Friday, August 15, 2008

Why is the US lagging in 3-point percentage?

Tyler Cowen reports (via ESPN) that so far, the US basketball team has the worst 3-point percentage of any team in the Olympics.

He asks: "can you build a simple model showing this is likely the case for the best team?"

The comments are pretty high quality. The best comments, IMO, are the ones that don't try to answer the question, but try to figure out if there might be other reasons. My two favorites:

-- luck

-- the shorter international 3-point line (compared to the NBA) means the US players can't use their muscle memory, and have to think about the shots.

Both of these are testable: the first by waiting a few more games; the second (as a commenter points out) by seeing if the European NBA players are hitting more threes.

But I don't know much about basketball. What do you guys think?

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5 Comments:

At Friday, August 15, 2008 7:17:00 PM, Blogger Brian Burke said...

Without looking at the numbers, my guess is that luck is probably a stronger factor than most would think. How many 3-pointers have they taken? I'd bet there is a very small sample size.

Teams usually take a lot of 3s when they're down and need to catch up. A 3-pt shot is often a high risk/reward proposition. If a team is consistently up by 20 points, why try a lot of 3-pointers?

 
At Friday, August 15, 2008 9:29:00 PM, Blogger Nanker said...

USA players shot 19-65 over three games -- 29%. The players who took those shots made 36% of their NBA attempts last season (weighted by their Olympic attempts). The standard error on 29% is 6%. Why do we need an explanation on three games' worth of data?

But to comlete the story, non-USA NBA players have shot 33% in the Olympics (4% below the tournament average). Their collective NBA 3-point percentage last season was 32%. None of these are anywhere near statistical significance.

 
At Saturday, August 16, 2008 11:43:00 AM, Blogger Phil Birnbaum said...

Yeah, you're right, it always seems to happen that everyone wants to explain something that can so easily and obviously be attributed to chance.

I mean, you could probably list a hundred possible anomalies that could happen, right? And by chance, five of those will actually happen at a statistically significant level. So it's not like there aren't many more- significant happenings to wonder about (even if many of those are just luck too).

 
At Saturday, August 16, 2008 7:55:00 PM, Blogger David Barry said...

And last night the USA shot 12 from 25 against Spain, now up to 34% for the tournament.

 
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