How has three-point shooting changed the game?
"These days there's such an emphasis on the three because it's proven to be analytically correct." Gregg Popovich
One of the most famous, or perhaps infamous, comments from an NBA player in a league that often features the most outrageous observations was Chicagoan Antoine Walker's unique declaration of independence almost 20 years ago responding to why he shot so many three pointers. Walker said he did so because there were no fours.
These days in the NBA what seemed outrageous then, especially Walker's propensity for exceptionally long shots in transition accompanied with success by a full body shimmy, has become haute couture as personified by the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry. Curry's shooting and swaggering has become one of the the league's most popular attractions.
Which actually explains Zach LaVine and his attempt at victory against the San Antonio Spurs Monday night. The Bulls lost 108-107 when LaVine's isolation-run-down-the-clock three missed and Ryan Arcidiacono's desperate attempt after a steal came up short. LaVine's shot selection was much questioned, but it's perhaps personified the NBA more than its critics.
Why it has is probably is a complex and varied combination of AAU prep training, video game lifestyles, NBA rules changes and the desire of most major sports leagues to enhance offense in this era of short attention spans. Walker was joking. The NBA isn't anymore.
The Bulls should continue to get a personal education this week as they play in Milwaukee Wednesday to begin a four-game road trip and Saturday in Houston. The Bucks are one of the biggest stories of the new season at second in the East, essentially the same players with a new coach and a new offensive philosophy of the three.
The Bucks average more than 40 three point attempts per game, the only team doing so other than the Houston Rockets, whom the Bulls visit Saturday.
There were plenty of reasons why LaVine likely attempted that shot, waving off a screen to avoid the double team, surrounded by several players not generally accustomed to taking or making late game shots, running down the clock to go for a rare win, anticipating a crowd at the basket and deciding as the team's leading scorer it was his responsibility. Not unlike James Harden at just about the same time Monday night on the way to 54 points with a bunch of those tightly contested long threes late in the game. True, Harden's team lost also, but who was he throwing it to? P.J. Tucker? Clint Capella?
Remember when the maxim was you went for the tie at home and the win on the road. Monday trailing by two points in the last seconds, Dwyane Wade passed on a wide open elbow two pointer to pass back to Josh Richardson for a three. That missed. No one seemed too upset. Dwyane knows fashion. And, hey, Jimmy Butler won that game in Philadelphia Sunday with as unlikely a long, step back wing three. Remember, the 76ers also were down one when Jimmy faded back to take that extra long and more difficult three. And Jimmy draws as many fouls as anyone in the NBA.
The difference? His went in.
And remember when everyone kept condemning LeBron James for not taking that last shot, driving and passing instead? Isn't that the best player's job?
Michael Jordan, of course, took a lot of those shots, and most were fearless attacks at the basket. Get to the free throw line. Make the defense commit. Perhaps a better chance for an offensive rebound with a miss. Make it an easier shot. All reasonable ideas.
It's just not the way the NBA game is played anymore as much as many of us, including Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, don't like it.
It so happened before Monday's game, Popovich was asked about the curiosity of his Spurs team, a team historically known for its defense, giving up more points than it was scoring. When in his long tenure had that occurred? Never, Popovich as quick to recall. He said he doubted his team could guard me. Nevertheless, I decided not to ask for a jersey.
"Now you look at a stat sheet after a game and the first thing you look at is the threes. If you made threes and the other team didn't, you win. You don't even look at the rebounds or the turnovers or how much transition D was involved. You don't even care. That's how much an impact the three-point shot has and it's evidenced by how everybody plays." Gregg Popovich
Not having Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, obviously, had something to do with that. Though with now a .500 team that only has a chance to make the playoffs, Popovich also acknowledged the inevitable evolution of the game that seems to be chasing out the strategies of he and many of his contemporaries.
He hates it, by the way, in case you were wondering.
"The inside game is kaputski," Popovich explained without helping with the spelling.
"You've got to have downhill players, you've got to have people that can penetrate and kick, you've got to have people who can switch, you've got to have big guys who can play little guys," he said.
And mostly you have to have players who can shoot the three.
He really doesn't with a team 28th in attempts. They shoot them pretty well, but with a core of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay, they don't often try. Which accounts to being a .500 team.
Popovich, arguably the greatest coach of his era and one of the most celebrated in NBA history, admitted it's difficult to even defend these days the way the NBA has both emphasized three-point shooting while enforcing touch fouls and a lack of physical play on the perimeter. The league is averaging 110 points per game this season. In 2000-01, for example, the ball movement Kings led the league in scoring at 101.7 per game. Four teams averaged more than 100 points. Walker, by the way, attempted 603 threes to lead the NBA that season, almost 100 more than the second most. He was considered out of step. If he were a free agent today at 6-8 and a ball handler, he'd be the most sought after player in the league. Consider when Walker in the early 2000s was averaging more than 600 threes per season for about three seasons, the entire Bulls team was averaging about 900. Several teams barely averaged more per season than Walker alone. Everyone agreed you couldn't win that way. It would always be about defense.
"These days there's such an emphasis on the three because it's proven to be analytically correct," Popovich Monday offered with what appeared to be a sneer. "Now you look at a stat sheet after a game and the first thing you look at is the threes. If you made threes and the other team didn't, you win. You don't even look at the rebounds or the turnovers or how much transition D was involved. You don't even care. That's how much an impact the three-point shot has and it's evidenced by how everybody plays."
"I hate it, but I always have," Popovich said even as he's adjusted over the years. "I've hated the three for 20 years. That's why I make a joke all the time (and say) if we're going to make it a different game, let's have a four-point play. Because if everybody likes the three, they'll really like the four. People will jump out of their seats if you have a five-point play. It will be great. There's no basketball anymore, there's no beauty in it. It's pretty boring. But it is what it is and you need to work with it."
So we all need to understand Zach.
He's with the times; we're just behind. Like it or not, and many of us certainly do not. But I suspect most of us are not in that marketing demographic all the marketers like so much.
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