It's Early, But Hawks Flirting With Historic Three-Point Shooting

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Story by KL Chouinard
Twitter: @KLChouinard

The Hawks are shooting for something special. 

In the history of the NBA, only one team has made 11 or more three-point shots per game while converting the shots at a rate above 40 percent: the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who won a record 73 games. 

This season, there are two teams who have posted those same numbers through 15 games: the Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks.

Head Coach Mike Budenholzer was quick to praise the efforts of his players. 

"Our guys are putting a lot of time and effort into their shooting," he said.

Taurean Prince, who has been the most productive shooter from among the younger Hawks (26 of 59 threes, 44.1 percent), literally pointed out teammates who were working on their shots after practice.

"Right now you see Dennis (Schröder) over there shooting shots," Prince said. "I’m about to get mine in. Baze (Kent Bazemore) always shoots extra shots. That attests to the hard work and the extra work that we put in to be able to continue to shoot that type of percentage."

Budenholzer said Prince was one of the players who had made the biggest strides.

"It’s been great to see how Taurean has grown and evolved as a shooter," he said. "I think we’re encouraging it."

Prince described the way in which the assistant coaches and development staff have helped to prepare the shooters with simulated game conditions.

"It’s just (anticipating) different rotations and situations on the defense’s part," Prince said. "But our coaches do a very good job of throwing it in our face and putting us in the position of having to make those types of shots that we would have to make in the game."

Budenholzer cited Malcolm Delaney (13 of 27 threes, 48.1 percent) as a player who had gone to great lengths to work on his shot over the summer. He added that part of the process goes beyond shot mechanics and extends into reading the defense properly.

"(We’re) really trying to get everybody, but especially Taurean and Malcolm, just (to make) more quick decisions, more catch-or-shoot (decisions). Lots of times that (shot) is a good look for us."​

Budenholzer tweaked the offense in the offseason so that there would be more situations where all five players were situated out along the perimeter. It opened up the paint for his speedy point guard.

"With Dennis attacking more and with the court more spread," Budenholzer said, "hopefully we’re getting cleaner looks."

Schröder's drives are one way to generate offense. He leads the NBA in drives per game, and his 6.8 assists per game are a career high. Even if he doesn't get the assist after driving, it's often those drive-and-kick plays that tilt the defense into a rotation that can be exploited by a series of more passes. In the new 5-out offense, those opportunities are a point of emphasis for Budenholzer. 

Another means to create offense (and threes) is to get the ball to rolling big men in pick-and-roll situations, such as the play made here -- to and from -- Tyler Cavanaugh.

Is 40 percent sustainable? Perhaps not, but also consider that the offense is still fairly new. The Hawks failed to break double digits in made threes in their first four games. Since then, they have notched 10 or more threes in 9 out of 11 games, and their percentages have gradually improved as they have gotten more familiar with the scheme.

The Hawks' success from three is a big improvement. Last season, they connected on 34.1 percent of their threes, a mark that put them 24th out of 30 NBA teams. In the offseason, the Hawks made moves that foreshadowed an increased emphasis on shooting. They re-signed Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala, while also signing Luke Babbitt. In essence, three shooting big men were among the team's most significant acquisitions. It was clear that this team wanted shooters and spacing. While Ilyasova and Muscala have been limited due to injury, Babbitt has been a revelation, shooting 47.3 percent from long range on 55 attempts. 

Budenholzer also doled out praise to two newcomers to the NBA three-point game. 

"Adding Dewayne (Dedmon) and (Tyler) Cavanaugh," he said, "it’s just a small sample, but it still makes a difference."

Dedmon had only tried one three in his NBA career (and missed), but this season he has connected on 8 of 19 threes for Atlanta (42.1 percent). The Hawks signed Cavanaugh, an undrafted free agent out of George Washington University, to be one of their two-way players. In his short time with Atlanta, Cavanaugh has made 6 of 8 threes (75 percent).

In the midst of a number of improved shooters, however, there was one player from whom Budenholzer was expecting these sorts of long-range tactics: Marco Belinelli (36 of 80 threes, 45.0 percent)

"Marco is a great shooter, obviously, so I don’t think we changed him," Budenholzer laughed. "He’s been doing that his whole career."