Summer Questions: Will 3-point shooting be a concern for Celtics next season?

(Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Celtics are primed to be a better team on offense than defense, at least on paper. The front office brought aboard an All-Star creator in Kemba Walker to replace a departing Kyrie Irving and added an efficient Enes Kanter to help replace Al Horford’s offensive output (although not from the perimeter). With defensive anchors like Horford and Aron Baynes out the door and unproven/subpar replacements at the center spot, the general thinking is that this group is going to have to win games based on the strength of their offense most nights.

However, a recent graphic from John Schuhmann of NBA.com pointed out a surprising statistic on that front. When accounting for turnover across the league in 3-point shooting, the Celtics actually only have three players currently on the roster that shot above-average from 3-point range last year (35.5 percent) and took 100 attempts. That puts them in a tie for 19th in the league in that department.

The Orlando Magic are the only other playoff team with that few returning above-average shooters on their roster.

So is perimeter shooting really going to be an area of concern for Boston next season? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers along with the incoming and outgoing players to get a better sense of what Brad Stevens has to work with.

The Celtics had five above-average, high volume 3-point shooters last year (Irving, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Horford). Terry Rozier (35.3 percent) just missed out on the above-average label. Irving and Morris were the most frequent shooters on the roster, while Rozier ranked fourth in attempts per game, with that trio making up nearly half of Boston’s 34 3-point attempts per game. Here’s the full list of shooters heading out the door for a team that ranked seventh in 3-point shooting last year (36.5 percent) in the NBA.


Kyrie Irving: 40.1 percent
Marcus Morris: 37.5 percent
Al Horford: 36 percent
Terry Rozier: 35.3 percent
Aron Baynes: 34.4 percent

Analysis: Irving’s volume will be replaced by Walker (8.9 attempts per game) but the rest of this group is where things get interesting for the coaching staff. Finding bigs that force defenses to respect their shot will be a challenge in the wake of Horford’s departure. I’d expect Tatum/Hayward to take a brunt of Morris’ minutes at the power forward spot but there are no proven center shooters on this roster outside of Theis (with a limited sample size). A closer look at what the C’s coaching staff has to work with.


Brad Wanamaker 41 percent on 1.1 attempts per game
Daniel Theis 38.8 percent on 1.0 attempt per game (35.2 percent career)
Jayson Tatum** 37.3 percent on 3.9 attempts per game (40 percent career)
Marcus Smart**: 36.4 percent on 4.3 attempts per game (31 percent career)

**: Qualified for league average (over 125 attempts on season)

Analysis: Wanamaker and Theis could be a big part of the bench or on the bench most nights. A lot will depend on how they fare against the younger talent on this roster during training camp. Wanamaker was underutilized last year thanks to Rozier so I’ll be eager to see how he does with more opportunity. He was regularly an above-average shooter overseas and was savvy with his shot selection in meaningful minutes. There might only be enough room for one of him/Carsen Edwards to play off the bench on any given night but both may be needed for spacing.

Theis probably overachieved last year from downtown but he probably is the best type of Brad Stevens big when it comes to his versatility. He’s doesn’t have the size to handle true centers in the post but he’s a strong roller off picks and is a true pop threat at the top of the arc. Unless Kanter emerges as a 3-point shooter, Theis will be the default center when spacing is a priority on offense at all five positions.

Tatum’s downtick in 3-point shooting isn’t alarming, but obviously, him trending towards a 43 percent shooter like his rookie season would be huge for a group that lost its top two marksmen this summer. Fewer midrange shots and more 3s will be a big priority for him.

Smart’s shooting was a tremendous improvement last year but the question on whether it will sustain will be one of the biggest questions for a guy who has knocked down just 31 percent of his 3s during his career. Staying above that accuracy rate with good shot selection shouldn’t be an issue but a dropdown towards league average may be a better bet than improved growth based on his track record.