November 17, 2017

Images of the last two championships have been remarkably similar, with high powered offenses forcing a defense into its rotations, and then sending opponents chasing the ball around the perimeter, swiping at ghosts.

The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors have brought the three-pointer and ball movement to their highest levels, ushering in a new era of NBA basketball.

‘To a certain degree, you better embrace or you’re going to lose,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, hater of the three-point line, said. “And every time we’ve won a championship, the three-point line was a big part of it.”

Some have worried that the emphasis on three-point shooting might hurt the game, homogenizing team styles to all reflect the shot profile prevalent with Morey-ball and the Houston Rockets. But while the long distance shots have become an important staple of modern NBA offenses, the vehicles through which to create them can still wildly vary.

Not all three-point attempts are created equally—or similarly.

Memories of the Spurs offense whipping three or four passes around the perimeter for an eventual open three might make coaches swoon, and their percentages are quite good on such shots, but by and large it’s a less valuable attempt than those that come on a direct line from the painted area.

3S From Perimeter Passing
Team 3PA 3PT% % of 3's Overall 3PT% 3PT% Difference OffRtg
SAS 218 41.28% 35.91% 37.70% 3.58% 3
LAC 310 39.03% 42.01% 34.80% 4.23% 6
PHX 343 38.78% 41.68% 37.90% 0.88% 20
GSW 276 38.77% 31.69% 42% -3.23% 1
CHA 337 37.69% 40.07% 35.40% 2.29% 9
UTA 260 37.31% 43.19% 36.40% 0.91% 15
CLE 320 37.19% 41.72% 35.30% 1.89% 7
ATL 259 37.07% 31.24% 34.30% 2.77% 5
OKC 228 36.84% 34.76% 35.50% 1.34% 2
DAL 326 36.50% 38.81% 33.90% 2.60% 8
POR 288 35.76% 31.82% 35.20% 0.56% 11
CHI 249 35.74% 40.49% 35.80% -0.06% 27
DEN 307 35.50% 41.10% 34.70% 0.80% 21
MIL 243 34.98% 45.76% 35.20% -0.22% 25
MEM 223 34.98% 38.99% 31.60% 3.38% 26
IND 240 34.58% 33.57% 37.20% -2.62% 13
DET 333 34.23% 41.47% 33.10% 1.13% 23
WAS 270 34.07% 39.76% 36.80% -2.73% 17
SAC 322 33.85% 47.01% 35.90% -2.05% 19
ORL 274 33.58% 41.64% 36% -2.42% 16
TOR 274 33.21% 38.27% 35.20% -1.99% 4
PHI 374 32.35% 44.52% 32.40% -0.05% 30
NOP 275 32.00% 37.21% 36.10% -4.10% 10
HOU 400 31.75% 40.53% 34.10% -2.35% 14
BOS 334 31.74% 39.20% 33.30% -1.56% 22
MIN 195 30.26% 40.46% 32.40% -2.14% 18
BKN 205 30.24% 41.58% 31.80% -1.56% 28
NYK 348 30.17% 49.29% 32.90% -2.73% 24
MIA 221 29.41% 38.50% 32.60% -3.19% 12
LAL 328 29.27% 41.36% 31.50% -2.23% 29

Perhaps that’s because shooters are creatures of habit, honing their skills through hours of repetition, and receiving a pass from the perimeter disrupts that rhythm, requiring the shooter to turn his body to receive the pass. Or, maybe, it’s that a defense is most vulnerable in the moments after it first collapses.

Whatever the case may be, offenses that setup a large portion of their three-pointers via passes from the perimeter have generally not fared well—with the likes of Philadelphia, New York, and Phoenix among the most frequent utilizers of such shots. According to statistics provided by Vantage Sports, the Houston Rockets generate 40.53 percent of their three-point attempts via perimeter passes, hitting only 31.75 percent of such shots.

Teams that derive large portions of their three-point attempts via drive and kicks—such as the dribble-drive attack of the Miami Heat—tend to fare a little better, with quite a few shooting above their norms.

3S From Drive And Kick
Team 3PA 3PT% % of 3's Overall 3PT% 3PT% Difference OffRtg
PHI 134 32.09% 15.95% 32.40% -0.31% 30
PHX 131 38.17% 15.92% 37.90% 0.27% 20
POR 125 32.00% 13.81% 35.20% -3.20% 11
NOP 120 35.83% 16.24% 36.10% -0.27% 10
HOU 120 35.00% 12.16% 34.10% 0.90% 14
MIA 116 40.52% 20.21% 32.60% 7.92% 12
WAS 115 40.87% 16.94% 36.80% 4.07% 17
DEN 111 33.33% 14.86% 34.70% -1.37% 21
UTA 110 33.64% 18.27% 36.40% -2.76% 15
DET 104 31.73% 12.95% 33.10% -1.37% 23
BOS 103 33.01% 12.09% 33.30% -0.29% 22
ATL 101 37.62% 12.18% 34.30% 3.32% 5
OKC 100 29.00% 15.24% 35.50% -6.50% 2
TOR 100 42.00% 13.97% 35.20% 6.80% 4
CHA 91 26.37% 10.82% 35.40% -9.03% 9
MIL 91 32.97% 17.14% 35.20% -2.23% 25
CLE 84 38.10% 10.95% 35.30% 2.80% 7
CHI 84 33.33% 13.66% 35.80% -2.47% 27
IND 83 40.96% 11.61% 37.20% 3.76% 13
DAL 78 29.49% 9.29% 33.90% -4.41% 8
MEM 78 30.77% 13.64% 31.60% -0.83% 26
SAS 77 32.47% 12.69% 37.70% -5.23% 3
ORL 75 36.00% 11.40% 36% 0.00% 16
SAC 71 38.03% 10.36% 35.90% 2.13% 19
LAL 70 37.14% 8.83% 31.50% 5.64% 29
BKN 69 37.68% 14.00% 31.80% 5.88% 28
LAC 65 30.77% 8.81% 34.80% -4.03% 6
NYK 65 40.00% 9.21% 32.90% 7.10% 24
GSW 64 40.63% 7.35% 42% -1.38% 1
MIN 51 27.45% 10.58% 32.40% -4.95% 18

However, perhaps surprisingly, the best three-point looks still appear to be the ones created via post opportunities—with Atlanta, San Antonio, and Golden state among the top five in three-pointers generated off post ups:

3S From Post Ups
Team 3PA 3PT% % of 3's Overall 3PT% 3PT% Difference OffRtg
ATL 101 34.65% 12.18% 34.30% 0.35% 5
PHI 89 35.96% 10.60% 32.40% 3.56% 30
SAS 78 37.18% 12.85% 37.70% -0.52% 3
GSW 77 54.55% 8.84% 42% 12.55% 1
POR 70 38.57% 7.73% 35.20% 3.37% 11
ORL 68 38.24% 10.33% 36% 2.24% 16
BOS 62 35.48% 7.28% 33.30% 2.18% 22
HOU 61 44.26% 6.18% 34.10% 10.16% 14
DEN 58 27.59% 7.76% 34.70% -7.11% 21
DAL 57 31.58% 6.79% 33.90% -2.32% 8
LAC 57 33.33% 7.72% 34.80% -1.47% 6
SAC 56 32.14% 8.18% 35.90% -3.76% 19
CLE 55 30.91% 7.17% 35.30% -4.39% 7
UTA 54 38.89% 8.97% 36.40% 2.49% 15
CHI 51 37.25% 8.29% 35.80% 1.45% 27
MEM 51 19.61% 8.92% 31.60% -11.99% 26
MIL 50 44.00% 9.42% 35.20% 8.80% 25
OKC 49 40.82% 7.47% 35.50% 5.32% 2
CHA 48 41.67% 5.71% 35.40% 6.27% 9
IND 44 38.64% 6.15% 37.20% 1.44% 13
DET 42 35.71% 5.23% 33.10% 2.61% 23
TOR 42 28.57% 5.87% 35.20% -6.63% 4
LAL 42 42.86% 5.30% 31.50% 11.36% 29
MIA 41 39.02% 7.14% 32.60% 6.42% 12
BKN 41 29.27% 8.32% 31.80% -2.53% 28
NYK 38 47.37% 5.38% 32.90% 14.47% 24
PHX 37 32.43% 4.50% 37.90% -5.47% 20
NOP 32 43.75% 4.33% 36.10% 7.65% 10
WAS 32 37.50% 4.71% 36.80% 0.70% 17
MIN 31 29.03% 6.43% 32.40% -3.37% 18

The Spurs actually shoot slightly worse (though still 37.18 percent) off kickouts from the post—though that might be explained by their best three-point shooter (Kawhi Leonard) also being one of their primary post options. Their days of spread pick and roll being the primary vehicle that drives their offense appear to be over, but the basic tenets of ball movement and spacing remain in place.

Despite the push to make the league smaller and quicker, and offenses that no longer feature the post as a primary scoring option, there’s still use for big men who can establish position and work as a scoring threat and facilitator—as evident by the Hawks, Spurs, and Warriors featuring fantastic passing big men in Andrew Bogut, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Tiago Splitter.

Smart teams still go to the post, but use it as a means to create new angles for the defense to consider. With attention turned inward towards the paint, it becomes harder for defenders to track both ball and man. Passes from the post, for big men who are adept at it, can also be simpler—coming from a stationary player with a direct line of sight to their intended target.

So, yes, the three-pointer may reign supreme, but the post remains, as always, a quality source of producing offense—just not directly through post scoring.

 

 

 

Coach Nick

Coach Nick is the founder of BballBreakdown, coached the Triangle Offense at the high school level, and counts Tex Winter and Pete Newell as mentors. For more of our conversation, follow him @BBALLBREAKDOWN.

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