Before we had the data to prove it insane, basketball coaches said good shots were one thing and 3-pointers were another. Then teams that shot more 3s started waxing everybody. John Hollinger pointed out more than a decade ago that if you looked at nothing other 3s attempted (not even made) you could go a long way to predicting how many games a team won. More 3s made your team better. It’s the innovation of the last few decades of basketball. In 1980, a typical NBA game featured four 3-pointers total--including end-of-quarter heaves. This season the two teams combine to take 68. The game is only 48 minutes long.
But the game never stops evolving. And this year, we are starting to see some wrinkles: the NBA’s best defensive team is the one that permits the MOST 3s (the Milwaukee Bucks). On BRING IT IN today David Thorpe shared his theory about how they make that work.
And another important wrinkle. Mike D’Antoni, the high priest of the 3-ball, who invented the offense that upended the NBA, told me all he ever wanted to do was get more layups. No one believed him when all this began in Phoenix. But now? John Hollinger writes for the Athletic about D’Antoni’s current team, the Houston Rockets, who are widely seen as 3-crazy:
Houston’s 3-point shooting is basically a ruse at this point – a trick to tempt you away from guarding more valuable space at the rim. The Rockets only shot 34.5 percent on 3s this year, and McLemore was the only individual to make more than 36.3 percent. On the other hand, they shot 55.7 percent inside the arc – the second-best mark in the league, and with the best free-throw rate piled on top.
It took the league a long time to learn to value the 3 enough to shoot a lot of them. And now the league is off on a new journey, tinkering with what works in the new world. A lot of that will be surprising. Innovation is fun.
Playoff preview bullets:
Tom Ziller picks the Lakers to win it all, adding, “I am absolutely factoring in LeBron taking a step up in the playoffs as he did in his four previous playoff trips.” Yes, this is the question. In early June, David Thorpe predicted a Lakers title. In late June, I noted LeBron’s particular mentality, which may suit this odd moment. But by the end of July, it was clear LeBron looked … off. Enough sub-par that David Thorpe declared the Lakers could not win a title with LeBron playing the way he was. So, the playoffs’ biggest question now: Is LeBron about to explode? A title hangs in the balance. If LeBron is merely good--not great--the Lakers aren’t so different from last year’s Pelicans.
Observation from watching bubble games: While LeBron was struggling to find the right gear to make the Lakers work, Kawhi was just idling. For a few minutes here and there, though, he put his pedal to the floor and the engine revved beautifully. Not predicting Clippers over Lakers or anything like that. But I am predicting that Kawhi’s playoff numbers will jump from the regular season.
David Thorpe previewed every playoff series on Zach Lowe’s podcast. Tons of must-listen stuff. They both agreed Jazz vs. Nuggets is almost impossible to pick. David makes an incredible point about two-time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert: “Rudy once owned the paint … I have not seen that this year … Shai .. was going after Rudy like he didn’t know who he was. … Every team seems to attack the Jazz more.”
The NBA and NBPA play an incredible role in cheaper, faster COVID-19 tests. More to come on this.
Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN talks Damian Lillard:
Of his 624 3-point attempts this season, a whopping 64% of them came after at least two dribbles. Leaguewide, only 19.9% of triples come after multiple bounces, per Second Spectrum tracking. Only Harden has tried more multidribble 3s this season, but Harden can't match Lillard's accuracy. While Harden made a respectable 34.9%, Lillard drained a disgusting 41.6%.
Also from Goldsberry: This season Duncan Robinson was a more accurate shooting catch-and-shoot 3s than Klay Thompson has ever been.
The Bulls fired Jim Boylen, which is not a big surprise. He got so-so results, they have new leadership. When I saw the news, though, one other thing struck me: A year ago at the Finals, I walked around arenas and practices, bumping into all kinds of staffers, coaches, players, and NBA lifers and asked: Who are the Trump supporters in the NBA? Much of the results are a project for another day. But one name came up more than any other: Jim Boylen. I am not saying I have direct evidence of his voting history or leanings, nor that politics had anything to do with his firing. But a coach’s job is to win hearts and minds, which can’t be easy when Trump is sending unmarked federal troops out to smash up non-violent Black Lives Matter protests and stoking fears of wider race wars.
Here’s one, yet to be publicized stat to know: 45 percent. As in the league’s ABC games, its premium broadcast, are down a whopping 45 percent off what the NBA averaged back in 2011-12. In that hastily promoted lockout season, ABC games drew 5.42 million viewers on average. The final tally on this latest 2019-20 season was 2.95 million average viewers on ABC games. Every ABC game from 2011-2012 received higher viewership than 2.95 million, save for a meaningless late season 1 p.m. Thunder-Bulls game that Derrick Rose sat out. That 2.95 million is a great number for a cable comedy, but less so for live sports on network television. Or put another way, the NBA lost nearly half its big game audience over a very brief stretch of time, eight years in fact. That’s not a small divot and it’s not normal. It most certainly does not square with the narrative of perpetual ascendance that the league had successfully marketed for a time. The big network slide has also coincided with sharp declines in local numbers and cable as well.A Monday morning take: Without fans in attendance, televised sports are worth a lot less $$$. nytimes.com/2020/08/17/spo…
We laud nimble thinking and business adaptability in the pandemic. So, in that vein, shout out to the NBA for cooking up the moniker of “Official On-Demand Delivery Platform of the NBA, WNBA and NBA 2K League,” and then getting DoorDash to cut a fat check to fill it. It’s pretty clever how it works. Here’s CJ McCollum promoting a black-owned business in a way that gets DoorDash some profit.
Just a little Monday inspiration:the slowest professional athlete is faster than you. the weakest professional athlete is stronger than you. you would be food. in any sport. against anybody. doing anything.
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