Film Room: Making Threes or Defending Threes?

Is it more important to make a lot of threes or limit opponents from doing the same?
by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – NBA teams combined to make a league-record 25,807 3-pointers last season, 2,059 more than the prior year. It was actually the sixth straight season NBA clubs collectively set a new 3-point record.

So, it’s safe to assume that a team must be elite from 3-point range if they expect to finish near the top of the final standings, right?

Believe it or not, that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, only half of the teams that ranked in the top 10 in threes made and attempted qualified for the playoffs in 2018. The five teams from this group that missed the postseason – Brooklyn, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta and Chicago – all averaged at least 11 makes and 30 attempts from long distance.

What was more important – based on basic statistics – was how well a team defended the 3-point line. Each team that ranked in the top 13 in 3-point defensive field goal percentage won at least 35 games, with 10 of those squads playing past mid-April.

Perhaps even more critical, though, was how often teams prevented their opponents from attempting catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. As a matter of fact, 11 of the top 12 teams in this category advanced to the playoffs. The Nets were the lone exception, although opponents shot 38 percent from downtown against them in these situations.

Taking away catch-and-shoot threes typically suggests that a team does a great job closing out, contesting jumpers, fighting through screens and not falling asleep when shooters are spread around the perimeter.

With these stats in mind, the Magic have a lot to be encouraged about as they get ready to begin their 30th anniversary season. Last season, Orlando ranked eighth in the league in both opponent threes made and attempted and it finished 14th in opponent 3-point percentage.

Moreover, the Magic allowed the 13th fewest number of catch-and-shoot threes taken by the opposition.

With a defensive-minded coach, Steve Clifford, at the helm, key offseason additions like Mohamed Bamba, Jarell Martin, Melvin Frazier Jr., and Jerian Grant plugged in and returning players such as Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, Jonathon Simmons, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and Wes Iwundu committed to that end of the floor, Orlando has the pieces to perform even better in this area in 2018-19.

Of course, the goal for every team is to excel on both sides of the floor, something that several clubs including Golden State, Houston and Boston accomplished last year. But, if forced to pick between the two, it appears with the way the league is trending that defending the arc is even more significant than how many threes a team makes or takes.

Here’s a look at a couple of excellent defensive plays by the Magic from last season:

Note: The contents of this feature have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic and do not reflect the opinions of the Magic’s Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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