Importance of 3-Point Shooting Could Play Factor in Draft Decisions

By John Denton
June 20, 2017

ORLANDO – If the recently completed NBA Finals are to serve as a roadmap for Thursday night’s NBA Draft, two things should be abundantly clear to teams: Having superstar players such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry certainly makes life easier and you can never have too many 3-point shooters.

In the entirety of the playoffs, Cleveland and Golden State ranked first and fourth in 3-point shooting percentage, respectively. In the regular season, the Cavs (38.4 percent) and Warriors (38.3 percent) were second and third in 3-point accuracy – a statistical category where nine of the top 10 squads reached the playoffs. Both Cleveland and Golden State also ranked in the top five in the NBA in 3-point makes and 3-point attempts over the course of the season.

The increased importance on 3-point shooting could play a major factor in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Teams such as the Orlando Magic – statistically one of the NBA’s poorest outside-shooting teams last season – could be looking to make major improvements to their 3-point arsenals with moves in the draft. The Magic have four draft picks – sixth and 25th in the first round and 33rd and 35th early in the second round – with which to address major needs in the shooting department.

Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman, who has 28 years of experience evaluating talent leading up to NBA Drafts, said he’s always placed a major emphasis on a player’s ability to shoot from afar. The NBA’s greater reliance on the 3-point shot – even from 7-foot power forwards and centers – has forced teams to look to stockpile even more shooters as the game has evolved through the years, Weltman said.

``Shooting is always at a premium and as long as I’ve been around basketball. The first skill that you always ask about is, `Can the guy shoot?’’’ said Weltman, who will be in charge of the Magic’s draft for the first time after being hired by the franchise on May 22. ``I do feel that the league is obviously changing in front of our eyes and it’s becoming a league of 3-point shooters, stretch-bigs, three-and-D guys and there’s a whole new lexicon being introduced to us. (Shooting) is a paramount skill as we evaluate players.’’

The increased focus on 3-point shooting among teams has led to players such as Duke’s Luke Kennard, Kentucky’s Malik Monk and Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell to rise dramatically on draft boards. Kennard, a left-handed, 43.8 percent 3-point shooter, has seen his stock rise the most of any player in the draft largely because of his abilities as a knock-down shooter.

Orlando could very well be looking for shooting after a 29-53 season in which it often struggled to make shots from the perimeter. The Magic made some strides in that area over the final six weeks of the season after trading for shooting guard Terrence Ross and playing with smaller, faster lineups, but still the team ranked 29th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy (32.8 percent), coming in just head of Oklahoma City’s 32.7 percent. The Magic ranked 15th in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game (26.1), but they were only 25th in makes per game (8.5). By comparison, playoff powerhouses such as Houston (14.4), Cleveland (13), Boston (12) and Golden State (12) made dramatically more 3-point shots a game.

Weltman and new GM John Hammond have spent much of the past three weeks since being hired talking with Magic head coach Frank Vogel about the needs of the roster. Vogel pushed hard for the shift to faster, more versatile lineups late in the season to keep with the sweeping trend of small-ball in the NBA. Too often last season, the Magic were dramatically outscored from beyond the 3-point line – something that made their small margin for error often too much to overcome.

``We’ve spent a lot of time with Coach (Vogel) and we value his input greatly,’’ Weltman said. ``The draft is a part of the year where (Assistant GM) Matt Lloyds have the player expertise. Even John and I haven’t been out as much (as Lloyd and scouts), so we try to listen to everybody. Differentiating between what our team needs and the hand that the draft is going to play out for us are two different things. So we’ve spent a lot of time with Coach (Vogel) trying to understand not just the talent level, but the dynamics of our players and the way things fit. We want to understand the back story and how we can get better and grow this thing the right way.’’

Experience has taught Weltman and Hammond that one of the major struggles of anyone calling the shots for a team on draft night is trying to decide whether to draft for need or to simply pick the best player available. Because the Magic still have so much unproven youth and areas of concern on their roster, Weltman isn’t sure just yet that the team can draft for a specific need such as shooting. Instead, simply stockpiling the best talent available might be the way to go on draft night for the Magic.

``Any time you try to pinpoint the most glaring need, you’re probably putting your finger in one dike and then the water is spraying out of other directions,’’ Weltman said. ``We’re trying to not look at it that way. It’s more about bringing multi-skilled guys, character guys and people who will play for each other.

``In today’s NBA, it’s such a catch-all word, but `versatility’ is so important. Being able to switch out onto multiple positions, being able to hit a shot and being able to make reads – those things are so valuable,’’ Weltman continued. ``Any time you try to get too narrowly defined on what we need, you end up missing the ball on some of the other things that we need. Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors can have that conversation, but for the rest of the 28 teams I think we need to look at how we can lift the whole thing up.’’

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