Josh Smith is on pace for the worst 3-point-shooting season in NBA history.
There are varying potential cutoffs, but here’s how it stacks up: In NBA history, players have attempted at least 200 3-pointers in a season 1,626 times. Currently, Antoine Walker ranks last among them with a 25.6 3-point percentage in 1999-00. Smith – on pace to comfortably clear the bar with 303 3-point attempts – is shooting 23.9 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Undeniably, Smith is guilty of Corp’s and Wagner’s charge.
But it doesn’t matter.
Smith is playing smarter, and instead of mocking him for how that has affected his 3-point percentage, we should celebrate his wiser approach.
For years, the statistically inclined have shouted about the inefficiency of long 2-pointers relative to 3-pointers while at the same time, fairly, belittling players like Smith.
He got the message.
Smith is taking 44 percent of his shots from at least 16 feet, right in line with his recent career history.
Here’s the real difference. Smith is taking 56 percent of those long shots from beyond the arc – by far a career high.
Why does that matter? Because Smith, like most players, typically scores more points per 3-point attempt (blue) than long-2-point attempt (red).
This season, as you can see, Smith has actually scored slightly more per 3-point attempt than long-2-point attempt, but that’s an aberration unlikely to continue. It’s happened just twice before in his career – his rookie year, when 3-pointers really weren’t in his repertoire (4-for-23 on the season) and 2010, when he famously “stopped” shooting 3s (0-for-7 on the season).
In a larger sample, it’s just extremely rare that a player scores more points per shot on long 2s than 3s. Of the 150 players who’ve taken at least 30 long 2s and 30 3s this season, 140 (93 percent) score more points per 3-pointer than long 2-pointer.*
*The exceptions: Smith, Andrea Bargnani,Ersan Ilyasova,Andrew Nicholson,J.J. Redick,Jeff Teague,Jared Sullinger,Tobias Harris,Amir Johnson andGreivis Vasquez
It’s just unlikely Smith bucks this trend over the entire season. Even if his 3-point percentage remains historically low, it will likely rise at least enough to make his 3s more efficient than his long 2s. He can get a little more comfortable with his new approach, shoot a little better from beyond the arc than he is now and still fall below Antoine Walker’s record.
But here’s the remarkable part: Even while on pace to set this record, Smith is producing about the same number of points per shot from at least 16 feet as he usually does:
Smith’s 3-point percentage is a problem only insofar as there’s a column in the box score for 3-pointers and not for shots from at least 16 feet.
Look at that above graph again. The season Smith scored the fewest points per shot from beyond 16 feet, by far, was 2010 – the year he was celebrated for eliminating 3-pointers from his game. But he kept taking long 2s that year. It’s just that nobody noticed because they show up in the box score the same as dunks and layups.
Smith is producing from the perimeter just like he usually does. That’s far from a great standard, but on a Pistons team that features Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe on the interior, someone needs to try to space the floor. Smith is a better perimeter shooter than those two.
In an ideal world, Smith would never take jump shots, but that’s an unrealistic fantasy on any team – especially this Pistons team.
As long as Smith is taking jumpers, let’s credit him for increasingly taking the right ones – 3s, not long 2s – instead of just mocking his 3-point percentage.
Then, after that, we can all share a good laugh about his 3-point percentage this season being lower than Andray Blatche’s.