Midway through the third quarter of an otherwise-meaningless preseason game, Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi did something extraordinary: he attempted and made a three-pointer.
Casual NBA fans and diehard Wizards supporters (like myself, sigh) will both yawn at that above statement. The former group would fail to see anything remarkable about a plodding center taking a three-pointer in 2018. The latter group would remember that Mahinmi and the Wizards teased this possibility in a post-practice shooting session during training camp.
But in showing off his improved range in an actual game, Mahinmi also looks poised to remove himself from an ever-dwindling club of players: the ones who steadfastly refuse to attempt three-pointers in actual games.
These heretics exist, but they are slowly dying out in a league where the three-point shot is ubiquitous — no matter the position. Attempts skyrocketed league-wide for the sixth year in a row, and the Houston Rockets became the first team in NBA history to take more threes than twos. The revolution has happened and it was televised.
So let’s talk about the people who refuse to join in.
Mahinmi was one of 15 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes without shooting a normal three-pointer last season. (We’re discounting end-of-quarter and end-of-shot-clock heaves). One of those 15 players has now dropped off from the list of holdouts.
Will any of the other 14 join him, and will anyone else from outside this exclusive club join in?
The front-line starters
These are players who were and will be regular starters for their teams this year.
Ben Simmons (2,732 minutes): Famously the only non-center on this list. Simmons technically went 0-11 on threes last year, but all were heaves. He’s teased his three-point potential in numerous Instagram workout videos, but said he won’t be taking threes in games this year, preferring instead to focus on improving his free-throw percentage.
Steven Adams (2,487 minutes): The dam is going to break eventually. Here’s video of Adams nailing threes in practice.
What you don’t get to see in the actual games...this is why most of us beat writers think Steven Adams will shoot 3s at some point. He hit seven straight here: pic.twitter.com/JR6J42J6i0— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) April 13, 2018
And here’s Adams speaking very coyly about the possibility of him launching from downtown last April:
I work on everything every summer. I’m comfortable shooting it. I mean, the tough part is just making them, you know (laughing).
Maybe, maybe. It’s hard to say. When you say me, it’s not me. I ain’t going to just make a decision to shoot a three. It has to be run through, you know, everyone first, and say that this is a good shot or whatever.
It’s gonna be a good shot.
DeAndre Jordan (2,423 minutes): The NBA’s leader in field goal percentage for five of the last six seasons has only made one three-pointer in his 10-year career. He has a good thing going and I doubt he’ll change that.
Marcin Gortat (2,071 minutes): When asked if he’d ever shoot three-pointers last April, Gortat said no. “This summer I’m going to work on my tan. I’m going to work on my six-pack. Get my bicep definition a bit better.” Considering his proficiency as a mid-range shooter, I find it hard to believe he’ll be back here next year.
Clint Capela (2,034 minutes): The whole point of the Rockets’ system is that everyone else shoots threes while Capela rolls to the rim. Still, it’s hard to resist the temptation to join in, especially when he’s already admitted he dreams of trying.
Rudy Gobert (1,816 minutes): The Stifle Tower hasn’t taken a three-pointer in his entire career, but he did just show off his perimeter shot at the Jazz FanFest last week and has been taking practice threes since 2015.
Tristan Thompson (1,072 minutes): Tyronn Lue barred Thompson from showing off the three-point shot he displayed in practice last October, but someone’s gotta replace those LeBron James points.
These are players who broke the 1,000 minute plateau last year and have a decent chance of doing so again.
Bismack Biyombo (1,495 minutes): I think his spot on this list is pretty safe.
Ed Davis (1,471 minutes): Davis is now with the Nets, who launched the second-most three-point attempts last year and also run a system where the big men roll hard and everyone else has the green light. That means everything written about Clint Capela applies to Davis as well.
Kosta Koufos (1,391 minutes): This was back in the 2013 playoffs, so we know he has it in him.
Bam Adebayo (1,368 minutes): I was surprised to see Adebayo on this list, considering he wowed teams with his three-pointer in pre-draft workouts. The Heat seem to view him as a 4 or 5, so it’s only a matter of time. If he wants to play, he’ll need to make shots.
Montrezl Harrell (1,293 minutes): The shortest player on this list has a delightful throwback game. I really hope he doesn’t ruin it.
Tyson Chandler (1,151 minutes): He hasn’t made a three yet in his career and I’m not sure why he’d start now.
Greg Monroe (1,041 minutes): May as well remove him from this club already.
Monroe said he was never asked to shoot the 3-ball/it wasn't part of his game, but with the way the league's changing and after talking to Nick Nurse he's been working on it and is starting to feel comfortable from distance. "Now it's just time to get reps in game situations"— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) August 17, 2018
Will anyone new join this exclusive club?
Here are a list of players who logged between 300 and 1,000 minutes last year without attempting a three: Boban Marjanovic, Brandan Wright, Cheick Diallo, Deyonte Davis, Emeka Okafor, Eric Moreland, Ivan Rabb, Khem Birch, Ekpe Udoh, Kenneth Faried, Nerlens Noel, and Zaza Pachulia. Faried, Noel, and Udoh have taken threes in the past, and everyone else on that list is unlikely to be in their teams’ rotation this year. (Though you know Boban is gonna give in to the temptation to fire away at the end of a Clippers blowout).
Twenty-two players took fewer than five threes last year. That list includes Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, JaVale McGee, Andre Drummond, Alex Len, and Enes Kanter, all of whom are locks to fall prey to temptation again this year. It also, oddly, includes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (one three-pointer), and, less surprisingly, Shaun Livingston (three three-pointers). It’s hard to see them going all season without letting it fly, either.
What about the rookies? Aren’t there a lot of bigs in this class?
Don’t expect any of them to join the resistance. The five big men selected in the top seven picks in the draft — DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson Jr., Mo Bamba, and Wendell Carter Jr. — all took at least 35 threes in college last year.
One possible holdout: New York’s Mitchell Robinson. Robinson didn’t go to college, but has flashed a ton of potential as a rim-running, high-energy big for a team that’ll have minutes to go around. But ... wait, what’s this?
Mitchell Robinson showed off some touch from 3 tonight. Definitely has skill potential to tap into. Will benefit from focusing on being a dominant shot blocker, rim runner, lob catcher, and rebounder first then build out the rest of his offensive game. pic.twitter.com/uLcG9ebbxj— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 31, 2018
Nevermind, he’s gonna shoot threes, too. Soon, everyone will. Until then, let’s remember these last brave holdouts and wish them luck in their quest to live in the past.