In this week's FLANNS & ZILLZ, our writers concern themselves with the increasing rate of threes being attempted in the NBA and the starkly decreasing rate of success.
FLANNERY: Here's some pflanns minutia you may not know: I started muting games when my son was an infant so I wouldn't wake him up and I kind of like the reflective silence. I have a couple of involuntary vocal tics that break up my internal monologue and one of them is to mutter, "That's a bad shot" whenever someone takes a look that's too quick or contested or selfish. Feels like I've been saying that a lot this season.
I did some quickie research, and lo and behold, there have been a lot of bad shots.
You know I'm not a Luddite on these matters. I believe in pace and space and I obviously know that 3 > 2. But it sure seems like we've lost our perspective on the value of the three-point shot. It's not that there are too many threes, it's that the wrong guys are taking them at the wrong times. There's smart basketball and there's bad basketball and it feels like the line is getting crossed.
ZILLER: Ah, the old pendulum has swung too far, you say? It's funny that apparently the entire league has converted religions; we should have known it'd be this way when Byron Scott's Lakers started jacking up 30 threes a night.
Obviously, a number of players who think they added range over the summer are finding out that they did not. I expect those guys will largely abandon the arc, but the same thing is going to happen every October so long as the three is seen as so important. The marketability of a 23-foot jumper is enormous, so it only makes sense that almost everyone wants to try to add that to their games in the offseason and prove it in real action.
I think beyond that, we're seeing the pitfalls of coaches embracing specific ideologies without adjusting it to their rosters' specific strengths and limitations. It's like the Kobe-Dwight-Nash Lakers running the Princeton, or the current Knicks running the Triangle. A lot of these teams newly embracing pace and space don't have the talent to space. That's a key ingredient! It's like trying to make custard without eggs.
(Ten demerits to the first person who sends me a link to mayonnaise-based custard.)
FLANNERY: Right. Everyone wants to be the Warriors, but it's not the system that's made them great, it's the players. I wrote about the Wizards for the Shootaround and mentioned that they could really use a Draymond Green. A front office guy responded, "Yeah, but Draymond Green is really good. Those guys are hard to find." The Wizards are absolutely doing this the right way, I believe. They should be embracing the four-out bombs away model because it suits the abilities of their top players. It's the role players that are struggling to adapt. As with all evolutions, I imagine that players will develop their talents to meet the changing circumstances and soon we'll have a bunch of 6'7 guys who have been brought up guarding multiple positions and shooting from deep. That takes time.
I do worry, however, that this extreme model of play is wreaking havoc with the natural ecosystem of the game. To put it another way, it's not that enjoyable to watch players fling up bricks and the strategy isn't unique when everyone is doing it. I'm not saying we should return to the days of contested mid-range jumpers by any means, but I do think there's a danger in the game becoming too homogenized. Trends change, but are we due for a strategic correction?
ZILLER: Of course, though the question is whether the strategic correction comes from abandonment of a failing effort (bad shooting teams/players shooting less) or by some team taking advantage of market inefficiencies to grab strong mid-range-and-in scorers (the Rudy Gay-Carmelo Anthony-Dwyane Wade types) at discount prices. I presume it'll be a mix of both.
I do want to note that even 33 percent shooting from long-range is fine: That's roughly the equivalent of shooting 50 percent on two-pointers, not accounting for the likelihood of drawing a foul or getting an offensive rebound. Teams below that mark should reconsider their shot selection. Teams above it may not improve their efficiency by reducing the three-point share, depending on personnel.
I'm curious as to why there are seemingly few three-point specialists still. Kyle Korver turned one skill and impeccable fitness into somewhat of a starring role in a great team. J.J. Redick has carved out a great role. Anthony Morrow has a job. But then you have Dorell Wright moving to China and Jimmer Fredette landing on the Westchester Knicks. It says something about NBA coaches' and GMs' demands that you do something more than just shoot.
(Literally minutes after I sent that dispatch off, the Pelicans signed Jimmer. So perhaps this seeming lack of specialists is an overblown concern.)
FLANNERY: I mean, Jimmer was basically out of the league, so I think this proves your point: There was no one else? You have to be able to defend. That's the minimum requirement for a one-dimensional player. Korver isn't just a great shooter, he's an elite-level marksman, with size for his position. Same with Redick. Morrow is probably a truer example of this sort of specialist and he's a ninth or 10th man at best.
I want to get back to something I mentioned earlier: Do you like watching this? Let's take the Warriors out of the equation and a handful of others teams like the Spurs that run this stuff to precision. I'm talking Orlando and Detroit firing up 50 threes between them and missing two thirds of those shots. I don't care for it, honestly, but the math makes too much sense to ignore.
ZILLER: No, it's not pretty to see a series of pull-up jumpers in most settings unless they fit in the rhythm of a game, and most of these don't. Ball movement, dribble penetration and post-ups are the most interesting things that can happen in a halfcourt offense from an aesthetic position. Good teams get their threes off of those aspects. Bad shooting teams largely don't.
In that way, I suppose I care more about how teams are getting their threes than by how many they hit. There are good and bad threes, and I feel like some new-found gunners are still discovering that.
FLANNERY: I'll throw one other element into the mix: Creativity. I enjoy teams that create space through movement rather than simply placing guys around the arc waiting for the inevitable bailout pass. There's no better halfcourt panacea than an unselfish player who draws attention and knows when and where to find his teammates. In that sense, you're right that good teams will work to get better shots even if their opponents' shots are now objectively "good" because they come from behind the line instead of in front of it.
I do find it interesting that while the acceptance of the long ball has never been higher, there are a couple of young bigs attempting to bring good, old-fashioned bullyball back to the league. Andre Drummond will never shoot threes and I love him for it because he's so damn unique these days. Jahlil Okafor is already a smooth operator in the post. Do you think we'll see a renaissance of the traditional low-post pivot man now that everyone has written the obituary?
ZILLER: That's sort of the way things go, isn't it? You can argue Drummond, Okafor and Nerlens Noel all went lower than they should have precisely because of a lack of stretch evident in their games. It turns out that the things big men have been doing forever still have value! And to be fair, the market still does value those things; Enes Kanter earned a max based solely on post moves.
I think Drummond's at-the-rim supernova style is more likely to remain trendy more so than Okafor's throwback effort, but there's a place for all.
FLANNERY: I feel better, having had this talk.
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SB Nation presents: The 3-pointer explosion through the decades