The three-point shot is great equalizer in basketball. A three-point bucket can either start or stop momentum and it routinely changes the form of entire games. Defending shooters on the perimeter is a staple of the league's best defensive teams. Sequentially, giving up three-pointers at a high clip is deadly for any team's hope of survival.
Through the first two weeks of the 2013-14 NBA season, five teams — Chicago, Sacramento, Denver, Atlanta and San Antonio — are allowing opponents to shoot over 40 percent from downtown.
Last year no team surrendered higher than 39 percent from behind the arc so these early numbers will likely regress to the means in time. But the early struggles defending are worth looking at.
Seeing the Bulls and the Spurs on that list comes as a bit of a surprise. Last season, the Bulls ranked fifth in opponent three-point percentage (34.6) and the Spurs ranked 12th, giving up three-pointers at a 35.3 percent clip, per Basketball-Reference. This season, the Bulls are allowing opponents to shoot a league-high 43.3 percent from range. The Spurs are fifth worst, giving up an even 40 percent.
Even more surprising is, despite their perimeter hardships, the Spurs and Bulls are Top 10 defenses right now with San Antonio the third most efficient defense and Chicago the seventh, again per Basketball-Reference. Are teams just getting lucky? Is this just another useless episode of Small Sample Size Theater? Or are the Spurs and Bulls simply good enough on the interior to make up for its struggling perimeter defense?
Denver's lackluster defending of the three-point line doesn't come as a surprise. The Nuggets gave up the 29th most three pointers during the regular season last year and were shellacked from range by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Those perimeter woes haven't healed this season as they are letting opponents shoot 41 percent from behind the arc through five games.
Sacramento, who sports the worst defense in the league per Basketball-Reference, are getting pegged from opponents on all sides so its place among the league's worst in defending the three is no revelation. Coach Michael Malone said changes in the starting lineup are coming. Let's hope those changes help the Kings' toiling perimeter defense.
Atlanta recorded the 28th worst three-point defense last season so its early burden from range isn't necessarily a surprise. Last year, the Hawks battled through their issues guarding the three-point line and finished with the 10th best defense, though some of that had to do with defensive savant Josh Smith. Without Smith, the defense has suffered. Through six games Atlanta is surrendering 105.4 points per 100 possessions, ranking it No. 21 in the league.