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Old 12-17-2013, 01:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Thumbs up Lowe: Life beyond the arc, reliance on the 3pt shot

Nevada Smith, coach of the most innovative pro basketball team you've never seen, says almost all the criticism he hears about his chosen strategy comes from older fans and scouts."It's mostly those old-school basketball guys," says Smith, coach of the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, who have attempted 46 3-pointers per game over their 9-1 start to this season. "They ask why we're doing this. They say it's not basketball."Smith just laughs it off. The Vipers, Houston's D-League affiliate, average nearly 112 possessions per game about a dozen more than any NBA team.

All that sprinting and 3-point gunning has produced 115 points per 100 possessions, best in the D-League and a number that would blow away the entire NBA. "If we could take a 3 every time down the court," Smith says, "we probably would. There's going to be a game where we shoot 60. I'm telling you. And people are going to think we're crazy."No NBA team is doing anything close to what Smith and the Vipes1 are pulling in the D-League. But it's not an accident that the Rockets' D-League team is playing this way. Daryl Morey, Houston's GM, controlled the search for the Vipers' coach, and Morey made it clear he liked the run-and-gun style Smith's teams played at Ithaca College and Keystone College, Smith says.

"They wanted someone whose teams would play in the 130s," Smith says. "I don't think they'd ever hire someone who played in the 80s."About 34.7 percent of the Rockets' field goal attempts this season have been 3-pointers, putting Houston just behind the record-setting 35.4 percent share the Knicks put up last season. Threes have accounted for 25.3 percent of all field goal attempts league-wide, above last year's all-time record share (24.3 percent) and well above the 16 to 18 percent shares the league averaged for most of the mid-2000s.

The average team jacks just shy of 21 3-pointers per game, another record rate, up from about 19.9 last season. The Vipers and Rockets might be outliers, but the larger basketball landscape is trending in their direction. All of which raises the question: Are we nearing the point at which the 3-point shot will become too dominant a part of basketball? Is all the long-range chucking good for the game?
As Smith notes, there has always been grumbling among old-school types about the 3-pointer our dads and grandpas lamenting how those impudent youngsters only care about 3s and dunks, since those highlight plays get them on SportsCenter. But new, more nuanced concerns are starting to bubble up about the dominance of the 3-pointer. One strain centers on the consequences of the idea that math has basically solved basketball. Analytics has won out in shot selection. Just about everyone in the NBA, from scouts to head coaches to GMs, understands that long 2-point shots are bad and 3s are good. There is a strong correlation between 3-point attempts and team scoring efficiency, and an even more specific correlation between the number of short corner 3s a team attempts and its overall points per possession.

The debate on this stuff is over. Math has won, though team-by-team personnel obviously still plays a huge role in a team's shot-selection profile. The triumph of math has produced a fear of standardization among some NBA observers. "We shoot too many 3s now," says Jeff Van Gundy, perhaps the closest thing the NBA has to a populist ombudsman. "We are out of whack. The numbers people have analyzed the game correctly, but we are eliminating a certain segment of NBA players."

In this view, the game is tilting toward uniformity, in both team strategy and the types of players each team will seek to execute that strategy. "As analytics people take control of more teams, you'd think there will be more and more of this," says Rod Thorn, the NBA's president of basketball operations. "Obviously, there are more 3s being taken now. But we're still in the infancy of this, in terms of deciding whether it is good or bad for the game. Remember, we've had people pontificating that the 3-point arc is bad for the game for as long as the 3 has been around."

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