The importance of three-point shooting can easily be described by saying "threes are worth more than twos." But the reason why it's as essential to an offense as gasoline to a car is how it counters and exposes cracks in defensive schemes. Why can't you just double a post player all the time? Why can't you pack the paint when a point guard drives to the rim? Why can't your entire defense rotate in order to nullify a player cutting baseline? The three-part sequence of pass, catch, shoot.
That's the basic role a spot-up three-point shooter, but exceptional catch-and-shoot players know how to shift into open passing lanes and are shifting on the perimeter. Standing in the corner when the ball-handler is walled off isn't particularly helpful. Subtle movements along the arc can be the difference between a player turning the ball over or a game-changing three-point shot.
This is what makes Wesley Matthews a particularly good spot-up shooter. This is what makes him so valuable to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Take, for instance, this play against the Rockets. The Rockets are up three with a minute left in the fourth quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge has the ball and is drawing attention of James Harden, who has one foot in the paint and is cheating toward him. Initially, Harden's in the passing lane between Aldridge and Matthews, but notice how Matthews slides closer to Aldridge for a clearer path:
As Harden commits to trying to steal the ball, Aldridge sees Matthews on the perimeter and is able to easily kick the ball out because of Matthews' movement. Matthews sinks the wide-open three and Harden has no chance to contest the shot after sinking too far into the paint:
What looked like a sure turnover turned into an overtime-forcing three, and the Blazers went to win the game in overtime. Video of the play:
Matthews is an exceptional spot-up shooter, instinctively moving on the perimeter and carving his role as the perfect release valve for the Blazers' offense. His catch-and-shoot expertise is a huge boon for a team that could be in the mix for the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference and is a great study of how a spot-up shooter should adjust to the players around him.
Here's just under two minutes of Aldridge, the Blazers' oft-doubled scoring leader, finding Matthews for spot-up threes. Notice how often Matthews shifts to give his big man a passing lane.
Many shooters stand still. Matthews doesn't.
Portland's offensive efficiency reflects the importance of his spot-up shooting. The Trail Blazers averaged 98.3 points per 100 possessions when Matthews was on the bench and 105.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. That's the Blazers' highest on-court offensive rating -- higher than Damian Lillard (105) and LaMarcus Aldridge (104.4) despite each player averaging at least four more field goal attempts per game, according to NBA.com.
Matthews was a key release valve beyond the arc for Aldridge, Lillard and Nicolas Batum -- the top three passers for Portland. He shot 42 percent from three-point range, averaging 1.16 points per possession as a spot-up shooter, according to MySynergySports. Aldridge assisted Matthews 44 times, Batum assisted him 56 times and Lillard assisted him 76 times.
Where on the court were the majority of those assists? Beyond the arc. With some photoshop wizardry, here's a chart of all field goals made by Matthews after being assisted by Aldridge, Batum or Lillard:
One hundred and nine of the 176 assists Matthews received from them were for three-point field goals. That's 62 percent of their assists to him. Matthews made a total of 168 threes last season, which means 64 percent of his makes from deep were assists from Aldridge, Batum or Lillard.
Lillard was great at penetrating into the paint and drawing the defense in. When that happened, Lillard benefited from Matthews' shifting and was able to easily find him. Here, Lillard blows by Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, and Matthews shifts along the perimeter as Lillard drives:
Paul Pierce rotates in front of Lillard to cut off his dribble penetration, but Lillard has an easy pass to Matthews. Lee attempts to recover, but is late:
Video of the play:
It also helps to have Batum, who is also an important spot-up shooter on the perimeter, but is versatile enough to attack the rim and find other shooters like Matthews. When the Blazers run their offense, Matthews' movement and Batum's passing blends nicely as the defense is scrambling.
The following play shows the Blazers offense crisply running down its options. It opens with a high screen from Aldridge for Ronnie Price. Price isn't the ball-handler that Lillard is, so the priority here is to find Aldridge as the roll man. Batum is set in the left corner, and Vince Carter rotates in front of Aldridge, leaving him alone:
Price passes to Aldridge, who finds a wide-open Batum in the corner:
Batum doesn't shoot, though, choosing instead to pump fake while Carter closes out. Even though Carter stays down, Batum is able to cut to the rim:
Here, the Mavericks' defense finally cracks. Elton Brand rotates to stop Batum's baseline drive and O.J. Mayo is caught out of position after ball-watching and moving into the paint. That's when Matthews shifts his position, opening up the passing lane so Batum can find him at the top of the key. Mayo did a good job of challenging the shot, but was too far into the paint to recover in time:
Video of the play:
A player who shoots around the 40 percent mark from deep is often referred to as a "floor spacer" without further explanation as to how they do it and why it's important. Examining Matthews' own movements while spacing the floor for a post player in Aldridge who demands double teams, a quick point guard in Lillard who can drive into the teeth of defenses and a slasher in Batum who causes chaos by forcing rotations is a great example of how a "floor spacer" can be so effective.
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