Over the past few seasons, the NBA has gradually embraced the value of the three-point shot, adding roughly a hundred more attempts to the average team’s season total for three years running. It’s been a logical progression, born out of the statistics that say threes are more valuable and the anecdotal evidence that shows teams with three-point threats generally enjoy better spacing and, by extension, better offense overall.
When the four conference finalists last season ranked first, second, third and fourth in percentage of offense generated via the three, it was obvious the progression was accelerating.
But with just a couple of days gone in the 2015-16 season, it’s clear the league has passed the point of no return.
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined to shoot 7-of-10 from long range on Oct. 28, and at the risk of getting too dramatic, NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!!!
What’s the big deal, you’re surely wondering. Plenty of big men get a little trigger-happy from deep. Every team wants to shoot more treys (except the Memphis Grizzlies, of course), so it’s no great shock if a pair of prominent frontcourt stars fire up a few more triples than we’re used to.
Maybe that’s the rational way to approach this. Maybe it’s best to build in the typical early-season caveats. Maybe we should chalk this up to October experimentation that won’t survive into December — let alone April or May.
But this feels like something more than that. It feels like a tipping point.
Consider: Cousins had made 11 threes in his career before drilling four (in five attempts) against the Clippers. Davis had made three, so his 3-of-5 effort in a loss to the Blazers was even more statistically startling.
And these aren’t just any big men firing up threes. Players like Channing Frye and Ryan Anderson are specialists. They shoot a lot of long-range shots because they’re good at them, but also because they’re not very good at much else.
Cousins is probably the most formidable post-up threat in the league — one of the few players who’s good enough on the block to make dumping the ball down low a viable offensive strategy against today’s smarter defenses. By shooting threes, he’s necessarily surrendering touches closer to the basket. So basically, head coach George Karl and Cousins (in some combination. Who knows who’s really making the calls on Cousins’s shot selection?) have decided the tradeoff makes sense.
Think about that. We live in an NBA world where it’s now often preferable for one of the best interior forces in the game to stand and fire from 24 feet away.
Davis is a little bit different because the breadth of his offensive game isn’t yet fully understood. From the signs he’s shown to this point in his career, it’s fair to say he’s good from everywhere. But it’s difficult to deny the advantages he has near the basket where his touch, length and quickness make him an exceptional finisher.
But like Cousins, Davis is now expanding his range.
Which raises the question: If limited, specialist big men should shoot lots of threes, and now superstar bigs with other elite skills are doing it too, who shouldn’t be casting away from deep?
There’ll come a point when teams are shooting too many triples. Defenses will build schemes entirely devoted to contesting long shots, and eventually the percentages will decline as poorer shooters try to expand their range and uncontested bombs become harder and harder to come by.
It’s possible Davis and Cousins will go the rest of the season without hitting a combined seven threes on the same night. And we shouldn’t expect anything close to a combined accuracy rate of 70 percent. If either approaches 35 percent, it’ll be remarkable. Slumps, general regression to the mean and perhaps even a coach-administered red light could slow the progress that began on Oct. 28.
But the seal has been broken, and the threes are going to fly.
The three-point revolution is entering a new phase, and it’s going to be awesome to see what happens from here.