To Three or not to Three, That is the Question
The 3 point shot has changed the game forever. The recent flurry of three-point shooting has even Byron Scott, noted three-point hater, changing his tune and suggesting a 4-point line. It was not until the ’93-’94 Clutch City Rockets that offenses were designed to get open looks from three. The Rockets in the ’93-’94 season were among the first to figure out that if it takes ttwo defense players to guard a dominant post player and you surround that post player with four 3-point shooters, you are very difficult to beat. That Rocket team with Sam Cassell, Scott Brooks, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Matt Bullard, and Vernon Maxwell could all shoot from deep. They also kind-of created the now-popular “stretch 4″ with Robert Horry and Matt Bullard. Before these two, it was difficult to find 6’9″ and 6’10” guys who could stroke the three. I know Larry Bird shot the 3 at 6’9″ and so did Clifford Robinson at 6’10, but the Rockets made it a position and began looking for bigs that could stretch the floor to give Olajuwon room to work.
After the Rockets success using the 3-point shot to win titles, it is no surprise that others tried to copy the model. In ’94, ’95, and ’96 we saw 5 of the top 10 seasons in 3-point attempts, including the 678 attempts by George McCloud which is still a record. The 3-ball has gotten more and more en vogue to the point where today 3-point attempts and percentages are being used as major factors in projection models to identify teams that are likely to be successful. In fact 8 of the past 9 NBA champions were the best 3-point
shooting team in the playoffs that year. So, knowing the Rockets’ history we should not have been surprised to see last year’s Rockets shot a record 2380 threes. Not only did the Rockets lead the way in 3-point attempts, but they also shot it efficiently at 34.8%. To put that in perspective, the Rockets as a team would have won the 1982-83 three-point crown over Mike Dunleavy Sr.’s 34.5%.
The Rockets weren’t the only successful team last year that relied on the three. Four of the top five team with most 3-pointers last season were in the Conference Championships.
The Champion-Warriors led the league in 3-point percentage at 39.8%. The other of the top 5 in three-point makes was the Clippers. Had the Clippers not choked away the series against Houston, the top four teams in last year’s playoffs would have also been the most accurate four three-point shooting teams. The final four teams in last year’s playoffs averaged 865 makes on 2325 attempts and shot 37.2%. These teams’ top 3-point shooter averaged 510 attempts. In contrast, the six teams that failed to reach 30 wins last season averaged 534 makes on 1582 attempts for 33.75%, with the average top shooter attempting only 331. After all of the success of 3-point shooting teams, including another 3-point oriented champion, you can bet other teams will follow. The trend is clear and this is a copy-cat league–if you want to win big in the NBA, you have to shoot the 3, and shoot a lot of them.