Ahh the three-ball. While not as empathetic as a dunk, or acrobatic as a layup, the three has forced its way onto the scene as an integral part of the NBA landscape. The logic is simple – an entire point extra for a single shot is a great deal. Assuming a player shoots 50% from two (which is being generous), that same player has to only shoot 34% on three pointers to make shooting the three a more attractive option.
The Blazers front office has seemingly bought into this logic, and with the off-season additions of Mo Williams and Dorell Wright, the Blazers now boast five legitimate three-point shooters (even with CJ McCollum still injured), a minimum three of which are usually on the court at any given time. All five are shooting above 35% on the season, led by Wesley Matthews’ blistering 50.6%.
As a team, the Blazers are collectively shooting 41.8% this season, good for third in the league. As of right now, over 28% of the Blazers’ shots are coming from behind the arc. This means that, yes, more than one out of every four shots that the Blazers are currently letting fly is a three.
An old adage that gets thrown around a lot states, “live by the three, die by the three.” I generally hate old adages, and this one is no exception. The Blazers’ high usage of the three is a fantastic development to see. The league has been slowly heading this way for some time, and I am happy to see the Blazers at the forefront.
The thought behind that saying is that you can’t rely on threes – that some nights, the long shots just won’t fall, and then what is the team to do? Sure, bad nights happen. That’s inevitable. But in the long run, the stats even themselves out, and the threes will do their thing, earning the team an extra point for each one. One game with miserable shooting can’t be enough to negate a season full of results.
With so many shooters, it’s almost impossible for the entire team to have an off-night of catastrophic proportions. On any given night, the shots might not be falling for one player (or even three), but the sheer depth of shooting talent that General Manager Neil Olshey has built will be able to withstand such droughts. If the team has the personel to do so, there is no reason for it to not lean upon the three as an integral part of the offense.
There are also questions about the sustainability of the Blazers’ hot long-distance shooting start. These are certainly valid as well. Matthews will not shoot over 50% from three for an entire season, and the odds are incredibly slim that the Blazers will be able to keep up the team-wide pace. Over the past three seasons, the league leader in three-point percentage averaged a hair under 40%, with the third place team averaging a bit under 38%.
If the Blazers keep their spot as the third best three-point shooting team, then they would probably fall into that 38% range, which is still impressive. The collective ability from distance should also be bolstered by the eventual return of McCollum, and hopefully Williams’ three-point percentage will slowly creep back up towards his career average. The Blazers won’t quite be able to keep up this hot start, but they will be able to stay towards the top of the league.
The Blazers’ offense has hummed so far this season, currently boasting the 4th highest offensive rating in the NBA. A huge product of this is the ability to cash in on all of the open looks that the now smoother-looking offense is generating. The end result is the Blazers making at least eight threes in every game this season except for one, and they still won that one (six threes in a win against the Suns). This sharpshooting Blazers identity is here to stay, and Blazers fans should enjoy the ride.