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Rob Peterson

Derek Fisher burned the Magic -- and silenced their fans -- with this three in Game 4.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Three-pointers prove highly effective for Magic, league

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Jun 14 2009 6:22PM

ORLANDO -- For those who bemoan the lost art of the mid-range jumper and its harkening back to a better time, it's time to let go.

Your nostalgia stinks.

After nearly three decades as a part of the NBA game, for some the three-point shot still reeks of desperation. It turns out they're holding on to memories of a game that wasn't as efficient as it is today.

"There's a significant group of people who it just drives them crazy that the mid-range game is disappearing," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, "despite that fact that all you have to do is look at all the numbers and know that about the worst shot your team can get, at least by the league averages, is a mid-range jump shot. The three highest percentage plays in the game by far right now are free throws No. 1, layups No. 1 and three point shots No. 1.

"So why you would try to build a game around lower-percentage plays, I don't know, other than there's some people that just like to watch it, I guess."

Spoken like a man whose team scored more points by the 3-pointer (28.9 percent of the team's total) than any team in NBA history. Van Gundy is also right, both in the implied cliché of the lost art ("Beauty is in the eye of the beholder") and the cold, hard science of the numbers.

This season, NBA teams took more (44,583) and made more (16,352) 3-pointers than any season in league history. They also set a record for league-wide three-point percentage at .367 matched only by the .367 teams shot from three-point range in 1995-96 when the arc was a uniform 22 feet.

This season also marked the second time in NBA history, but the first with the three-point line at the current 23-feet-9 distance, that the league-wide effective field goal percentage -- (FG + 0.5 * 3P) / FGA -- was 50 percent.

The three-point shot has become the most dangerous and demoralizing weapon in the NBA today. Just ask the Magic, who this season took 2,147 and made 817, totals second only to the New York Knicks. The Magic know how the 3-pointer can take an opponent out of its game.

"The three-point shot is a big momentum shot," Magic guard J.J. Redick said. "Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski], when I was at Duke, he always said my threes were momentum shots. And when you have a scouting report on a guy, and the report is 'take them off the three,' Rashard Lewis, when he knocks down two or three threes, that's deflating."

The Magic have also been on the receiving end. They watched as Derek Fisher nailed two 3-pointers -- one to tie Game 4 in regulation and another in overtime -- that sucked the oxygen right out of Amway Arena.

And that's another part of what makes the 3-pointer a great shot. No play in basketball has as much anticipation with it. Where a dunk is like an explosion, the three-point shot is like a stick of dynamite with a long fuse. You can hear the home crowd take a collective deep breath as the ball sails toward the rim. Or, in Fisher's case, you can hear what every road team wants after making a huge shot.

"Silence," Fisher said.

In a game long dominated by the big and the strong, the three-point shot rewards the skill that's the cornerstone of the game itself: shooting. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said nothing has changed the game as much as he has seen in his five-plus decades in the NBA.

"My college coach, a mentor of mine, Bill Fitch, came to my retirement ceremony in Chicago in '99," Jackson said, "and he had drawn an arc and what amount of shots were taken between the lane and the three-point line.

"At that time it was something like five percent of the shots were taken between the lane and the three-point line. It has really changed our game dramatically. "

At first, even an innovative coach such as Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, who coached in both the pre- and post-three-point era, were skeptical about the introduction of the rule before the 1979-80 season.

"I was opposed to getting the three-point shot into the NBA," said Ramsay, who is now an ESPN radio analyst. "It was kind of a gimmick that the ABA had brought into their game so it would be different from the NBA. And I made little or no preparation for it in my gameplan the first year.

"Then, when I saw what teams could do with it and the ABA coaches could do with it -- like Kevin Loghery, Doug Moe, Larry Brown -- they knew how to use the three-point shot to their advantage. And since then, it's exploded and blossomed into a real weapon."

The shot has even changed the way general managers and coaches scout and build their teams. Magic general manager Otis Smith noted that the Orlando offense starts with Dwight Howard on the inside, but when he's surrounded by two or three defenders, someone else is open.

"The more Dwight sucks them in, the better the shots the guys get from the outside," Smith said. "The more he develops, the more he will draw defenders."

Ramsay noted that he sees similarities between this Magic team and Houston's two title teams in the mid-'90s.

"The Magic have done a very good job of making it a dangerous and viable part of their offense," Ramsay said. "And today, teams scout players. When Houston won their two championships, Rudy Tomjanovich wouldn't take a player on his squad who couldn't shoot a 3-pointer."

Still, that's not to say every player should shoot 3-pointers. Most centers and power forwards should stay where they belong -- close to the hoop. But for everyone else, it's time to develop your range.

"I think what has happened is that the media coverage is different than 20 years ago, 30 years ago," Redick said. "What happens now, because of the internet, because of analysts, everybody is dissecting everybody's game, saying this guy can't do this, this guy can't do that.

"You say a guy who doesn't have range, he's going to start practicing threes. The first guy that pops in my head is Josh Howard. Coming out of college he wasn't known as a three-point shooter, and people said it's a weakness, but now it's a strength of his."

Some coaches will even get a little perturbed by players passing up good looks.

"Stan gets mad when you don't take open threes," Smith said. "A bad shot to him is an open one you don't take."

Lewis, the 6-foot-10 small forward took (554) and made (220) more 3-pointers than any player in the NBA this season, doesn't pass on too many open three-point looks. For him, his adoration for the shot is simple. Maybe it's an explanation more people should take to heart.

"I love it," Lewis said. "Three points is better than two points."

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