The Decline of the Corner Three
Posted by Zach Lowe on Dec 10, 2009
There are NBA experts who would argue that an open three-pointer from the corner (nickname: the Corner Shortie) is the second-most efficient field-goal attempt an NBA player can take, behind only the wide-open dunk or lay-up. The Corner Shortie is about two feet shorter than a three from elsewhere on the court, and players generally shoot it more accurately. A bunch of role players (Bowen, Bruce) have made a lot of money in part by mastering the corner three.
In the off-season, we talked about how the 2009 Celtics managed to be one of the most accurate three-point shooting teams in NBA history in part by taking more of their threes from the corner.
In 2008, 409 of the C’s 1564 three-point attempts (26 percent) came from the corners.
In 2009, 417 of the C’s 1355 three-point attempts (31 percent) came from the corners, and the C’s made a league-best 45 percent of them.
This season? Through 21 games, only 22 percent of the team’s 398 three-point attempts have come from the corners, according to NBA.com’s Hot Spots data. Here’s the current chart:
The team is on pace to attempt almost exactly the same number of overall three-pointers (about 1,550) as it launched in 2008, but, at its current rate, only 340 of those will be corner threes—about one fewer corner three per game than in ’08.
This is a big reason why the team’s overall three-point shooting percentage has dropped from 40 percent to 35.5 percent—from the top of the league to league average.
The C’s hit 45 percent of their corner threes last season, the best mark in the league among teams that jacked at least 400 Corner Shorties, according to this analysis at Nets Are Scorching.
So what’s going on?
Two things primarily explain the declining number of corner three attempts:
1) Ray Allen is taking about two fewer three-pointers per game this season as compared with last season;
2) Rasheed Wallace shoots a lot of threes, and very few of them come from the corners.
If you’re discussing the corner three in Boston, that discussion should start with Ray Allen. One of the interesting adaptations Ray has made as his age creeps into the mid-30s is to take a higher percentage of his three-pointers from the corner.
In 2008, 125 of Ray’s 452 three-pointers came from the corners—about 27.6 percent.
In 2009, 184 of Ray’s 486 threes came from the corners—about 38 percent. That’s a huge jump, and a smart one.
And it’s a trend that has become more pronounced through 20 games this season. Of Ray’s 91 three-point attempts, 38 of them have been corner bombs—a whopping 42 percent.
Here is Ray’s current Hot Spots chart:
If their best three-pointer shooter is even more deeply in love with the corner trey, how in the world is the team taking fewer?
Well, Ray’s overall three-point tries are down from about 6.2 per game to 4.3 per game, so his increased affection for the Corner Shortie isn’t translating into an overall increase in the team’s raw number of corner threes.
This drop isn’t just a product of Ray playing fewer minutes this season. He is attempting about 4.4 threes per 36 minutes this season, down from 6.1 last season. His total shot attempts per game have dropped from 13.2 to 12.1, but still: Ray is taking fewer threes and more twos this season.
Anyone have a guess as to why?
Turning to reason #2: Sheed. He has attempted more threes (110) than anyone on the team, and only 11 of those have come from the corner. We knew going into the season that the C’s would take fewer corner threes—both overall and as a percentage of total long-distance bombs—simply because of Sheed’s presence on the roster.
Sheed has never taken a lot of corner threes, and that’s a pattern consistent with big man shooters. The corner is not their domain. Most NBA offenses demand that they situate themselves in two places at the start of an offensive set: 1) In the post; 2) As the high screener somewhere near the top of the key or the apex of the three-point arc.
Expecting Sheed to jack from the corner is unreasonable.
The team’s other three-point shooters (Eddie House and Paul Pierce) are taking about the same number of corner threes as they attempted last season.
So this is likely how it’s going to be: A lot of threes, fewer from the corner and a slight drop in the team’s overall three-point shooting accuracy. If the shooters can hit, say, 37 percent from three this season, we should consider it a success.