“I’ve always said jumpers are like pretty girls. They’re really good looking when you got ’em going in, but when you realize that pretty girl is dumb, you’re in for a long date.”
I love Charles Barkley. He’s one of the great players in NBA history. He’s one of the most entertaining talking heads on pre- and post-game shows for any network. There’s never a dull moment with Chuck. He kind of lost his way on that analogy, but I think we all get the picture. These jump-shooting teams are the guys who are always taking out the prettiest girls in the neighborhood, and lo and behold they find out that the good looks only lead to disappointment.
This is a bastardized version of “Live by the three, die by the three,” and it isn’t necessarily incorrect. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of teams go cold from deep and it completely messes up their offensive flow. Of course, you can go cold from anywhere on the floor, but point taken. Teams that throw up an inordinate number of three-pointers have traditionally been subject to higher variances in the return on investment on those shots. That’s just going to happen some nights no matter how well you shoot.
What Chuck is missing–aside from the mathematical facts of what shots on the floor produce the most points per possession on average–is that all jump shots aren’t created equal. A team like the Rockets use James Harden and Dwight Howard to draw defenses in near the rim, which gives shooters on the perimeter extra room to launch open shots. The Warriors run complex pick-and-rolls to get mismatches and force switches on defense while employing four or sometimes five deep threats on the court at a time. The Hawks swing the ball around the perimeter and through the post with Spurs-imitation ball movement to produce open looks. The Cavaliers take a lot of those long shots out of isolation sets combined with cross-court ball movement; when defenders step back off LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, that leaves breathing room for the shots to go up, or make the easy pass to the next open guy after help defense arrives.
It isn’t as much about whether or not the shots are going in, as Barkley describes–every aspect of good basketball still depends on the ball going in at the end of the possession–but the best three-point shooting teams in basketball are the teams that create the best open looks for their shooters within the confines of their offense.
“I don’t like jump-shooting teams.”
You don’t have to like jump-shooting teams. Although, if you watch basketball regularly, the amount of good non-jump-shooting teams are hard to come by. The Grizzlies are the best example, earning a No. 5 seed despite finishing second-to-last in three-point attempts per game in the regular season. That’s a team that does everything else right, from suffocating defense to bruising post play. I love the Grizzlies, even as my beloved Zach Randolph loses a step-and-a-half each year. They might be the ugly girl at the party, but you know they’re a fun time. I guess Chuck has resolved himself to that option.
After that, it gets dicey. The Wizards made the playoffs without incorporating the three much this season, but the offense was a mess for months before the playoffs, where out of nowhere they started firing up threes at a high rate while shooting a blazing hot 40 percent from deep. With John Wall running the court, and the emergence of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, that philosophy will likely change, with Randy Wittman or without him.
The Bulls and Thunder could qualify as non-jump shooting teams (for this purpose meaning they fell outside the top 13 in three-pointers attempted for the regular season), as do the Spurs, although that’s by necessity rather than desire at this point. The Pelicans are yet another example.
Still, rooting for these types of teams makes it a little tough as most got slayed down in the postseason. The Wizards beat the Raptors and the Grizzlies beat the Trail Blazers. Other than those two first-round matchups, the team that took more three-pointers per game in the regular season has won every series.
Now that we have the final four, it’s interesting to see who’s left standing. The Warriors, Hawks, Cavaliers and Rockets are sitting first through fourth in three-point attempts per game during the playoffs. Heading into Wednesday night’s game, they also ranked first through fourth in three-pointers made per game, albeit in a different order. (With the Hawks’ off night, 4-23 from deep, they’ve dropped below the Spurs to fifth by a tenth of a point, but I expect them to raise that back up.)
Interestingly, despite all the makes and attempts, only the Warriors rank in the top six teams in three-point percentage during the playoffs. The Wizards, Bulls, Spurs, Blazers and Nets make up the rest of the top six. Of those teams, only the Blazers were a “jump-shooting team” in the top 13 in attempts during the regular season.
“All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common — they’re a bunch of guys who have never played the game, and they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game.”
This one isn’t going to get a ton of attention, because I think we all know that every team is talking about analytics, even if the stubborn Knicks and Lakers would make you think otherwise. Many of those executives never played the game. Some of them may not have gotten girls in high school. They all probably spent their lives wanting to be in the game. Barkley may be right about all of these things.
Maybe after a lifetime of chasing pretty girls, these “analytics guys” Chuck talks about have settled for the next best thing: the jump shot. They understand the risk that those jump shots might go cold at any time. They might reveal themselves to be deceitful. There’s always going to be higher variance the further you move away from the hoop, but with greater risk comes greater reward.
Even though Chuck didn’t believe it, the Warriors were the prettiest girl in the West this season. During their 67-win campaign, they showed the depths to which they could create wide open shots for everyone on the team. When they can’t, Stephen Curry creates something out of nothing. In addition to being beautiful, their jumpers are smart, sexy, aggressive and independent.
With four jump-shooting teams in the final four, even if the Warriors don’t hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy, a team of shooters will be celebrating in mid-June. One of those teams will prove they’re more than just a pretty face, like the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and other jump-shooting teams have done before.
Maybe Chuck’s right about the principals who put these teams together not getting girls in high school. I have no evidence to dispute that, and I doubt any of them are going to dignify Barkley’s comments with old photos and testimonies from their high school math teachers. If they didn’t, then now they’re making up for lost time by putting together some of the most beautiful jump-shooting teams we’ve ever seen. After all, chicks dig the long ball, ain’t that right Chuck?