The best thing DeMar DeRozan could do this offseason is to improve his three-point shot. This is not groundbreaking, and it was also the refrain last off-season.

In 2012-13, he improved his three-point rate from 26.1% (92 attempts) to 28.3% (120 attempts). That’s an appreciated, albeit mostly insignificant, improvement. If nothing else, it shows he probably didn’t get worse. Over four years now, though, he’s at 23.9% (280 attempts) and really not leaving a lot of hope that he can develop a long-range game.

It’s paramount to his long-term success that he does, assuming you define success as being an above-average offensive weapon. DeRozan has a very good mid-range jumper and does a great job creating separation to get it off. Those shots, though, are more difficult to get than, say, a corner three. A player has to work for them, risk a turnover, and then are rewarded one less point than for a three. For DeRozan in particular, the threat of a three-point shot could improve his driving ability, too, by forcing the initial defender to stay closer to him.

With Rudy Gay in the fold, now, there are also less balls available for DeRozan, at least in theory (his usage rate actually went up after Jan. 30 when Gay was acquired). DeRozan capably adding a three-point shot will help space the floor for Gay to drive and vice versa.

There are plenty of reasons to hope DeRozan develops three-point range. But can he?

To find out, I went to my newly constructed “database” (read: giant Excel file) that contains all qualified player seasons in the three-point era. The first point of exploration is how the league as a whole moves their three-point percentage as they gain experience. The graph below plots all players with at least 50 field goal attempts in a given year against how many years into their career they were (note: for players who played before and after the introduction of the three-point line, “career year” is actually “year of three-point play”).

3pt and exp

Surprisingly, experience doesn’t seem to have a large impact on three-point shooting. With the inclusion of survivor bias (whereby bad players retire early and poor shooters stop shooting threes), the expectation was that experience would factor in.

For DeRozan, this doesn’t mean he can’t or won’t improve, just that he can’t be expected to improve based on experience alone. For cases more similar to DeRozan, I spent an entire Saturday morning fiddling with my new toy (I’ve really gotta learn SQL) and found 62 instances of players posting three or more seasons with a three-point percentage below .300 (again, minimum 50 attempts). Of those 62, 34 went on to post multiple seasons above .330, so not all is lost. But that really just shows that three-point shooting can be fairly random year-over-year, since there was no consistent pattern of improvement.

To get a better handle on DeRozan’s comparables, I tried to filter it further to players who either shot below 30% or didn’t qualify in each of their first four seasons (DeRozan didn’t qualify as a rookie and then had three straight years of sub-.300 shooting). Since I was doing this by hand, I also allowed some leeway if a player had a low-30s rate in one of the seasons. I also removed players who didn’t qualify at all in their first few seasons.

This list is much smaller, trimmed down to 31 somewhat similar players. Have a look:

bad starts 3fg

That’s a lot to take in. Reproducing the graph from earlier can help clear things up and answer the question of “do players who struggle shooting threes to start their career get better?”

poor start 3fg

It looks like experience for poor shooters helps. However, there are two factors at play here: poor three-point shooters stopping shooting, and regression to the mean, whereby extreme performances would be expected to move back towards a league mean (or a player-specific mean, though it’s unclear at present when three-point shooting percentage stabilizes at the individual level).

Of these 31 similar players, 10 would go on to have multiple seasons of 33% three-point shooting or better. However, the group combined to post 64 more seasons of sub-.300 shooting and just 46 seasons above .330.

That is to say, the odds are somewhat against DeRozan significantly improving; based on his start, he’s more likely to post a sub-.300 season than one above .330. There are examples, of course, but counter-examples, too. It’s impossible to quantify things like offseason work, mechanic changes and more – whether or not DeRozan improves has a lot to do with him and not a whole lot to do with comparable players.

I also have a feeling that if data went back far enough, mid-range shooting percentage would be a strong indicator of future three-point shooting. DeRozan is above-average in terms of mid-range percentage, though not elite, hitting on 16-to-23-footers at a 40 percent clip.

Even without that extra data, history shows that it’s at the very least possible for DeRozan to turn into a useful long-range threat, if not a sharp-shooter.

  • Marz

    Have you considered R? You can import a csv file (or several other types of files) and do a lot of the work you do at probably a fraction of the time in Excel. Check it out, and PM me in the forums if you have any questions: http://www.r-project.org/

    • BlakeMurphy

      I have played with R before, yes, as well as SPSS. Just got all the data set up so next step is to try and dive into that or SQL.

  • SR

    I’d love for DeRozan to improve considerably – it would help the team so much. But I think he just needs to become respectable, i.e. around 33%. That’s a rate that defenses have to respect. His man will have to play him tighter on the perimeter, and they won’t be able to sag off him to play help D.

    DD doesn’t have to develop a 3 that will become a regular part of the offense, he just need’s a 3 that will keep defenses honest. Here’s to hoping 33% is doable.

    • SR

      Your last chart gives me hope.

      Nice analysis.

  • Mark

    From your chart, only the following players managed to develop a respectable 3pt shot; Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Gary Payton and Mark Jackson.

    Anyone see a pattern here?

    Demar Derozan will never be a HoF player. So if you feel like waiting around for him to develop a decent 3pt shot you’re basically waiting for the Scarborough Subway line to be built because they’ll both happen at the same time.

    Derozan needs to focus on D, stop being the black hole of the offence and learn to pick his moments (ie. when to pass vs. when to drive or shoot).

    • Bendit

      Try to emulate Iggy.

      • DDayLewis

        But DD and Iggy are fundamentally different players. Iggy is an elite defender, Derozan is below average. Iggy can shoot threes, DD cannot. Iggy is able to facilitate an offense, DD cannot.

        • Bendit

          “Try” was the operative term in my reply. I thought Mark made a decent recommendation for Derozan to concentrate on the defensive part of his game since the 3 pt. efforts have not borne much result so far. You will notice that Iguodala’s stat last year was 0.317 vs DD’s at 0.283. Neither can be considered prolific @ the 3 but DD can certainly “try” to emulate AI’s defense and be worthier of his contract and value to the team.

          • DDayLewis

            AI had one season where he was an excellent three-point shooter (2011-2012; 39.4%), so he’s shown that he’s capable of being a good three point shooter. Demar has never cracked 20% (last season was a career high). The difference is that AI will take ~3 three pointers per game, whereas DD will shoot ~1.5/game.

            Defensively, AI and DD are worlds apart defensively. AI has a career Defensive Rating of 105, whereas Demar is 112. Certainly Demar can try, but AI is too lofty. It would be like asking Demar to become more like Dwyane Wade on offense.

            That being said, if DD can become an elite defender who can facilitate and score, he’ll earn that contract. Unfortunately, try as he might, he’s never shown any hints of becoming that player.

            • Mike

              If DD can become and elite defender who can facilitate and score, his contract will be a bargain.

              • DDayLewis

                Would you call Andre Iguodala’s contract a bargain? Because he does all those things you’ve said (he’s one of the very best defenders in the league).

          • Mark

            I’d agree that AI would be an ideal type of player for DD to become, but I’d also agree that it’s extremely unlikely. I think a more likely comparison (yet still better than DD) would be Corey Maggette’s playing style. He was a scorer, got to the FT Line like a star player, only a mediocre shooter, and below average D.

            Maggette maximized his one major skill, which was getting to the FT line. DD needs something in his game that sets him apart from other players, a way to show that he’s useful, otherwise he’ll be riding the end of the bench in the very near future (especially if he gets traded by the Raps).

    • Thimble

      “Anyone see a pattern here?”

      Some of them got better when the 3pt line got shorter?

  • Rebuilding

    I’m at a loss as to why BC extended him for that contract. He was questionable defensively, a bad 3pt shooter (and even in college he was horrid) who is simply a high PPG scorer. Exposing him to offer sheets would have gleaned a lower contract.

    The positive is that shooting percentage increases until it peaks around age 26 to 28. So DD, will improve but his 3pt starting point is so “low” that he may only improve but still be below average.

    Perhpas the raptors can find a 3PT shooting SF who can be paired with DD as that better fits DD game. I could also see DD moving to SF, and bringing in a 3 and D for SG. The bad things about these options is how this forces the raps to build around DD. In reality, this contract will take some time for Masai to rectify in a trade.

    • DDayLewis

      I think BC took a gamble. He was betting that Derozan would become a top-8 SG, which would justify his cost. If not, he probably figured that SG is so shallow that 40M/4 would be tradeable.

      I sincerely hope that MU won’t be doubling down on his losses and trying to “build around” Demar.

      • Bendit

        Build around Demar? Even the obvious sarcasm provided a shudder. DD doesn’t have the alpha personality….a prerequisite I believe to lead a team/be built around.

        • Rebuilding

          My thinking is that DD is the player that needs to be jettisoned as he will hold back the raptors the most in longer term. He has too many warts and will be difficult to trade but maybe useful to hold onto during the rebuild portion.

        • DDayLewis

          Forget the armchair psychology bullshit. He’s never been a very productive player, and he’s getting paid as one. That’s all it comes down to. My thinking is that Demar’s value depreciates with every unproductive season. UM can maybe sell Demar based on potential (and high ppg averages).

          • Bendit

            I believe you misunderstand. I am not a fan of DD. I was not in favour of the new contract.

            • DDayLewis

              I apologize. Nobody should be confused for a fan of DD’s contract extension.

      • 2damkule

        BC’s MO with the extension was to show that a guy he drafted was getting paid like a high-calibre – if not elite – player. same thing with bargs when he was extended prematurely. it wouldn’t have looked good on him had he done the smart thing, and either waited another year to extend him, or let him become an RFA & see what offers would be made on him (which he could have matched if he was so desperate to keep him).

        to be honest though, i’m not sure what was worse:

        1) extending him a year early before he (DD) had established what his market value really was;
        2) not having the foresight that many others have had as to DD’s true ability;
        3) drafting a guy (ross) who can really only play SG (and who has a questionable ceiling, to put it kindly), with drummond on the board – if you’re going to gamble, gamble with a big (and maybe not on a guy who plays the same position as the guy you just locked into a long-term extension). call me cray-cray.
        4) trading for a guy with an even more albatross-y contract (gay) who plays the only other position that DD could move into (SF). nothing like having two guys at the wing who can’t shoot worth shit. but…DUNKS!!!

        • DDayLewis

          Here’s what I don’t fully understand about the “signing a guy just to justify my draft selection” rhetoric. 50 million is nothing to sneeze at, even for wealthy owners like MLSE. Colangelo must have really sold Demar to get management to sign off on that deal.

          And why wouldn’t it look good on him if he locked a player up to a contract when the situation was favorable (ie: get him locked in for cheap)? That’s what we praise OKC for doing with the likes of Ibaka and Durant. Colangelo had so many better options, but he jettisoned every single one to make the worst one possible.

          Hey now, I’m not really a fan of Gay either, but the guy can do more than dunk. He’s at least league average in terms of his production. Demar is below league average. You’re right about their terrible contracts; Gay and Demar should be paid 12 million/year, not the whooping 30 million they are scheduled to make next season.

          What was MLSE thinking, keeping Colangelo around?

  • c_bcm

    A simple addition that I would like to see is the regression for each of the 31 “poor” shooters. What is the range of improvement across the players?

  • RaptorFan

    Well done Blake! Finally some data to back up our hopes. I always thought it was possible (if not inevitable) for a hard worker as Demar to improve his 3-point shot.
    Some posters continue to say that after a certain amount of minutes or years that a player is who he is. Some fans have even given up on him and want him traded due to his poor 3 point shooting, but this data gives me more confidence to say “just wait and see.” :) Like Kevin Garnett shouted loudly after winning his first title “Anything’s possible!!!!!”

  • FAQ

    Reductio ad absurdum… that defines your statistical analysis ….. like saying 36-24-36 makes for a perfect woman….

  • Chuck Johnson

    Just off the top of my head JKidd is an example of someone who couldn’t shoot from distance early in his career, but towards the end shot it at a good percentage. I was surprised he didnt’ show up on your list.

    • DDayLewis

      if you look over “Ason Kidd’s” career 3 point numbers, you’ll see that he was never at Demar’s level of 3-point incompetency (except in his rookie season).

      http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/k/kiddja01.html

      • Casey Sherman

        Thing is Kidd shot way more of them than DeMar has, in games and probably in practice. And practice does wonders for a player. The question is though, did DeRozan shoot threes only when he…

        1) was open (in which case those are disappointingly low percentages)

        2) had to (in which case improvement could definitely be in the cards)

        I bet it’s more 2) than 1), because I’ve seen him turn down tons of open threes for pullup 18-footers.

        • DDayLewis

          There is data for this stuff. Teams with SportsVU cameras (the Raptors are among them) have access to stats like “how player X scored on Y plays when he was open/covered”. They are able to plot the positions of defenders at the time when the shot is released. It’s really cool stuff, and it would resolve a lot of these disagreements.

          Unfortunately, their data is proprietary. Hopefully it’ll one day be available to the public (hopefully free, but I’d pay for this kind of info).

        • RobertArchibald

          Practice does not do wonders for a player. Perfect practice does. If DeMar continues to work with his current technique he is simply ingraining poor habits and will not improve. Change will do wonders for him.

          • Casey Sherman

            I agree and disagree. Yes, what DeRozan needs is a change in technique–he needs to stop releasing the ball from a foot above his head. So the ideal situation is a change in mechanics and then extensive practice. However, I disagree with the claim that more practice will have no effect whatsoever on his three point shooting–he simply has not practiced this shot much, or used it in games. He won’t improve his midrange shot, cause he’s already practiced that a ton, but I think he’ll improve his three-point shot, if only slightly

  • RobertArchibald

    To answer the question simply, yes he can improve. But the past experiences and results of others have no impact on whether he does or not. I applaud the effort on the analysis but DeMar will only improve if he changes his shooting technique and practices perfect form. In the picture above, his balance hand is in a poor position which creates improper spin and release of the ball. This is why his shots come out flat and his misses are bad misses. He needs serious changes to his technique before he can improve. Not sure he’s willing to make drastic changes at this point in his career but if he is, I applaud him.

    • 2damkule

      been saying the same for years…he’s always had iffy technique. his shot seems be a ‘throw’ more than a true-form jump-shot, with far more elbow action than there should be, so it looks like he’s launching the ball instead of letting it go naturally. when you look at the guys with the best pure strokes (curry – steph & dell – ray, etc.), their arm action is just different…the bend of the elbow is more up than forward, with much more wrist involvement.

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