By: Cory Vest
Gone are the days of the dominant big man. That low post presence that you can set up a half-court offense around. No longer are players feeding the beast down under and letting him go to work.
There is a new brand of basketball being played and in order to participate you need to be able to shoot…from deep.
The NBA has set the standard for three point barrage basketball. Prior to a couple of seasons ago, the highest average of three point attempts per game by any NBA team hovered around 27. That was until the 2014-15 season where the highest attempts per game reached 32.7. The tenth ranked team in the league that year came in at 25 attempts per game. The 2015-16 season spiked again with the Golden State Warriors, led by Steph Curry (we’ll talk about him later), launching an average of 31.6 three pointers each game. Ranked tenth that season was Detroit with 26.2. To put that into perspective, the highest average of triples per game in the 2013-14 season was 26.6. Want to try to guess the average of three point attempts by the Houston Rockets this season? If you said 40.3 per game, then you are correct. They lead the league in the category. The Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Clippers rank tenth with 27.5 treys per game.
Back to Steph Curry. In the 2012-13 season, Curry pulled up from behind the arc an average of 7.7 times per game. That is three more than his average the season prior. In the 2013-14 season the average attempts per game increased to 7.9. 2014-15, it went to 8.1 per game. He must have been really digging the deep game during the 2015-16 season because Curry found himself averaging 11.2 triples per game. This year Steph has come back down to reality *heavy sarcasm* and is only averaging 9.9 threes a night. With averages like that, Curry owns four out of the five highest three point seasons in NBA history.
The tides are a changing and Steph Curry is rowing the boat. Want some more perspective? In the 2007 season the 76ers made 284 threes. The very next season, 2008, the Sixers made 302. The Oklahoma City Thunder put home 328 triples in the 2009 season. In 2010 the Grizzlies of Memphis made 344 treys only to drop to 309 successful threes in the 2011 season. In 2012 the Hornets were able to muster up 259 three-point field goals. What am I getting at? Steph, I’ll pull up from anywhere, Curry made 402 three point baskets by himself during the 2016 season. That is a single man making more threes in a season than each of the teams listed above.
With the NBA game morphing, college basketball players are forced to adapt. In order to play with the big boys, you have to play like the big boys. March Madness has displayed just that.
In the first round of the NCAA tournament, a total of 1,409 three pointers were taken out of a total of 3,986 shots. That means 35.3% of the time, a team is pulling up from behind the arc. About every third possession, a player is launching one from deep. The 35.3% is an increase from the first round of last year’s tournament.
The most threes attempted in this year’s first round of the tournament came from Marquette and South Carolina. Both teams combined for a total of 52 triples.
Of the 1,409 attempts from behind the arc, 492 of them found their way through the cylinder. That comes out to a 34.9% success rate. The best long distance dialers in the first round was Michigan, connecting on 16 of their 29 threes. Michigan got the win 92-91. The lowest percent from deep was 15.4% thanks to Florida State and their 2-13 showing from behind the deep line. FSU got the win though, defeating Florida Gulf Coast 86-80.
In the second round of the tournament, teams took a total of 1,826 shots. 641 of those were for three. 35% of the time a three was launched, very similar to that of the first round. The percentage of threes that found the bottom of the net was 34%. The average NBA team shoots about 35.5% from three.
Now here are some quick hitters.
– Purdue vs. Iowa St. – Teams opened the game with three of their first four shots coming from three-point land. About five minutes later, both teams launched threes on 4 consecutive possessions.
– Notre Dame vs. West Virginia– with about 15 minutes left in the second half, there were 6 consecutive three point attempts. With 2:40 left in the game, 4 straight threes were released.
– Northwestern vs. Gonzaga – Around the 9-minute mark of the first half, 4 out 5 possessions resulted in three point attempts, all of which were missed. 4 straight threes were taken to open the second half, and another 4 consecutive threes were attempted about five minutes later.
– Xavier vs. Florida State- Of FSU’s first 7 shot attempts, 5 of them were from behind the arc. Only one went in. Between the 15-minute mark and 12-minute mark of the 1st half, 7 three pointers were taken.
– Michigan vs. Louisville- In the first half with about 14:30 on the clock, 8 out of 10 shot attempts were from downtown.
– Wichita State vs. Kentucky- 7 three pointers were taken in the first four minutes of the game. Kentucky missed the only one they took, while Wichita State missed 5 of the 6 they took.
– Michigan State vs. Kansas- 4/5 shots early in the 2nd half were for three
– Arkansas vs. North Carolina- After the first 2 shots of the game occurred inside the arc, the next 4 were from behind the arc. With 8:30 left in the game, 5 straight threes were launched.
– USC vs. Baylor– Out of the first 6 shots to open the game, 4 of them were three point jumpers.
– UCLA vs. Cincinnati- Teams opened the 2nd half with 4 consecutive threes. About 6 minutes later, 9/10 shots for both teams were from long range.
That may have been a lot to look at but it does hint at the temptation of teams to compete in a competition of urination. The mentality of anything you can do, I can do better seems to take effect as each team tries to go tit for tat.
Making it rain from three has its advantages. Just like a huge dunk can ignite the crowd, so can the splash of the net courtesy of one from long range. There is also the fact that three points is greater than two, for those of you who tend to miss the obvious. Momentum can swing and runs can be made when a team, or an individual, is lighting it up from another zip code. Take UCLA for instance as they went from being down 46-47 to being up 55-47. UCLA connected on three straight from deep, while Cincinnati failed to rebuttal, as they missed two consecutive three point attempts. Not only was UCLA able to stretch out an 8-point lead after being down 1, they also gained all the momentum in the arena.
Certain instances call for a long-distance dial up (pun intended), depending on the circumstances of the game, a two-point basket simply will not cut it. There are other occasions, where taking the three is just downright unwise. Is the prominence of the triple blurring the lines of intelligent basketball?
Let us revisit the first-round match-up of Princeton vs. Notre Dame. Princeton was down 58-59 with 10.6 seconds left in the game. Simple math tells you that a basket that is worth two points is good enough to get you the victory. That Ivy League education did not help in this instance as Amir Bell casually brought the ball down the court after a Notre Dame missed free throw. As Bell brings it across half-court, not a single player for Princeton breaks towards the basket, instead they all stop behind the arc. Bell makes a slight move toward the basket, then passes to his teammate Devin Cannady for a deep three. Only after the three is released, does a Princeton player crash the lane. 10.6 seconds is plenty of time to push the ball down the court and try for a quick deuce. If the ball doesn’t fall, there is always hope for contact and the foul, which would send the player to the line for the win. Instead, Princeton throws up a deep and unnecessary three-point attempt.
Ok next example. Vanderbilt taking on Northwestern. On two separate occasions, Vanderbilt elected to launch a three instead of working the ball inside for the easier bucket. The first instance took place with 57 seconds left in the game. Vandy was down 62-63, again, only a one point deficit. Instead of looking for the high percentage shot and the lead late in the game, they settle for the three. Fast forward now to 10 seconds left in the game with the score 67-66 Northwestern leading. Riley LaChance, for Vandy, engages in an isolation offense as his four teammates stand behind the three-point line. Not a soul can be found inside the paint. LaChance dribbles for a bit, then releases a three from about four feet behind the arc with 5.8 seconds left in the game. The ball draws back iron and Northwestern hangs on for the win.
Wichita State vs. Kentucky now. The Shockers of Wichita State were down 62-63. Yet again there is that one point deficit. There were about 41 seconds on the clock when Wichita State took possession. Ladry Shamet receives a pass with 16.4 seconds on the game clock and 10 seconds left on the shot clock. That is a total of 25 seconds the Shockers had to find a two-point basket and the lead. Instead Shamet forces up a highly contested three with 7 seconds on the shot clock. The shot is blocked and Wichita State loses the game.
I have more examples, but for the sake of length I will quickly mention one more. Arkansas vs. North Carolina. Arkansas attempted 3 triples in their final 5 possessions. The deficit was only one point, 65-66, with 1:18 left in the game. Arkansas failed to look for the high percentage shot and remained at 65 points to end the game.
The game of basketball has become a shooter’s sport. You have to be able to connect from deep to compete. The offenses that revolve around the big fella underneath have become stale and outdated. A new era is occurring. No longer do bigs post-up down low, they are able to work the perimeter and connect from long range. Is it good for the sport? Is this style of basketball here to stay? You tell me.