The Los Angeles Lakers are already off to a record-setting pace this season.
Unfortunately, the benchmark they are pursuing is that of the worst-shooting team in NBA history.
Through four games this season, all losses, the entire Lakers roster has equaled Todd Day's 1993-94 season from 3-point range for the 20-win Milwaukee Bucks: 33 of 148 (22.3%). This is not a compliment.
The 2019-20 Chicago Bulls are the only other team besides this year's Lakers to shoot 30% or worse on 30 or more 3-point attempts in each of the first four games of a season, according to Basketball Reference. Only 10 times in league history has a team had so bad a shooting streak for four straight games at any point in a season, and last year's Houston Rockets are the only team ever to extend the streak longer than four games, losing six straight in that fashion from November 12-22 en route to the league's worst record.
The Lakers could join them with a fifth straight clunker against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
The worst 3-point shooting teams in NBA history
Of the 200 teams that shot 30% or worse on 3-pointers for an entire season, just 10 of them have done so since the league average for long-distance attempts per game hit double digits for the first time in 1994-95:
1997-98 Golden State Warriors (19-63): 189-696 3P (27.2% on 8.5 3PA/G)
1997-98 Philadelphia 76ers (31-51): 243-810 3P (30% on 9.9 3PA/G)
1998-99 Philadelphia 76ers (28-22): 98-371 3P (26.4% on 7.4 3PA/G)
1998-99 Golden State Warriors (21-29): 162-565 3P (28.7% on 11.3 3PA/G)
1998-99 Chicago Bulls (13-37): 177-612 3P (28.9% on 12.2 3PA/G)
1998-99 Minnesota Timberwolves (25-25): 122-410 3P (29.8% on 8.2 3PA/G)
2000-01 Golden State Warriors (17-65): 282-964 3P (29.3% on 11.8 3PA/G)
2001-02 Philadelphia 76ers (43-39): 214-715 3P (29.9% on 8.7 3PA/G)
2002-03 Denver Nuggets (17-65): 229-824 3P (27.8% on 10.1 3PA/G)
2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats (7-59): 263-892 3P (29.5% on 10.9 3PA/G)
Note that the only team in the last 20 years to shoot worse than 30% from 3-point range for an entire season was the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, the worst team by winning percentage in league history. The 10 teams combined to win 33% of their games — the equivalent of a 27-win, 82-game regular season.
Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry has singlehandedly attempted more 3-pointers per game over the past five seasons than any of the 10 aforementioned teams did in those particular seasons. It is hard to imagine a team could regress so far from the 3-point shooting mean in an age when NBA averages hit 35.4% on a record 35 attempts per game. The Lakers cannot possibly sustain this level of ineptitude.
On the other hand, Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn are the only players on the Lakers roster who entered this season with a career 3-point shooting percentage higher than last season's league average. The former is a 34-year-old who shot a career-worst 34.2% from the perimeter last season, and the latter did not play at all last season — and has shot better than league average from distance once in his career.
The eight Lakers who have played (and shot) the most through four games this season converted 32.2% of their 1,540 total 3-point attempts last season — a hearty sample size. Bad shooting is a feature, not a bug.
The worst-shooting teams since the 3-point boon
Maintain that pace for another full season, and the Lakers could join the list of six teams that have shot 33% or worse from 3-point range since 2012-13, when the league average first hit 20 attempts per game:
2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers (18-64): 692-2160 3P (32% on 26.3 3PA/G)
2016-17 Orlando Magic (29-53): 701-2139 3P (32.8% on 26.1 3PA/G)
2016-17 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35): 692-2116 3P (32.7% on 25.8 3PA/G)
2018-19 Phoenix Suns (19-63): 790-2400 3P (32.9% on 29.3 3PA/G)
2021-22 Detroit Pistons (23-59): 925-2838 3P (32.6% on 34.6 3PA/G)
2021-22 Oklahoma City Thunder (24-58): 991-3066 3P (32.3% on 37.4 3PA/G)
Those six teams also won 33% of their games. Note that the only team since the dawn of the 3-point shooting era to win more games than they lost was the 2017 Thunder, starring current Lakers point guard Russell Westbrook, who won the MVP that season shooting a career-high 34.3% from 3-point range and setting the NBA record for usage (41.7%). Westbrook has shot 29.1% from distance ever since and is no longer in control of the offense — to the point everyone in Los Angeles seems to not want him around.
Variance vs. ineptitude in 3-point shooting
The Oklahoma City Thunder last season — a team built to lose as often as possible — set a record for most games (33) shooting 30% or worse on 30 or more 3-point attempts, but last year's Lakers rank among the 14 teams in NBA history ever to shoot so poorly on so many attempts in 20 or more games in a single year:
2021-22 Oklahoma City Thunder (24-58): 33 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 Detroit Pistons (23-59): 26 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 Indiana Pacers (25-57): 25 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 Dallas Mavericks (52-30): 24 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2018-19 Dallas Mavericks (33-49): 23 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 Orlando Magic (22-60): 24 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 New Orleans Pelicans (36-46): 22 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2020-21 Houston Rockets (17-55): 22 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2019-20 Houston Rockets (44-28): 21 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 Denver Nuggets (48-34): 21 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers (33-49): 20 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2019-20 Chicago Bulls (22-43): 20 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2019-20 Atlanta Hawks (20-47): 20 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
2018-19 Atlanta Hawks (29-53): 20 games of ≥30 3PA and ≤30 3P%
This season's Lakers, obviously, are on pace to shatter that record.
Those 14 teams combined to win 39% of their games. The list includes the 2020 Rockets, boasting ... Westbrook. That team attempted 45.3 triples per game — just shy of the record Houston set a year earlier — and made 34.5% of them on the season. They shot through it, basically, and managed a top-six offense.
The other winners from this list are last year's Mavericks and Nuggets, both top-10 offenses. The common thread among the three outliers is the presence of a heliocentric phenom — respectively James Harden, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic. Their teams were at least built to shoot, even if variance got the best of them in 20-plus games, and eventually they found their way to league average over the course of a full season.
These Lakers are not that. Even LeBron James, who at 38 years old will theoretically be their heliocentric force, conceded last week, "To be completely honest, we're not a team constructed of great shooting."
They were not last year, either, when they ranked 22nd in 3-point accuracy. The Lakers understandably did not re-sign their four best high-volume 3-point shooters (Malik Monk 39.2%, Avery Bradley 39%, Wayne Ellington 38.9% and Carmelo Anthony 37.5%). It is less clear why they replaced them with Lonnie Walker, Troy Brown and Juan Toscano-Anderson — wings who shot a combined 32.5% from distance last season.
This is how you end up shooting 22.3% from 3-point range through your first four games, owners of the league's worst offense (by more than three points per 100 possessions), already two games from tying the worst 3-point shooting streak in NBA history, and on pace to be the worst 3-point shooting team in history.
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