The Myth Of Three Point Defense

Granted it’s an NBA link, but how often do you see articles with the premise that “Poor Three Point Defense is Killing (team)” All the time right? But is there such a thing as three point defense? Wouldn’t concentrating on defending the three point line lead to more open looks inside, and thus more points given up? Let’s find out.

To start out, here are the top 10 teams in three point defense last season:

1. Tulsa

2. Stephen F Austin

3. St. Louis

4. Utah Valley

5. Princeton

6. Akron

7. Illinois

8. Syracuse

9. Alabama State

10. North Carolina A&T.

Next, let’s look at how these 10 teams have done the past 5 years in threepoint defense:

1. Tulsa

27.8% (1st) 32.8% (53rd), 32.2% (42nd), 31% (20th), 36.6% (268th)

2. SFA

27.9% (2nd), 31.8% (29th), 32.6% (55th), 34.0% (121), 34.3% (143rd)

3. St. Louis

28.6% (3rd), 36.4% (249th), 34.2% (145th), 33.5% (95th), 35.6% (217th)

4. Utah Valley

UV only has 1 year of data as they are a new D1 program, so we’re skipping them.

5. Princeton

29.3% (5th), 32.6% (45th), 30.8% (11th), 36.4% (251st), 31.3% (19th)

6. Akron

29.4% (6th), 32.6% (49th), 33.7% (108th), 34.5% (148th), 34.3% (142nd)

7. Illinois

29.6& (7th), 33.4% (77th), 32.3% (45th), 31.7% (36th), 35.8% (230th)

8. Syracuse

29.6% (8th), 35.4% (185th), 32.7% (63rd), 34.2% (129th), 32.6% (63rd)

9. Alabama State

29.7% (9th), 34.9% (151st), 29.4% (4th), 36% (231st), 32.2% (45th)

10. North Carolina A&T

29.8% (10th), 32.2% (40th), 35.5% (219th), 33.8% (111th), 36.5% (264th)

As you can see, for the most part teams jumped all over thr rankings. Alabama State had two years in the top 10, but also had two years ranked lower than 150th.

So what does this all mean? Does it mean that, since two point defense has a much higher degree of, for lack of a better word, correlation from year to year, you should stick all your defenders in the paint and let teams shoot open threes? Of course not. But what it does mean is that the opposing shooters have a lot greater control over what your three point defense does than on two pointers.

This is one of those situations where if you think about it in an anecdotal way, it makes sense. If a 3 seed could shut down a 14 seed from beyond the arc the same way they do inside, wouldn’t it stand to reason they would do so more often? For example, and it kills me to bring up this example, in 2006 Kansas had the best defense in the country at the end of the regular season (and finished at #2 with an amazing 84.7). That year Bradley shot 33.6% from three, which ranked 222nd in the country, so it would stand to reason that Kansas’s defense would be able to shut down Bradley’s three point shooting. But Bradley made 11 of the 21 threes they took to engineer the upset. Meanwhile, they shot just 44% from two, which is more in line of what they had done all year, and what Kansas had given up all year.

The moral of the story? Whenever you hear a talking head talking about defending the three point line, cover your ears. Shooting the three matters (quite a bit as it turns out) but defending it? Not as much.



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4 responses to “The Myth Of Three Point Defense

  1. tallguy

    Umm…you’re not getting the whole picture. Part of three point defense is preventing teams from taking them. One of Coach K’s big tenets of defense is preventing the opposing teams from taking threes. Duke teams have been pretty consistent over the years, ranking 4th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, and 5th since 2004 in terms of defensive 3PA/FGA percentage.

    As you can see, Duke is pretty consistent at not letting the other team take threes. Duke would rather the guards take the less efficient mid-range jumper than the three point shot. So…sometimes talking heads know more than bloggers, even if they don’t know why they’re right.

  2. You’re totally right, which is why I wanted to look at if you could have a big influence on whether or not threes go in, or at least as much as you could with twos. That post is actually coming soon.

    But it should be noted that it’s probably a good strategy to dump it inside on Duke which has an influence on opponents’ threes taken.

    • tallguy

      “But it should be noted that it’s probably a good strategy to dump it inside on Duke which has an influence on opponents’ threes taken.”

      Remember, 2004 and 2005 teams had Sheldon Williams patrolling the paint.

      • You’re right, I meant within the last couple of years. Also, I wonder if the speed at which the ACC plays has an influence on it. Probably, but I don’t know how you would test it.

        The font of this comment box is huge, that’s something we’ll probably have to address when we move to our own server.

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