The most important shot in hoops
Here's a look at how all 30 squads use -- or don't use -- the corner 3-pointer
Originally Published: January 1, 2013
By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider
Here's a new year's resolution for the NBA fan: Learn to love the corner 3.
Of all the pillars of the analytics movement that are currently consuming the NBA world, few are more powerful than this one: Where you take shots is almost as important as whether you make shots. Smart shot selection has been a point of emphasis for coaches ever since Dr. James Naismith hung up the first peach basket. But now we have the data to drive the most salient points home. We've learned a lot by looking at the hard data, and it has smartened up the game some. If the midrange game is dying, the blood is on the hands of stat geeks who helped expose their relatively low payoff. But the single most important shot in the game still barely gets any attention at all:
The corner 3.
Want to know how good your team's offense is? Just look at how often it takes corner 3s. Besides looking at field goal percentage, corner 3 frequency is as strong an indicator as any other. Good offenses tend to pound the corners. and bad offenses tend to avoid them.
Shooting from the corners is like using a cheat code. Little known fact: Three-point shots from the corner are closer than any other 3-point shot. Bust out the measuring tape next time you go to an NBA game, and you'll find that corner 3s stand 22 feet away from the basket, which is a full 21 inches shorter than the 3-point line near the top of the key.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that when it comes to shooting, closer is better. So you probably aren't surprised to learn that players generally shoot better from the corners than any other area beyond the arc. According to NBA StatsCube, 3-point shots from the corners go in 38.7 percent of the time. Three-pointers from the top of the key? Just 34.6 percent. Yes, basketball is a game of inches, too.
This is a helpful reminder that not all shots are created equal. A corner 3-point shot this season has yielded 1.16 points on average. Your average midrange shot? 0.78 points. That might not seem like a lot on the surface, but it adds up over an entire season.
Generally speaking, exchanging just three midrange shots for three corner 3s per game would yield about 100 additional points over the course of a season. To put some perspective on that, 100 points is roughly equivalent to the difference between the sixth-ranked Miami Heat offense and the 13th-ranked Portland Trail Blazers offense last season (85 points separated them). That is why the midrange game is dying and corner 3s are thriving; shooting 15-foot jumpers is a losing affair compared to other shots.
Not buying the gospel of the corner 3? Believe it or not, a team's frequency of corner 3s is more closely linked to successful offenses than the frequency of shots in the restricted area, even though they boast similar payoffs (1.16 points per shot versus 1.19 points per shot, respectively). In fact, when we look at shot frequency from the five shot areas on the floor designated by NBA.com's StatsCube -- restricted-area, in the paint non-restricted-area, midrange, corner 3s and above-the-break 3s -- the strongest correlation with offensive efficiency over the past 17 seasons is the corner 3-pointer.
The NBA is catching on. Teams are shooting corner 3s now more than ever, or at least since the NBA started tracking these things back in 1996. A total of 6.6 percent of all shots come from the corner, up from 6.1 percent last season and more than double what we saw in 1997-98. Although it's impossible to say, much of that growth may have to do with the rise of corner-3-touting analytics.
Why are corner 3s the lifeblood of an efficient offense? Think of them as a product of good spacing. Stick a guy in the corner, and it pulls his defender away from the paint. Shade off a guy in the corner, and you leave yourself vulnerable for a devastating crosscourt or kickout pass (this is called The LeBron James). Throw in the fact that it's easier to hit than any other shot from downtown, and you'll see why corner 3s are the cornerstone of the NBA's top offenses.
So which teams shoot them? Most of the good offenses. But what's interesting is that taking them, not necessarily making them, is what separates the cream from the crop. How does your favorite team rank? Let's break 'em down.
Teams that take a lot of 3s and make a lot of 3s; the kings of the corner
Miami Heat (Overall offensive rank: 3rd)
Corner 3s per game: 8.7 (most) | Corner 3 FG%: 47.3 percent (1st)
Notable shooters: Shane Battier (37-of-72, 51.4 percent), Ray Allen (22-of-39, 56.4 percent)
Ray Allen changes everything. LeBron James now leads the league in assists on corner 3s, already eclipsing his total from last season. But it's not just Allen who's hitting from the corner pocket; Battier has more makes from the corner than anyone else in the league. From 13th last season in attempts to first this season, the defending champs have added yet another weapon to their arsenal.
San Antonio Spurs (5th)
Corner 3s per game: 8.4 (3rd) | Corner 3 FG%: 42.2 percent (5th)
Notable shooters: Danny Green (29-of-76, 38.2 percent)
The trend-setters. You could list practically everyone on the Spurs' roster here. Green, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard each have more corner 3s than anyone on the Bulls' roster. It's a copycat league, and teams are now catching on to coach Gregg Popovich's tricks.
New York Knicks (2nd)
Corner 3s per game: 7.3 (5th) | Corner 3 FG%: 39.9 percent (8th)
Notable shooters: Ronnie Brewer (17-of-55, 30.9 percent); Steve Novak (28-of-54, 51.9 percent)
Wait, Novak has missed a corner 3? Believe it or not, Novak isn't the premier corner 3 shooter in the league. Shocking, I know. Oddly enough, Brewer is a corner specialist to the extreme with 55 of his 60 3-point attempts being from the corners. Imagine if he could actually hit them at a reliable clip.
Brooklyn Nets (11th)
Corner 3s per game: 8.1 (4th) | Corner 3 FG%: 39.7 percent (11th)
Notable shooters: Joe Johnson (21-of-61, 34.3 percent); Jerry Stackhouse (19-of-45, 42.2 percent)
The Nets took the sixth-most corner 3s last season, but they ranked 28th in conversion rate so they've taken big strides in the efficiency department this time around. Though Johnson's the big name, the trio of Stackhouse, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans have more to do with their good standing this season in the corners (combined 44 percent). But can they keep it up?
Atlanta Hawks (12th)
Corner 3s per game: 6.6 (9th) | Corner 3 FG%: 39.8 percent (9th)
Notable shooters: Kyle Korver (18-of-42, 42.9 percent); DeShawn Stevenson (18-of-37, 48.6 percent)
Only the Spurs hit more corner 3s than the Hawks did last season, but Atlanta has taken a step back now that Joe Johnson (third-most last season) has left the premises. Korver, Stevenson and Anthony Morrow are worthy heirs.
Indiana Pacers (27th)
Corner 3s per game: 5.6 (13th) | Corner 3 FG%: 41.1 percent (6th)
Notable shooters: Paul George (27-of-55, 49.1 percent); George Hill (13-of-36, 36.1 percent)
Just about the only thing the Pacers' offense does well. Normally a team that makes this many from the corners will have a healthy offense, but the Pacers are the lone exception.
Teams that take 'em like experts but don't make 'em like experts
Houston Rockets (9th)
Corner 3s per game: 8.5 (2nd) | Corner 3 FG%: 36.6 percent (24th)
Notable shooters: Marcus Morris (17-of-53, 32.1 percent); Chandler Parsons 21-of-46, 45.7 percent)
Surprise, surprise: The most stat-savvy team in the league can't get enough of the corner 3. Even though the Rockets have one of the worst conversion rates around, they don't mind. It's still a better play than a midrange jumper -- a shot they appear to be allergic to these days. Worth pointing out that Patrick Patterson is one of the few big men in the league who dabbles in the corner 3, along with Ryan Anderson and Danilo Gallinari.
Los Angeles Lakers (6th)
Corner 3s per game: 7.0 (6th) | Corner 3 FG%: 37.3 percent (21st)
Notable shooters: Metta World Peace (31-of-71, 43.7 percent); Jodie Meeks (15-of-31, 48.4 percent)
They could be entering "landlord" territory soon now that Steve Nash is back in the fold. World Peace has the fourth-most attempts in the league, and Nash will undoubtedly serve him up some more. The Lakers hoped they would have a reliable floor-spacing 4 in Mike D'Antoni's offense, and they might have found one in World Peace. Of note: Kobe Bryant is just 10-of-31 (32.3 percent) from the corners. Expect that field goal percentage to climb.
Los Angeles Clippers (4th)
Corner 3s per game: 6.8 (7th) | Corner 3 FG%: 37.6 percent (19th)
Notable shooters: Jamal Crawford (23-of-65, 35.4 percent); Matt Barnes (18-of-53, 34 percent)
Although Crawford and Barnes have shot the most corner 3s on the roster, Willie Green and Caron Butler have anchored themselves in the corners as well. Like their co-habitants in purple-and-gold, the Clippers could be sharper from here. But that would just be unfair for the rest of the league.
Denver Nuggets (7th)
Corner 3s per game: 6.7 (8th) | Corner 3 FG%: 32.2 percent (29th)
Notable shooters: Corey Brewer (35-of-88, 39.8 percent); Andre Iguodala (13-of-50, 26 percent)
No one's been worse than Iguodala in the corners (minimum 40 attempts). Iguodala has been the rare example where corner 3s are a losing gamble. With that 26 percent shooting percentage from the corner, it's good that Iguodala doesn't shoot them as often as his teammate Brewer does -- Brewer fires them off more than anybody else leaguewide.
Philadelphia 76ers (20th)
Corner 3s per game: 5.7 (10th) | Corner 3 FG%: 39.2 percent (12th)
Notable shooters: Dorell Wright (20-of-47, 42.6 percent); Nick Young (8-of-33, 24.2 percent)
Doug Collins confessed earlier this season that he's, well, not a fan of analytics, and Nick Young certainly isn't helping the cause. Oddly enough, Young was one of the top corner 3-point shooters last season (48.1 percent on 104 attempts), but he's been nothing short of a disaster thus far in Philly.
Washington Wizards (30th)
Corner 3s per game: 5.7 (11th) | Corner 3 FG%: 37.1 percent (22nd)
Notable shooters: Martell Webster (18-of-40, 45 percent); Bradley Beal (14-of-36, 38.9 percent)
Hey, at least they're trying. Like the Pacers, the Wizards haven't been able to do much right on the offensive side of the ball, but corner 3s seem to be high on the priority list. If there is one.
Portland Trail Blazers (14th)
Corner 3s per game: 5.6 (12th) | Corner 3 FG%: 38.7 percent (14th)
Notable shooters: Nicolas Batum (22-of-55, 40 percent); Wesley Matthews (20-of-43, 46.5 percent)
Only Anthony Morrow shot more 3s from the corner than Matthews last season, but Batum has taken over Matthews' domain this season. At 24, Batum has really started to showcase his 3-point shooting skills this season, but he's nowhere near as good from elsewhere beyond the arc as he is in the corners.
Teams that make 'em but rarely take 'em
Oklahoma City Thunder (1st)
Corner 3s per game: 4.3 (22nd) | Corner 3 FG%: 45.2 percent (2nd)
Notable shooters: Thabo Sefolosha (18-of-43, 41.9 percent); Kevin Martin (22-of-37, 59.5 percent).
The Thunder are a juggernaut already, but they only dabble in this area. One of the rare teams in NBA history to abandon the corner 3 and still put up monster numbers. Scary thought: What happens if the Thunder realize that Martin might be the best corner 3-point shooter in the league?
Charlotte Bobcats (26th)
Corner 3s per game: 3.6 (28th) | Corner 3 FG%: 43.1 percent (3rd)
Notable shooters: Ben Gordon (14-of-23, 60.9 percent)
Not sure Gordon's percentage is sustainable, but it's at least worth finding out. The Bobcats could really use a steadier diet of corner 3s given how strong they've been there so far.
Memphis Grizzlies (18th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.5 (20th) | Corner 3 FG%: 42.6 percent (4th)
Notable shooters: Mike Conley (11-of-19, 57.9 percent); Quincy Pondexter (23-of-48, 47.9 percent)
Now that analytics pioneer John Hollinger has joined Memphis' front office, I'm half-expecting the Griz to lead the league in corner 3s by season's end. Pondexter has been a nice surprise for a team that's normally allergic to 3-pointers. It wouldn't be a shock if the Grizzlies upgrade their 3-point shooting arsenal at the deadline.
Golden State Warriors (8th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.3 (23) | Corner 3 FG%: 40.9 percent (7th)
Notable shooters: Klay Thompson (25-of-65, 38.5 percent); Stephen Curry (12-of-26, 46.2 percent).
More would be nice, but that might be greedy with the league's most surprising team thus far. I'm buying low on Thompson's conversion rate in the corners; the kid can shoot.
Detroit Pistons (17th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.3 (25th) | Corner 3 FG%: 38.7 percent (15th)
Notable shooters: Kyle Singler (13-of-39, 33.3 percent)
Nope, nothing to see here.
Orlando Magic (28th)
Corner 3s per game: 3.4 (29th) | Corner 3 FG%: 38.6 percent (16th)
Notable shooters: Arron Afflalo (18-of-36, 50 percent)
It's a bit of a surprise that J.J. Redick hasn't shot more from the corners, but it makes sense now that he's taken on more ballhandling duties this season. The Magic wield some elite 3-point shooters in Afflalo and Redick, but they aren't helping themselves at all by ignoring the corners. Only three players made more corner 3s than Afflalo did last season in Denver, but it's barely part of his game now.
New Orleans Hornets (19th)
Corner 3s per game: 3.6 (28th) | Corner 3 FG%: 39.8 percent (10th)
Notable shooters: Ryan Anderson (16-of-38, 42.1 percent)
Anderson is a machine. That is all.
Chicago Bulls (23rd)
Corner 3s per game: 2.5 (Last) | Corner 3 FG%: 39.1 percent (13th)
Notable shooters: No one
Here's a fun fact: Battier, Brewer, World Peace, Green and Novak each have made more corner 3s than the entire Bulls team this season. The odd thing is that it's almost impossible to get off a corner 3 against the Bulls' defense, so they presumably understand how devastating the shot can be. Alas, this is what happens when you gift-wrap Kyle Korver to the Hawks.
Never take 'em, rarely make 'em
Dallas Mavericks (24th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.5 (21st) | Corner 3 FG%: 27.9 percent (Last)
Notable shooters: O.J. Mayo (9-of-25, 36 percent); Vince Carter (4-of-23, 17.4 percent)
Yeesh. Carter and Dahntay Jones have shot a combined 17.1 percent on corner 3s this season. Once more: Yeesh. Let's move on.
Toronto Raptors (13th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.9 (16th) | Corner 3 FG%: 34.4 percent (28th)
Notable shooters: None
No one on the team has shot more than 20 corner 3s this season, although Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan have shown promise there. Andrea Bargnani has taken 90 of his 94 3-balls away from the corners. This just in: Bargnani isn't smart with his shot selection.
Cleveland Cavaliers (29th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.9 (17th) | Corner 3 FG%: 34.6 percent (27th)
Notable shooters: Alonzo Gee (16-of-53, 30.2 percent)
Something tells me that Daniel Gibson silently whimpers with every LeBron James pass to Ray Allen in the corner.
Utah Jazz (11th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.3 (24th) | Corner 3 FG%: 35.8 percent (26th)
Notable shooters: None
There's this: Paul Millsap has made 6 of his 8 attempts from the corners this season. Might want to check whether it's fool's gold.
Phoenix Suns (15th)
Corner 3s per game: 5.1 (15th) | Corner 3 FG%: 37.6 percent (20th)
Notable shooters: Jared Dudley (12-of-36, 33.3 percent); Michael Beasley (10-of-24, 41.7 percent)
Beasley, huh? Indeed, every blind squirrel finds a nut.
Sacramento Kings (16th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.8 (18th) | Corner 3 FG%: 37.8 percent (18th)
Notable shooters: Marcus Thornton (20-of-43, 46.5 percent); Francisco Garcia (12-of-25, 48 percent)
The Kings' offense has quietly been solid this season, but it's not because it pounds the corners. In fact, the Kings could probably use a higher dosage there. Although it must be said: Isaiah Thomas is shooting a diminutive 4-of-21 (19 percent) on corner 3s this season.
Milwaukee Bucks (25th)
Corner 3s per game: 5.3 (14th) | Corner 3 FG%: 38.3 percent (17th)
Notable shooters: Mike Dunleavy (16-of-32, 50 percent); Monta Ellis (11-of-25, 44 percent)
It feels like Ersan Ilyasova should be a better corner 3-pointer shooter than he is, but he's made only one so far this season. Side note: Dunleavy's contract continues to be one of the biggest steals in the sport (making only $3.7 million this season).
Minnesota Timberwolves (22nd)
Corner 3s per game: 3.8 (27th) | Corner 3 FG%: 36.9 percent (23rd)
Notable shooters: Luke Ridnour (14-of-33, 42.4 percent)
They could really use a dynamic 2 who can also give them a corner 3 weapon, but a healthy Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love should help decongest the floor a bit better.
Boston Celtics (18th)
Corner 3s per game: 4.7 (19th) | Corner 3 FG%: 36.6 percent (25th)
Notable shooters: Jeff Green (18-of-42, 42.9 percent); Jason Terry (17-of-43, 39.5 percent)
Man, do they miss Ray Allen here. Last season the Celtics ranked third in corner 3 field goal percentage, but this season they've plummeted all the way down to the bottom handful of teams. Courtney Lee (third-most corner makes last season) was supposed to fill that role, but he's been a mess for the C's so far, having made only nine corner 3s this season. Weird but true: Green has missed all 12 of his 3-point attempts away from the corners.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
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