Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Bulls preparing for Houston and the Three Ball
Sam Smith talks to the Bulls about the evolution of the three pointer in today's NBA
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By Sam Smith | 4.22.2015 | 9:10 p.m.
The Bulls arrived in Houston for Thursday’s TNT nationally televised game—talk about your preseason scheduling assumptions—and basketball was the talk of the city. Not the Bulls and Rockets, though, even with the Bulls’ superior 37-37 record to the Rockets’ 37-38.
Hey, if you are disappointed in the Bulls season, this Rockets team, mostly healthier than last season, also is just trying to make the playoffs after losing in the conference finals last season and considered a preseason challenger to the Golden State Warriors.
Ah, those Warriors, who moved to 68-7 Wednesday night in Salt Lake City on the way to 73, 74, or 75 wins. It’s a bad season for Bulls fans wherever they look. Next thing you know, they’ll change it to Curry Brand. Who’s more popular in North Carolina, the Hornets or the kid raised in Charlotte?
Be like Steph?
With the Final Four this weekend in Houston, the story was again Stephen Curry. The guy whose college team couldn’t even make the NCAA tournament in his final season at Davidson as a junior, and then lost in the NIT.
This is the guy with the most influence since Michael Jordan?
So don’t give up on Ben Simmons yet.
The Houston Chronicle newspaper (that is words printed on long sheets of paper) featured Wednesday on its front sports page a story on Curry’s influence on basketball with three-point shooting. Kids always have done this. I remember going with the Bulls to games against the New Jersey Nets in their horrible 90s—after their horrible 80s—and watching Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris in pregame practicing shots from five rows up in the stands near midcourt. Marine Corps drill instructor and then Nets coach Bill Fitch was usually shaking his head wondering if that would be justifiable homicide. Then they’d get yelled at. They probably wouldn’t be anymore.
Although the popularity of the three-point shot is nothing new, it has been lionized by Curry and this Warriors’ historic season. The NBA sends out the post season awards ballots this weekend and the only MVP cliffhanger is whether Curry becomes the first unanimous winner.
You know someone in San Antonio is voting for Kawhi Leonard.
Does Tyronn Lue have a vote?
In many respects, the three pointer has changed basketball. Whereas once in basketball if you pulled up on a fast break you could be pulled from the game, it’s basically accepted now to get to the rim and fire out for a three pointer.
The Warriors average more than 31 three-point attempts per game and made an amazing 41.6 percent. Consider that 50 years ago, the entire league shooting average was lower than that.
The Bulls’ Thursday opponents, the Rockets, are one of the principal advocates of the three-point-or-perish philosophy. They’re second to the Warriors averaging just under 31 attempts per game and in the vanguard of the NBA’s analytical revolution. They have hired dozens of statistical savants and are said to have proof you get more points shooting a three pointer than you do with a two pointer.
No, really. I asked Daryl Morey.
However, given the fact the Rockets make the three at a rate of 34.4 percent for 22nd in the NBA it’s not working out that well lately. The Bulls actually are third in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage at 36.9 percent. And that’s even with often not realizing Doug McDermott wears a Bulls uniform. The Bulls are 24th in three-point attempts per game. So they haven’t officially made the transition to, well, the transition three.
Thanks to Curry and the Warriors, it’s becoming the signature of the game.
So I asked the Bulls best three-point shooters—one of whom is the head coach—about the shot, Curry and where we all are heading.
“It’s become a staple in our game and I think it will be used more and more and more until there is a change in rule or we do something differently,” said Mike Dunleavy.
Maybe guard it? Sorry, just thinking out loud.
“It’s just math,” said Dunleavy, who is still at 41 percent this season even slumping. “Nowadays the way guys train and shoot, it’s just not a far shot. It’s the most efficient shot in basketball when you are open.
“When I was struggling early on (in my career) to make shots people would tell me to step inside the line,” Dunleavy recalled. “Sometimes I’d listen and sometimes I’d think, ‘Why, it’s worth three points. If I can shoot six of these I only have to make two; if I’m shooting two point jump shots, I have to make three.’ I was thinking it doesn’t make sense. I think it makes the game more exciting and fun and am anxious to see where it goes from here.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was a career 40 percent three-point shooter. He led the league at 48.3 percent in 2004-05. He had to retire after that season with a heart ailment, which is one reason he was in denial for so long contemplating a return.
He marvels at Curry’s quick release.
“He learned it from his dad,” Hoiberg said about former NBA player Dell Curry. “His dad had one of the quickest releases of anyone I ever played against. Steph’s got such a quick release he can shoot it from a lot of different places. Most people have to get in their shooting pocket. He can shoot it low, he can shoot it high, he can shoot it at the side. Most elite shooters you think of are off the ball. They are true shooting guards. Where Curry handles the ball so much and the unlimited range and the green light he has is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
“And he can dribble and I couldn’t dribble,” Hoiberg adds with a laugh. “His dad was a great player, my dad wasn’t.”
McDermott, not surprisingly, marvels at Curry’s ability to get so many attempts. McDermott averages three attempts per game for the Bulls shooting 43.1 percent on threes. E’Twaun Moore actually is the team’s best three-point percentage shooter this season at 44.8 percent. But he has fewer than 100 attempts.
“He’s kind of to the point where he can take those shots whenever he wants,” notes McDermott. “You see him get up 16 threes in one night. The guy has no conscience. He’s playing so loose and free it kind of reflects on the rest of the group; they allow him to take those shots, which is fun to watch.
“It’s a lot of your footwork,” says McDermott on the shot. “With him you watch his footwork, it’s the same mid range and half court. It’s not like he’s getting his legs real into it. Guys like me, I like to try to get them off as quick as I can. You watch Curry even if he’s open he’s not really teeing it up; he’s still getting rid of it really fast, he keeps it consistent.
“I know I’m capable of making those (35 footers),” says McDermott. “But he’s on another level. Reminds me of Reggie Miller when he was in his prime. I was listening to the J.J. Redick podcast and he was saying it’s the way the game’s changed. He’s starting a new trend and it’s a fun time for basketball.”
It could be that sort of fun time Thursday because the Rockets like to get those shots up as frequently as they can. And they’re tied for second in giving up the most three-point attempts and overall yield the fifth most points per game at almost 107. On your marks, get ready, shoot.
“People don’t realize how hard it is to shoot off the dribble like (Curry does),” said Dunleavy. “There are a lot of good shooters, guys who can make free throws, guys who can catch and shoot on threes, even from deep. But the ability to shoot off the dribble with guys around you, it’s mind boggling. It adds a different component, a different variable to the equation. You are not just catching and going right up. You have to pick it up off the bounce, get a great grip on the ball and for the most part find where you are on the floor. You have a general idea of it, but most of those guys are heads down dribble. You’ve got to look at the rim. It’s another variable into it and makes it that much difficult.
“I’m sure it’s pure hand/eye coordination,” said Dunleavy of Curry. “He’s a great golfer. I’m sure he’s an incredible beer pong player before a few beers. He’s gotten to a point 30, 35 foot shots are good shots for him, for the team. He’s made it normal and I think there will now be more people who’ll come and try to shoot from deep and mimic him. But I think he’s a once in a generational type talent like Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan. What he does is supreme to anything we’ve seen.”