Tuesday, March 28, 2023

NBA’s 3-ball explosion: Exploring 6 milestones that led to Stephen Curry’s 402 3-pointers in 2016 from Brian Taylor’s 90 triples in 1980 

The three-point line was introduced in the NBA before the start of the 1979-80 season. It was a concept that was borrowed from the American Basketball Association (ABA), the now-defunct league that merged with the NBA in 1976.

In its early years, the three-point shot wasn’t encouraged in the league. The emphasis was on playing near the basket or in the mid-range. As prominent NBA analyst and author Kirk Goldsberry notes in his brilliant 2019 book, Sprawlball, “Through the simple lens of points per game, the three-pointer had gone from a forgettable role player that scored just 2.4 points per team per game in 1979 to a dazzling superstar that poured in 31.5 per game in 2017-18…”

It is only in the past decade, and with the phenomenal success of Stephen Curry, that three-point shooting has exploded in the league. Teams are relying more than ever on the three-ball, with an increasing demand for sharpshooters who can nail it from the outside. So here, then, are the significant individual milestones in the evolution of three-point shooting, which ultimately led to Stephen Curry’s record-breaking 402 made triples in the 2015-16 season.

#1 Brian Taylor knocks down 90 triples in the 1979-80 NBA season

Brian Taylor is largely a forgotten name in NBA history, except for one little detail. Taylor knocked down the most triples in the first season the three-point line was introduced in the NBA. He knocked down 90 threes during the 1979-80 NBA season while playing for the then-San Diego Clippers. The next highest mark was 73 long-range shots by Hall-of-Famer Rick Barry.

Taylor played only two more years in the NBA, hitting only 44 and 23 triples in subsequent seasons. Darrell Griffith of the Utah Jazz would marginally improve Taylor’s record, when he made 91 and 92 three-pointers respectively in the 1983-84 and 1984-85 NBA seasons.

#2 Danny Ainge hits 148 three-pointers in the 1987-88 NBA season

Danny Ainge
Danny Ainge

The next big individual explosion from behind the three-point line came when the Boston Celtics’ Danny Ainge knocked down 148 long-range shots in the 1987-88 season. But Ainge wasn’t the only one to shatter the century mark for long-range shooting that season. Michael Adams from Denver and Dale Ellis from Seattle knocked down 139 and 107 three-pointers respectively to become the first three members of the ‘more-than-100-threes-in-a-season’ club.

Interestingly, neither Ainge, Adams nor Ellis ranked among the top five in three-point shooting efficiency in 1987-88. All three ball players, however, ranked in the top three for three-point shot attempts, with Adams taking pole position.

#3 Dan Majerle falls eight shy of the 200 mark in the 1993-94 NBA season

For the next few seasons after 1987-88, the most triples tallied by a player in a single season hovered around the 160-170 mark. Then in the 1993-94 season, Dan Majerle of the Phoenix Suns fell eight shy of breaking the 200 mark in a single season. Majerle nailed down 192 three-pointers for the Suns, but ranked 20th in three-point shooting efficiency, shooting only 38.2% from behind the arc that season.

The reason Majerle got close to 200 threes is that he attempted a league-best 503 three-point shots that season. Majerle’s long distance shot attempts were a hundred more than second-placed Vernon Maxwell, who attempted 403 triples but made only 120 of them at a 29.8% clip for Houston.


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