Last week, Stephen Curry broke the all-time record for most three-pointers made in a single season, a record that was held by…Stephen Curry. With one game left in the regular season, Curry has made a total of 284 shots from behind the arc, 12 more than his previous record established in the 2012-2013 season.
The baby-faced assassin may already be the deadliest shooter of all time. He is represented three times in the list of the top five three-pointer season tallies, but what separates him from the others is his shooting percentage (44.2). The combination of high volume and high field goal percentage is very rare. For example, Ray Allen, arguably the most prolific three-point shooter in the history of the NBA, shot 41.2 from deep in the best season of his career, making 269 of them.
The importance of the three-point shot in the League today is evident. If we look at the teams who make at least 10 threes a game, we notice that they are all on top of the standings. The top two sides in the East, Atlanta and Cleveland, both made 810 threes, over 100 more than the next-highest in the conference. In the West, the top three (excluding San Antonio) are also the three teams making the most three-point shots, namely the Clippers (812), Warriors (870), and Rockets (921).
Houston’s 921 threes is an all-time record as well. No other team in the history of the League had ever made 900-plus in a season. Again, it is clear that the importance of the shot has only increased. The other three teams in the top four all-time in that list all accumulated their totals in the last three seasons: Golden State (870) and New York (891) this year, and Houston (867) in 2012-13.
It has not always been like this. During the 1960s and ’70s, the ball was being pounded inside the majority of the time. Teammates would feed the ball to physical specimens like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, in an era that was dominated by the big man. The idea of a three-point line can be traced back to that era. During the ’60s, the ABA implemented it for a season and a half, but it didn’t turn out to be very popular. The NBA and NCAA dismissed the three-pointer as a gimmick and it took a long time for the League to implement it.
The NBA eventually introduced the three-point shot in the 1979-80 season, 35 years ago. At first, the shot was seldom used, partly because the players were not accustomed to it. The NCAA and high school basketball implemented the line in 1986 and ’87 respectively, and from then on, the shot become more and more of a weapon. During the ’90s, an increasing volume of players became efficient at the shot. Guys like Reggie Miller, Mookie Blaylock, Dale Ellis, and later on Ray Allen, caused coaches to change their defensive schemes because of their ability to drain threes on a consistent basis. However, the championship teams of that era (with the exception of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls) still relied on a dominant big man like Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston), Shaquille O’Neal (Lakers) or Tim Duncan (Spurs).
Today’s game is all about the three. Teams are built around a slasher like Lebron James and James Harden, or point guards such as Chris Paul, who set up shooters by driving to the basket – or in the exceptional case of Golden State, a point guard who can shoot it consistently off the dribble.
It is therefore not surprising that these teams rely so heavily on the three-point shot: they are built to do so. It remains to be seen whether teams can win a championship relying on this formula. In the last 15 years, only one team who finished in the top-five of three-pointers made during the regular season has been able to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the year: the 2012-13 Miami Heat. It’s like they say: If you live by the three, you die by the three.