All statistics from Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
By Bill Gorman, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer
In the 2018-19 season, the Philadelphia 76ers were 19th in the NBA in 3-point field goal attempts at 30.2 per game and were 18th in 3-point attempt rate (percentage of the team’s total shots that were from 3-point range) at 34.2%. They finished the season 8th in efficiency from behind the arc, hitting 35.8% of their long-distance attempts. What all of this means is they were pretty good at hitting threes but were behind the league average in taking them.
How did general manager Elton Brand react to this minor imbalance? By trading (or allowing to leave via free agency) four of the top five Sixers in terms of 3-point attempts (JJ Redick, Landry Shamet, Jimmy Butler and Mike Muscala). They then signed, drafted or traded for Al Horford, Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle. The team also brought back Furkan Korkmaz to have an expanded role as a shooter off the bench.
Early returns, to be frank, have not been great. Per NBA.com, The team is shooting 32.8% on 30.7 attempts per night through the first 11 games of this season. They continue to take wide-open shots when they are available, with 28.5 of their attempts coming with the closest defender at least four feet away from them (the NBA definition of open/wide open). Unfortunately, the team is hitting their open shots at a lower percentage than last season. Philadelphia made 36.8% of their open/wide open shots in 2018-19, but they are only hitting on 34.2% of those attempts this year. Surprisingly, in their seven wins, they are attempting five more 3-pointers per game (32.6 vs. 27.5). Stranger still, they are significantly better at hitting threes in losses (38.2%) than in wins (30.4%).
Most of the struggles are coming from players who are historically better shooters than they have displayed so far this season. Richardson, who has shot 35.7% from beyond the arc over the last three seasons, is so far hitting them at only a 28.3% clip. Horford hit 38% of his 3.2 attempts per night last season and is currently hitting just 32%, while Thybulle was a 36% shooter in four years at Washington but is at 27.3% right now.
The most alarming case, however, is Tobias Harris. In three years playing in Detroit and Los Angeles, he shot 39.7% from deep on 4.7 attempts per night. Since joining the 76ers at the trade deadline last season, he has shot 29.9% on similar volume, and he has been hitting at a pathetic rate of 20.4% this season. Since starting the season 6 of 11 in his first two games, he has hit just four of his last 38 attempts.
Not every 76er has struggled from beyond the arc early this season. Korkmaz has come out strong, hitting 40.7% of his threes on 4.9 attempts per game. Mike Scott is hitting 37.5% while averaging three attempts and Embiid is hitting his threes at a shocking rate, 38.5%, on 3.8 attempts per night.
And, as is obligated for everyone writing about the 76ers, after 165 NBA games, Ben Simmons has not yet made a 3-point shot. After all of the offseason videos generating buzz and hype about his jump shot, he has gone back to playing the same way as before.
It is said that the NBA today is all about the 3-point shot. Offensively, you want to generate as many open attempts from beyond as possible because three points is more than two, but defensively you want to prevent as many attempts as possible for the same reason. The 76ers are the 2nd best team in basketball at preventing 3-point attempts, allowing just 27.2 per game. The bigger problem is far too many of those shots are going in, with teams connecting from beyond at a rate of 36.8%, which is 7th-worst in the NBA. If they are able to match last year’s effort of allowing just 34% success from beyond the arc (4th in the NBA) while also limiting attempts (30 per night, good for 6th-best), they will continue to be among the league leaders in defensive rating throughout the season, as they currently sit 6th in the league at 102.9 points per 100 possessions.