By Brian Sampson
The Brooklyn Nets love to chuck threes. There’s only one problem: they suck at them. To put it more professionally; given their ranks in attempts per game (second) and three-point percentage (28th), it’s safe to say they’re a high-volume, low-efficient shooting team from the outside.
Unless dramatic changes are made, Brooklyn is in the process of having a historically bad three-point shooting campaign. Dating back to the inception of the three-point line during the 1979-80 season, only 37 teams have attempted at least 28 outside shots per game. Of those 37 teams, the 2017-18 version of the Nets is on pace to knock down the second-lowest percent (34.0 percent), behind only the 2016-17 version (33.8 percent). Yuck.
The Nets’ offense focuses on hunting for threes like their life depends on it, as they’ve appeared to have adopted the mantra ‘any three-point shot is a good shot.’ The only issue is that’s not always the case.
Far too often, Brooklyn takes the first decent look they find and launch a closely contested shot from downtown:
This play, motion strong, is a staple of their offense, and typically leads directly to a three-point attempt from the top of the key. It starts with a guard bringing the ball up the floor and passing to a big man at the top of the key before going to set a down screen for the wing in the corner. The big man continues rotating the ball to the opposite wing, before joining his teammate in setting a double stagger screen. The wing then comes off the screens and pulls the trigger if there’s even a sliver of an opening.
Brooklyn loves these shots early in the clock, ranking first in the NBA with 7.5 three-point attempts per game within the first 4-6 seconds of the shot clock. Unfortunately, they find themselves ranked 24th in percentage when it comes to these early shots.
Allen Crabbe receives the majority of these looks, hoisting six above-the-break-threes per game and connecting on 38.7 percent of them, which is slightly better than Stephen Curry’s 37.8 percent. Outside of Crabbe and Joe Harris (39.4 percent on above-the-break threes), Brooklyn is littered with below-average outside shooters from that area on the floor. Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Caris LeVert and Quincy Acy combine to knock down only 31.7 percent of those shots. What’s worse is their 18.6 attempts per game from the top of the key is more than four other teams.
It’s not as if these shooting woes are limited to the top of the key, either, as these players struggle from all over the floor. Of the 169 players who take at least 2.7 threes per game, Brooklyn has three guys ranked in the bottom 15th in percentage (Sean Kilpatrick, LeVert and Russell) and another ranked 134th (Acy).
No matter where you look, Brooklyn is simply a bad outside shooting team.
When it comes to three-point shots off the catch, they rank fourth in attempts per game with 24.8, but 19th in percentage with 36.9. In pull-ups from downtown, they’re fifth in attempts (9.3) and 27th in percentage (28.0 percent). In shots from 20-24 feet, they have the fourth-worst percentage at 35.4. It gets even nastier with shots from 25-29 feet where they have the second-worst percentage at 32.5.
All of these attempts have caused Brooklyn to trail only the Houston Rockets (43.3) in outside shots per game (34.0). But, unlike the Rockets, the Nets don’t connect often enough to make it worth their time.
Like Houston, Brooklyn pushes the ball in transition and prioritizes the outside shot. Their 18.0 transition possessions per game ranks seventh in the NBA, but their effective field goal percentage of 50.7 is dead last. The main reason for their awful shooting numbers is their propensity to pull the trigger way too early:
After Crabbe grabs the rebound he throws an outlet pass to LeVert who immediately pushes the ball up court. The three guys running the floor with LeVert space out to the three-point line, including Acy and career 17.5 percent outside shooter Timofey Mozgov. LeVert does a great job probing the lane for any openings and forcing the defense to collapse and prevent a shot going at the rim. This allows the trailing Crabbe to receive the pass while Mozgov sets a very smart screen to give Crabbe open space. Unfortunately, Brooklyn’s best shooter can’t knock down the heave and gives the ball right back to the defense.
A lot of the rushed shots from downtown has to do with the lack of healthy creators on the Nets’ roster. Their two best playmakers, Jeremey Lin and D’Angelo Russell, have suffered significant injuries with Lin being out for the year. Both guys had usage rates greater than 30 percent in their brief time on the court, forcing Brooklyn to rely on an unusual group of players to manage the ball-handling responsibilities. The unconventional group of Dinwiddie, Whitehead and Kilpatrick (before his release) split the duties with forwards Hollis-Jefferson and LeVert to generate as many looks as possible.
Regardless of their effort, this cast of lovable misfits doesn’t have a reliable playmaker who can produce easy buckets for themselves or others. Because of this, they must capitalize on any halfway decent look they can get, for fear they might not see a better shot the rest of the possession.
Head coach Kenny Atkinson deserves some credit for forcing his team out of their comfort zone and encouraging them to unconsciously launch threes to make up for their lack of a true creator.
Under head coach Kenny Atikinson’s tutelage, players like Acy (1.2-2.6), Mozgov (0.0-0.8) and Crabbe (3.8-6.6) have significantly increased their three-point attempts from the year before they came to Brooklyn. Hell, Jahlil Okafor even bombed two shots from downtown in his first game with the Nets. The only player who seems immune to his outside shooting infatuation is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and for good reason.
However, if Atkinson and the rest of the Nets’ coaching staff are smart, they’ll swiftly move away from their attack on the three-point line. If they continue to brick outside shots at this rate, they’ll find themselves in the history books for all the wrong reasons.