would fall below average, but it would be encouraging progress and would probably be enough to force defenses to at least respect him out there.

Just for kicks, here’s a table showing the forecasts for everyone on the roster who played in the NBA last season. The categories:

  • LAST = three-point percentage last season
  • PADD = stat padding forecast (adding 86 makes and 240 attempts to the player’s totals from last year)
  • REG = regression forecast
  • 2FORE = the forecasted three-point percentage if I average the stat padding forecast with the regression forecast
  • 3FORE = the forecasted three-point percentage if add last season’s three-point percentage to the 2FORE approach.

Got all that? There’s gonna be a quiz.

{EDITOR’S NOTE: Albert Lee says no quizzes.}

2020-21 Wizards Three-Point Shooting Forecast

Player LAST PADD REG 2FORE 3FORE
Player LAST PADD REG 2FORE 3FORE
Dāvis Bertāns 0.424 0.402 0.421 0.411 0.416
Garrison Mathews 0.413 0.367 0.405 0.386 0.395
Thomas Bryant 0.407 0.371 0.354 0.363 0.377
Raul Neto 0.386 0.366 0.376 0.371 0.376
Bradley Beal 0.353 0.355 0.394 0.375 0.367
Ish Smith 0.367 0.362 0.349 0.355 0.359
Jerome Robinson 0.349 0.356 0.369 0.363 0.358
Isaac Bonga 0.352 0.357 0.350 0.353 0.353
Brook Lopez 0.333 0.350 0.373 0.362 0.352
Troy Brown Jr. 0.341 0.351 0.354 0.353 0.349
Moritz Wagner 0.313 0.347 0.354 0.350 0.338
Rui Hachimura 0.287 0.339 0.342 0.341 0.323
Russell Westbrook 0.258 0.311 0.338 0.325 0.302
Anžejs Pasečņiks 0.000 0.354 0.252 0.303 0.202

My guess is that the 3FORE column is likely to be closest to the final numbers. The blending of two forecasts plus last season’s data suggests modest improvement for Hachimura. That’s probably not a high enough percentage to demand respect from defenses, but it’s at least getting into the ballpark. And, even at that percentage, it would make taking threes a better proposition than two-point jumpers for Hachimura and the team.

The point of all this: Hachimura probably won’t shoot as poorly from three-point range over the course of his career as he did last year. It may never be a strength, but he can likely become at least adequate from long range. That could make other aspects of his game easier and boost his overall efficiency and production.