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Why Michael Jordan didn't want to excel at three-point shooting

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan attempted 1.7 threes per game in his career, and with that average, he is shooting well below the league average nowadays

Michael Jordan attempted 1.7 threes per game in his career, and with that average, he is shooting well below the league average nowadays. MJ’s three-point peak happened in ’96/’97 with 3.6 attempts a game; those are Larry Nance Jr. levels in ’20/’21. The three-point revolution changed the game, and in all those “MJ vs. LeBron” and similar discussions, Jordan’s lack of perimeter shooting is always brought up. 

Developing a three-point shot

If we look at percentages, as he started taking more threes and presumably working on that part of his game, MJ got much better at it. So even if we avoid the “He would’ve been great because he’s MJ,” the numbers back up Jordan’s ability to drain the three. 

  • '84/'85 - 0.6 attempts - 17,3%
  • '88/'89 - 1.2 attempts - 27.6%
  • '89/'90 - 3 attempts - 37.6%
  • '95/'96 - 3.2 attempts - 42.7%
  • '96/'97 - 3.6 attempts 37.4%
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Jordan would surely take more threes if he, hypothetically, played in today’s NBA. But we shouldn’t assume he would necessarily reach the Curry/Harden levels. Back in ’92, MJ was asked about the three-pointer and his (lack of) willingness to take it.

“My three-point shooting is something I don't want to excel at because it takes away from all phases of my game. My game is fake, drive to the hole, penetrate, dish-off, dunk. When you have that mentality of making threes, you don't go to the hole as much. You go to the three-point line and start sitting there, waiting for someone to find you. That's not my mentality, and I don't want to create it because it takes away from the other parts of my game.”

Settling for the outside shot

One of the reasons Steph and Harden are such deadly three-point shooters is that they both have the skill to attack the rim. So developing an all-around game unlocked their outside shot. Unfortunately, they are the exception, and MJ was right in his diagnosis. 

Today, we see too many players settling for shots from the outside, becoming predictable and stagnant because of their addiction to the outside shot. There’s no doubt in my mind Jordan would take more threes than he did and would drain a lot of them if he played today.

But no matter what analytics say, he would never let it dominate his game and attitude. Instead, the key to a healthy shot chart is the same as to a healthy diet – balance.

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