It’s not a revelation that the NBA today is heavier on three-pointers than it’s ever been. Teams are taking more threes per game than ever before — 34.7 per game, per team, and with good reason: at 36.7 percent, this season’s success rate is the highest of all time.
Sometimes, though, it takes more than just the league-wide statistics to illustrate how much the game has changed. And one of those times is now.
Larry Bird was an elite three-point shooter. He won the three-point contest at All-Star weekend the first three years the NBA had it, led the league in three-pointers made twice, and was in the top 10 for threes made in four other seasons. Bird shot 37.6 percent from downtown in his career — better than today’s league average and outstanding for his era, as he was in the top 10 in the league seven times.
Marcus Smart is also a 37.6 percent career shooter — but on all shots, not just threes. On threes, Smart is a 32.1 percent marksman for his career. But by going 4-for-8 from beyond the arc on Friday night against the Timberwolves, Smart upped his career total of made three-pointers to 651, passing Bird’s 649 for fourth in Celtics history, behind only Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, and Ray Allen.
Bird played 897 games in green and white, more than twice Smart’s total of 435. What’s even more telling about the change in the game is that Jayson Tatum, who turned 23 last month and has played 272 career games, is sixth all-time in treys for Boston, and the 6-foot-8 forward is on pace to move past Bird early next season, when he’ll be less than a year older than Larry Legend at the time of his debut.
Bird’s career high for threes made in a season was 98 in 1987-88. That’s how many LeBron James has made in 41 games this season, and there are 52 players in the NBA with more. Tatum and Jaylen Brown are among them. Kemba Walker has made 92. And Smart? He’s not only fourth on the Celtics’ all-time list for three-pointers made, he’s fourth on the team this season at 67.