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Four Point Plays: The NBA’s All-Time Leaders in 4-Point Plays

It’s an understatement to say that the NBA game has really taken to the three-point shot. It’s become so ingrained in team offenses that with each passing season, players, teams, and the overall league continue to heave up (and make) long distance shots in record numbers.

With more players shooting threes, the amount of four-point plays has similarly increased. It’s simple, the more that teams attempt three-pointers, the higher the likelihood that those players will be fouled in the act. A four-point play happens when a player is fouled making a three point shot and then making the subsequent free throw.

In today’s NBA, the four-point play is no longer something that happens once or thrice a season. With the emphasis on the three and how it’s become a key weapon for the top scorers in the league, four point plays won’t make SportsCenter’s Top 10. Though four-point plays won’t get featured on highlights as much, the players make our esteemed list if they’ve at least ten or more four-point plays in their career.

Here’s the unofficial list of the NBA’s all-time leaders in four point plays:

NBA's All-Time Leaders in Four Point Plays
Rank Player 4PT Plays
1 James Harden 70
2 Steph Curry 57
3 Jamal Crawford 54
4 J.J. Redick 43
5 Damian Lillard 24
6 Reggie Miller 23
7 Kobe Bryant 17
8 Kevin Durant 14
9 Dirk Nowitzki 14
10 Ray Allen 13
11 Allen Iverson 10

Jamal Crawford was the undisputed king of the four point play with 54 four-point plays over his long NBA career. That’s until James Harden had that amazing run of three seasons in which he led the league in scoring with the three-point shot as a large part of his offensive portfolio. The Beard leverages the NBA’s rules against his defenders. Still in the height of his powers and Harden has long surpassed Crawford with at least 70 four point plays in his career.
Not far behind (and catching up quickly) is Steph Curry with 44 four point plays in his career.
Before Crawford, Harden and Steph, there’s Reggie Miller who was the master of the four-point play in the 1990s. Miller popularized sticking out his leg as a defender ran by trying to contest his shot. The defender’s momentum would catch Miller’s leg and bring both of them down. He did this to the tune of 23 three point plays.
As we mentioned above, four point plays are now such a common occurrence that we wouldn’t bet against it happening on any given night. Especially when players like Harden, Curry, Kevin Durant or JJ Redick are playing.

From Two Points to Three Points to Four Points

So how has the four point play has gone from a extremely rare instance to a semi-common occurrence in the NBA game? It all started when the NBA introduced the three-point line in 1979. In the lines first several years of existence, barely any teams utilized the three in their offensive sets. Not a surprise considering that prior to 1979, shooting from twenty-three feet was worth the same amount of points as a layup, so it wasn’t a skill set that players put emphasis on.

“It was just a matter of guys not being used to it yet,” Denver Nuggets Hall-of-Fame forward Kiki Vandeweghe told “They never practiced (the three point shot).”

As the seasons passed in the 1980s, certain players became more accustomed to the line and when best to utilize the three. The benefit was simple, a three-point shot was worth 50% more than a layup, dunk or mid-range jump shot and in the most-crucial moments of the game, a well-timed three could psychologically deflate an opponent.

If there was one player from the 1980s that was associated with the three-point shot, it was Larry Bird. Even Bird took a couple seasons before he realized the power of the shot. Here’s an excerpt from his book “Drive”:

It’s still interesting to me what’s happened with the 3-pointer because I thought so little of the shot when I first came into the league. It’s a great weapon and I’ll tell you when it is a particularly good time to use it. You’re the road team, you’ve got maybe a five-point lead with a couple of minutes to go and you’re wide open. That’s when I love to crank that thing up there, because if you make it, you simply destroy a team at that point. That’s when you need your concentration.

The 3-point shot demoralizes an opponent; there is no question about that. You’re working hard on defense and all of a sudden there is a 3-pointer and you feel so deflated. If the deficit goes from two to five with a minute to go, you’re dead in the water. It’s really a killer.

Since then, the NBA and their superstars like Curry, Harden, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Durant, and others have really embraced the three and the game has evolved. The efficiency of their three-point shooting along with a handful of game rules has contributed significantly to the increase in the number of four-point plays we’ve seen over the last few years.


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