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Josh Smith on pace for worst 3-point-shooting season in NBA history, but only because he’s playing smarter

Jan 24, 2014, 3:57 PM EDT

Detroit Pistons  v Indiana Pacers Getty Images

Josh Smith is on pace for the worst 3-point-shooting season in NBA history.

That was the case recently made by Sean Corp of Detroit Bad Boys and backed by Kyle Wagner of Deadspin.

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.

  1. bougin89 - Jan 24, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    “Josh, we want you to shoot 3’s.”

    -said no one ever

    (I’ll show myself out)

  2. antistratfordian - Jan 24, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    “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.”

    Well he wasn’t belittled for attempting too many long 2s – he was belittled for missing too many long 2s. No one will complain about your long 2s if you make most of them ala Dirk, Bosh & Aldridge etc.

    • asimonetti88 - Jan 24, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      You belittled Aldridge for taking too many long 2s just a couple days ago

      • antistratfordian - Jan 24, 2014 at 7:43 PM

        Heh. Well I wasn’t talking about me, I was talking about “people.” You don’t see very many people criticizing Aldridge these days. I have very high standards.

  3. lenbias34pt - Jan 24, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    As a fan of Josh I would just love to see him spend a few games not taking any jump shots.

    If Josh did nothing but drove, filled lanes, rebounded and played hard D he would be one of the best players in the league. I know it’s a foreign concept to many, but shooting the ball is not always the way for certain players to help their team.

  4. timb12 - Jan 24, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    Just because in the terms of basketball, a 3 is more beneficial than a long 2, it still doesn’t mean Josh Smith needs to take them. He’s not a good shooter, so he should limit his shots from out there. Do what you do best J-Smoove! (But not if that means bricking jump shots)

  5. metrocritical - Jan 24, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    If the Pistons were smart, they would’ve had a rider in his contract prohibiting Smith from shooting threes.

    If the Pistons were smarter, Joe Dumars wouldn’t have signed Smith in the first place.

    If the Pistons were really smart, they would’ve fired Joe Dumars before he could foul up the roster with ill advised acquisitions like Smith and Brandon Jennings.

    But the Pistons aren’t very smart.

  6. jimmerg31385 - Jan 24, 2014 at 5:26 PM

    That argument is analogous to a man going into a doctor’s office with a common cold, the doctor amputating one leg and then claiming the patient should be happy he didn’t amputate both.

  7. lenbias34pt - Jan 24, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    This has to be it for Dumars right?

    Mo Cheeks is a great hire and Drummond, Monroe and Singler were great draft picks; but how many whiffs must we endure?
    Didn’t everyone question Josh and Brandon as stat guys who will never win? And Joe pays top dollar for both?

    In the last 4 drafts the Pistons have picked in the top 10. By the rules of probability you have to stumble upon a few Drummond’s and Monroes’.
    This is Joe’s last season.

    • obmig - Jan 25, 2014 at 2:37 PM

      When he decides to let Monroe walk and keeps Smith he will be looking for a new job.

  8. Eric Chase. - Jan 24, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    Josh smith. 2nd worst season in 2pt %

    Lowest eFG% of his career by far.

    This post is the definition of rationalization.

    I shouldnt be charge with attempted murder…I shot AT him, but I missed by a mile.

  9. obmig - Jan 25, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    If he was smart at all he wouldn’t ever take a shot outside of the paint. It’s funny that this is the second time this site has tried to explain how he was playing smarter this year by moving further from the basket where he would actually be a threat.

  10. bowmanj35 - Jan 25, 2014 at 3:46 PM

    ehhhh maybe I’m a layman here, but historically bad is historically bad. how about the worst 3pt shooter in the history of the game “that decided to keep shooting them even though he sucks” stop taking 3s AND long 2s, oh my gosh, the he could take more shots where he is more efficient. wait, so more points per shot inside than outside? hmmm. can someone break THAT down for me with new math?

  11. topauthority - Jan 25, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    Bottom Line: Josh Smith has not gotten any better offensively because he can’t create opportunities for himself on the offensive end so he settles for the 3-pt attempt. Jay Bilas was right about the guy on draft night in ’04, his potential and attitude were questionable coming out of Oak Hill Prep. Dumars & Cheeks will suffer for having hitched their wagons to a guy that ran out of favor with his HOMETOWN fans. (he’s an Atlanta native, fyi)

  12. oasis511 - Jan 26, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    This is the second article bringing up these asinine points that I’ve read this season. Who cares? Long two’s or long three’s, they aren’t going in! The Pistons should be on pace for another record – lowest combined FG% by the two players with the most shot attempts on the team. Josh Smith isn’t “smarter,” I can guarantee you that. He doesn’t think about effective field-goal percentage or points per attempt. He just thinks, “wow, I can shoot all the three’s I want now!” Smarter would be driving to the basket and NOT shooting jumpers at all.

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