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NBA Saturday: Three-Point Shooting and Championships

Despite Byron Scott’s stance on the issue, three-point shooting is a major part of championship basketball…

Jesse Blancarte

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Over the last several years, NBA players and teams have put an increasing amount of value on three-point shooting. This development comes at a time when teams are either learning to embrace advanced analytics, or have already been utilizing it for years. No matter how much any single team either uses or does not use advanced analytics, one of the things that is commonly understood is that three-pointers (especially corner three-pointers) are one of the most efficient shots in basketball and consequently is a major weapon for most modern NBA offenses.

However, on Friday, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott made headlines when he gave his opinion about the importance of three-pointers.

“You’ve got a lot of teams that just live and die by it,” Scott said on Friday. “Teams, general managers, coaches, they kind of draft that way to try to space the floor as much as possible. But you have to have shooters like that; you also have to have guys that can penetrate and get to the basket, because that opens up the floor.”

“I don’t believe it (three-pointers) wins championships,” Scott said. “[It] gets you to the playoffs.”

Scott’s opinion runs contrary to that of many NBA front office executives who have put more stock in analytics over the last several years. Teams like the Houston Rockets have formulated offensive systems that emphasize floor-spacing and shooting three-pointers, while avoiding mid-range jumpers and long two-point field goals as much as possible.

Putting Scott’s contention to the test, here we take a look at the last 10 NBA championship teams to determine what kind of role three-point shooting played for each team and whether a modern NBA team can win a championship without shooting a heavy dose of three-pointers*:

*Note: 3PA = three-pointers attempted; 3PM = three-pointers made; and PG = three-point field goals attempted per game.

2014: San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season: 1,757 3PA (16th); 698 3PM (12th); 21.4 per game; 39.7 percent (1st)
Playoffs: 496 3PA (1st); 203 3PM (1st); 21.6 per game; 40.9 percent (1st)

2013: Miami HEAT
Regular Season: 1,809 3PA (6th); 717 3PM (3rd); 22.1 PG; 39.6 percent (2nd)
Playoffs: 465 3PA (1st); 177 3PM (1st); 20.2 PG; 38.1 percent (2nd)

2012: Miami HEAT
Regular Season: 1,030 3PA (23rd); 370 3PM (20th); 15.6 PG; 35.9 percent (10th)
Playoffs: 452 3PA (1st); 157 3PM (1st); 19.7 PG; 34.7 percent (5th)

2011: Dallas Mavericks
Regular Season: 1,768 3PA (5th); 645 3PM (8th); 21.6 PG; 36.5 (11th)
Playoffs: 467 3PA (1st); 184 3PM (1st); 22.2 PG; 39.4 percent (2nd)

2010: Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season: 1,562 3PA (10th) 3PM; 532 3PM (13th); 19 PG; 34.1 percent (13th)
Playoffs: 476 3PA (1st); 157 3PM (1st); 20.7 PG; 33 percent (11th)

2009: Los Angeles Lakers
Regular Season: 1,516 3PA (15th); 547 3PM (17th); 18.5 PG; 36.1 percent (19th)
Playoffs: 424 3PA (2nd); 160 3PM (2nd); 18.4 PG; 37.7 percent (4th)

2008: Boston Celtics
Regular Season: 1,564 3PA (12th); 596 3PM (23rd); 19.1 PG; 38.1 percent (8th)
Playoffs: 417 3PA (1st); 137 3PM (2nd); 16.9 PG; 32.9 percent (13th)

2007: San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season: 1,561 3PA (7th); 595 3PM (6th); 19 PG; 38.1 percent (3rd)
Playoffs: 393 3PA (1st); 151 3PM (1st); 19.7 PG; 38.4 percent (1st)

2006: Miami HEAT
Regular Season: 1,441 3PA (12th); 497 3PM (13th); 17.6 PG; 34.5 percent (20th)
Playoffs: 439 3PA (2nd); 146 3PM (2nd); 19.1 PG; 33.3 percent (8th)

2005: San Antonio Spurs
Regular Season: 1,395 3PA (13th); 507 3PM (12th); 17 PG; 36.3 percent (8th)
Playoffs: 422 3PA (1st); 164 3PM (1st); 18.3 PG; 38.9 percent (4th)

After looking at this data, it seems pretty clear that Scott’s comments are off-base. Scott said that shooting three-pointers can get you to the playoffs, but it won’t win championships. But the data above shows that only the 2007 Spurs, 2011 Mavericks and 2013 HEAT were top-10 in three pointers attempted during the regular season. Of course, there are several teams that made it to the playoffs over the last 10 years in large part because of heavy three-point shooting (like the Phoenix Suns), but the idea that three-pointers are not important in the postseason is fundamentally incorrect. If anything, three-pointers become even more important in the postseason. Consider that seven of the last 10 championship teams increased their per game three-point field goals once they got to the playoffs, showing a heightened dependence and emphasis on three-pointers in postseason play.

What is also significant is that the data shows that shooting three-pointers is inherently more important than making three-pointers at an elite percentage. Out of these 10 championship teams, only four of them ranked either first or second in three-point percentage in the postseason, while all of them ranked (in some variation) either first or second in three-pointers attempted and three-pointers made. This is somewhat misleading in that teams that make it to the NBA Finals have more games to shoot three-pointers, which in part explains why all of these teams rank either first or second in three-point field goals attempted. Nevertheless, out of these 10 teams, the lowest amount of three-pointers taken per game was 16.9 by the 2008 Boston Celtics. Yet Scott says he wants the Lakers to shoot around 10-15 three-pointers per game. If the Lakers’ preseason results so far are any indication, this could be another long season for Lakers fans.

Over their first four preseason games, the Lakers have gone 1-3 and shot 6-of-29 from beyond-the-arc. In their one and only win, the Lakers shot 5-of-10 from three-point range, and beat the Nuggets 98-95. Since that game, the Lakers have made 1-of-19 three-point field goals, and have routinely been blown out. Most disconcerting is that in the Lakers’ last two preseason games (where they lost by a collective 74 points), the team shot 95 mid-range field goals and just eight three-pointers. 

Looking at recent NBA history, and considering these sort of early results for the Lakers, makes it hard to understand how Scott can believe that three-pointers are not a crucial part of running an effective NBA offense. Hopefully when players like Steve Nash, Xavier Henry, Ryan Kelly and Nick Young are healthy, the Lakers’ nightly shot charts will include more three-point attempts. But for now, Scott is taking away one of the few things that the Lakers did well last year as the Lakers made the fifth most three-pointers per game last season (9.4) and were third in three-point percentage (38.1 percent). Taking away that weapon could spell disaster for a Lakers team that projects to be well below the league average defensively.

Of course, the Lakers aren’t really contending for a championship this year, so Scott’s suppression of three-point shooting ultimately doesn’t really matter this season. But if and when the Lakers put together a roster with championship level talent, Scott’s insistence on avoiding three-pointers really could be, based on the data above, the difference between winning or losing a championship. Scott may disagree, but the data speaks for itself.

Larry Sanders Undergoes Surgery; Targets Opening Night Return

Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond announced Friday that center Larry Sanders will miss the rest of the preseason after undergoing minor surgery. Prior to this announcement, Sanders sat out Tuesday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers because of what the team termed an illness.

Sanders is looking to have a bounce-back season after a disappointing 2013-14 campaign. Last season, Sanders got into a bar fight, suffered a thumb injury, and later in the season suffered an orbital bone fracture and only played in 23 games.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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