Early On, C’s Living and Dying with Threes
PHILADELPHIA - The Celtics have made a point of playing at a fast pace this season, averaging 107.4 points per game (third overall in the NBA) over their first nine contests. Part of that philosophy means shooting the 3-pointer early and often.
Boston is attempting just less than 24 3-pointers per game, but so far, that propensity for shooting the long ball hasn’t translated into regularity in the conversion category. Over their first nine games, the Celtics are shooting just 30.5 percent from behind the arc. They’ve shot them particularly poorly on the road, connecting on just 25.3 percent of their attempts from downtown during three away games.
The Celtics (3-6) face the winless Philadelphia 76ers (0-10) on the road tonight, and the C’s have no intention of being the Sixers’ first victim. Coach Brad Stevens didn’t seem too concerned about his team’s poor shooting numbers heading into tonight’s tilt.
“As far as shooting them, I’m not really worried about that. As I said yesterday, I think offense is the least of our concerns,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center.
Defensively, however, the 3-pointer is a more troublesome topic. In their three road games, the Celtics have allowed 44.2 percent shooting from long range. That number sits at 40.2 percent overall through nine games.
“We’re giving up a large percentage, which you hope will even out over time. I don’t think we’re defending it overly poorly as far as challenging shots. I still don’t know from a sample size if we have enough information on that,” Stevens said.
The shot that seems to be burning them the most is the corner 3, which is the shortest (and hypothetically the easiest) 3-pointer available.
“A lot of the corner 3s are coming from transition, on kick-across, on drives, or we’re a little bit late, or we’re not getting our fifth guy down,” Stevens said. “That’s the one that’s bothering me the most right now.”
Thankfully for the Celtics, the Sixers have been struggling in many areas, and the 3-point shot is among them. Philadelphia is shooting just 30.6 percent on the season from behind the arc, and it has yet to connect on a single 3 from the right corner (0-9) this season.
“You’ve got to know who you’re leaving, and you’ve got to know who the biggest threats are. So it’s not just about where the shot’s taken, it’s about who’s standing there,” Stevens said. “There’s gonna be times when a guy’s standing in the corner and you don’t want to guard him because he’s not a shooter.”
It’s becoming harder to identify on sight who’s a threat and who’s not, as more big men around the league (see Sullinger, Jared and Olynyk, Kelly) are being encouraged to shoot the long ball to spread defenses and open up the paint.
While much has been made about Sullinger (4-of-22, .182) adding the 3-pointer to his arsenal and Olynyk having great early-season success on the deep shot (11-of-23, .478), not everyone on the roster is launching them. Swingman Evan Turner has hit just two of his 10 attempts on the season, and while he says the shot is getting more emphasis around the league, he’s more concerned with making plays in the paint.
“Analytically, the way the league is going, it pretty much says you’re not skilled unless you’re shooting the 3,” Turner said. “That’s how we want to play. Coach always preaches taking the right shots, and they’re often open. When you see games like Chicago, we were hard to guard when we made the 3.”
To Stevens’ earlier point, nine games is a small sample size. The early numbers say, unsurprisingly, that when the Celtics shoot the three considerably better (35.3 percent in wins), they win. When they don’t connect from downtown (28.3 percent in losses) they lose.
It may be a singular data point, but it’s one worth keeping an eye on.