Live by the 3 Die by the 2

the evolution of the NBA

By Nathan Nguyen

Let’s dispel the notion that jump shooting teams can’t win a title. There have been some old school (more like stubborn) coaches and analysts who have publicly criticized “jump shooting teams” and their inability to succeed in the playoffs.

Here are the diagnostics,

Out of the top 5 teams in 3 pointers attempted, four are still in the playoffs. When sorting by the frequency of 3 pointers attemped, the result is the same. The Spurs and Heat did indeed understand basketball, they understood that they needed to shoot 3s. When the Spurs won the championship last year they were the best 3 point team by percentage, shooting a ridiculous 41%. The year before when the Heat won they were 2nd in 3P% at 38.8% (a title that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the most clutch 3 in basketball history).

“bball, it’s about penetration.”

To an extent, but just like pleasuring a woman, there’s so much more than just penetration. According to SportVU the bottom 5 teams in “Drives Per Game” are the Grizzlies, Warriors, Wizards, Clippers, and Trailblazers. Again, the majority are finding success in the playoffs.

The best shot in the game is an open layup, so naturally any team’s top priority is protecting the basket, which is why elite rim defenders are so valuable in the league (even if they‘re extremely limited on the other side of the court, Deandre Jordan). This means teams clog the paint and shift with help defense when there is dribble penetration, making layups difficult to finish. Unless of course, you have Aron Baynes as your rim guardian (Baynes had to drown away those memories at the earliest opportunity). With new advanced metrics and data available, teams now see the true value of the 3 point shot. For a team to attain 1 point per possesion over 100 possesions, it must shoot 33% on 3s or 50% on 2s. Simple math I know, but this is the reason why the 3 point shot is so valuable. 4 teams have shot 50% from 2 during the playoffs, whereas 10 teams have shot at least 33% from 3. I do agree that drives to the basket are necessary, especially when you can exploit a team’s weak interior defense, but the majority of teams won’t be so easy to expose at the rim.

Penetration is necessary, but useless if a team doesn’t have adept 3 point shooters. Redick, Korver, Curry, Thompson, are all still shooting lights out. For God’s sake even James Jones is getting playoff minutes (this is because he doesn’t have to guard Noah at all and can just stand and wait to catch and shoot 3s while LeBron drives). If a team relies solely on jump shooting alone of course they won’t win a title, but if a team is ignorant enough to believe that 3 point shooting isn’t needed for a title, they are equally as doomed.

Although defenses have been evolving and are now emphasizing taking away the 3 point shot, being a team capable of shooting them is still a necessity on offense in order to keep defenses honest.

The one exception to this would be the Memphis Grizzlies. They’re an anachronism, a relic of the past, smashmouth grit and grind basketball. Even the Grizzlies traded for Jeff Green and acquired Vince Carter to boost their arsenal of 3 point shooters they desparately need. This is the only team currently in the playoffs not taking 3s and they’re down 3–2 to the jump shooting Warriors.

While Byron, Chuck, and Phil get used to texting for the first time on their Samsung Sidekicks, Randy Wittman is adapting and thriving. The Washington Wizards were an abysmal offensive team during the regular season. Talent was definitely there with Wall, Beal, Porter, and Pierce, but Wittman’s offensive schemes were almost as bad as Byron’s. Something clicked, maybe his clipboard was upside down the entire season and he finally decided to fix it. Somehow, this guy, decided to utilize the 3 point shot. Washington is now at 24 3PA (16 3PA in the regular season) with the highest percentage (41%) in the playoffs. He has also been a master of ATO plays, drawing up beauties such as this Hammer play near the end of game 5 to set up Pierce for an open THREE POINTER. Isn’t it amazing? A team struggling in the regular seasons decides to adopt a 3 point shooting philosophy and they are exceeding all expectations.

In the past, Phil’s philosophy may have held true, but the game has evolved. Being a jump shooting team and having an elite defense are not mutually exclusive. A team that relies heavily on 3 point shooting while playing stifling defense such as Golden State is something new, but with where the game is headed seeing more teams of this mold in the near future wouldn’t be surprising. It may be hard for purists to accept change, but I welcome it.

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