DETROIT – The Pistons smashed their previous franchise record for 3-point attempts in Dwane Casey’s first season and finished sixth in the NBA. If they maintain the same pace this season, they’ll probably wind up much closer to the middle than the top.
That’s the climate of NBA offense today, where change is coming faster than polar icecaps are melting.
Consider: The Houston Rockets, leaders in the movement to eschew all mid-range shots, have ramped up their game even more. The warning here is that it’s dangerous to extrapolate much from preseason statistics, but the Rockets – who set another NBA record last season, breaking their own mark, by taking 51.9 percent of their shots from the 3-point line – have upped the ante again. Through four preseason games, Houston is taking a whopping 60 percent of its shots from the 3-point arc – 58 a game.
The average NBA team attempted 32 threes a game last season – the Pistons averaged 34.8 – up from 29 in 2017-18, 27 the season before that and 24.1 in 2015-16. Casey expects another jump this season.
“There’s no question,” he said after Monday’s practice and before the Pistons embarked on a road trip for a back to back at Philadelphia and Charlotte that will wrap up their preseason. “At some point in the next few years, it’s going to come back to the center a little bit. But I think you’re going to continue to see teams push the pedal and continue to try to shoot as many threes as they possibly can.”
Casey is comfortable with the 40 percent of shot attempts coming from the 3-point arc that the Pistons achieved last season, when their 2,854 attempts from three dwarfed the previous franchise record by nearly 500.
“We want to stay around 40,” he said. “We want to continue to get up more corner threes as much as possible. Our slot threes were up, but we were getting a fair amount of corner threes. We’ve got to continue to do that and put pressure on the basket. We want to put pressure on the rim to collapse the defense or get a layup.”
The Pistons lost their most prolific 3-point shooter, Wayne Ellington, in free agency. Ellington averaged a whopping 10 3-point attempts per 36 minutes. Tony Snell, who replaces Ellington in the starting lineup and is to assume a similar role within the offense, averaged a career high last season, but at just 5.6 per 36.
Luke Kennard projects to have a bigger role and the expectation is that he’ll become a more assertive scorer in his third season. Kennard’s 3-point rate per 36 minutes went up from 4.8 as a rookie to 6.7 last year and could take a similar spike in his third season.
The three highest rates among returning players belong to Langston Galloway (7.8), Reggie Jackson (7.4) and Blake Griffin (7.2). Jackson and Griffin are locks to start and their rates probably aren’t going to change dramatically, though Jackson’s could tick up in his second season in Casey’s offense – his previous career high was 5.1 – and Galloway goes into the final week of camp in position to hang on to his rotation spot.
Derrick Rose isn’t a volume 3-point shooter, but neither was the player whose minutes he’s assuming – Ish Smith – and Rose hit 37 percent a year ago, well above Smith’s clip.
One spot where the Pistons could make up threes over a year ago is with their second-unit big men. No matter who winds up winning those minutes – Joe Johnson, Christian Wood and Thon Maker could all be part of the rotation and Markieff Morris almost certainly will be – they’ll take more threes than Zaza Pachulia or Jon Leuer.
But simply getting up more threes might not be enough to prevent slipping down in the rankings. As long as the math encourages more threes – and when teams are making more than a third of their triples but less than half of their twos, the math does exactly that – Dwane Casey knows opponents will be emboldened to keep hunting more 3-pointers. As will he.