Do 3-point shooters get tired?

3-point shooting is not new to the NBA -- but it has been embraced more than ever by NBA teams, who are shooting them about twice as often now compared to 20 years ago.

NBA players make 35.7 percent of them -- which makes the rewards very high. They "cost" the same as any other shot -- but the extra point really gooses up the rewards. Shooting a lot of them is good business: Simply attempting a lot of 3s, as a team, predicts winning, believe it or not.

But, watching some tired shooters throwing up bricks late in a few games the other night, I wondered if there come a point in the game when fatigue messes with the long ball.


As minutes mount, NBA players have an increasingly hard time hitting 3s. Figures are from 2008-2009 to the present, courtesy of NBA StatsCube.

"Would be interested to know," I asked a few hours ago, "if 3-point shooting accuracy declines with long playing time."

ESPN stats wizard Alok Pattani emailed shortly thereafter with the table you see on the right, based on the last five years, that certainly suggests the answer is "yes."

In a nutshell: In their first 25 minutes on the court, NBA players shoot 3s consistently, in a tiny, and productive range from 35.6 to 36.8 percent.

As they keep playing, that percentage drops.

By the time we're talking about players who have logged 41-45 minutes their percentage is all the way down to a pedestrian 27.9 percent ... which is bad. That's down around the territory where you'd rather those guys just don't attempt those magically productive 3s.

42 minutes into his night, your 39 percent shooter might not be a 39 percent shooter anymore. This matters if you're a coach drawing up a crunch-time play.

Pattani cautions we don't yet know it's a clear story of fatigue: "3-point percentage does tend to decline once you get into the 30s and especially the 40s in playing time," he says. "This could be worse 3-point shooters taking the shots, tougher shots in late-game situations, etc. We can’t immediately say this is because players are tired so they can’t connect on the long shots as accurately. But you could control for more things like top shooters, distance (take out heaves), and time left in the game and get a clearer understanding."