The NBA has changed, and barring some unforeseen rule changes it won’t ever be changing back. Analytics, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors evolved the way the game was played and won.
In the past, a high volume big man shooting at 50+% of their field goals (fg) was considered the most efficient way to score, and the game was dominated by centres scoring in the low post. When building a team, the Centre position was considered the most important by GM’s to get right and is why teams would reach for a big with 20-10 potential, over a flashy guard (Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan for example). “You can’t teach height” was the mantra of a bygone age.
Not only did the behemoths of the NBA anchor their team’s interior defence by blocking layups and intimidating guards from driving, they would limit second chance baskets by controlling the boards, and teams would often run their offense through their bigs as well.
This has changed and now many NBA teams look to spread the floor with as many three point shooters as possible, including from the Centre position. The value of rim protection diminishes when players are no longer predominantly attacking the rim.
Why is this the case?
A player shooting 40% from the three point line is equivalent of a player making 60% fg inside the three. If you can have 5 players shooting close to or above 40% from three, it’s going to be more efficient than the old style of team builds where 1 ball dominant big would be surrounded by mid-range 2-point jump-shooters.
Looking at Steph Curry’s 2015-16 NBA season he shot 50.4% fg for the season, which included 56.6% from 2’s and 45.4% from threes, and 90.8% ft’s.
He averaged 5.1 makes on 11.2 attempts from three point land that season.
Let’s look at some numbers to see just how much the NBA has changed by Decade:
Also by creating a team that spaces the floor at all positions, it opens up the lanes for drives and cuts without the same ability for teams to collapse and close off the lane, forcing players into difficult shots or turning over the ball. We can see that in general, turnovers are also trending down.
The difference between the Lopez Twins
Consider Brook Lopez vs his brother Robin Lopez.
Brook Lopez started off an inside player and was a hot commodity. However his value began to drop, so he adapted his game to become primarily a perimeter player on offense. While his twin brother Robin Lopez maintained the more traditional style of play of years gone by.
Brook (now a 3 point specialist) recently signed a 4 year $52 million contract, while his brother signed a 2 year $9.7 million contract. In the 2019 season, Brook Lopez took 65% of his attempts from beyond the perimeter while his brother Robin took less than 5% of his shots from outside the 3 point line.
Same genetics, one takes more threes!
Drummond the Dinosaur?
There’s no clearer indicator of how much an interior offense player’s value has diminished recently, than what happened with Andre Drummond on the trade market at this year’s trade deadline.
Andre Drummond’s individual numbers are off the charts: he was averaging 17.8 points, 15.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.7 blocks, on 53% shooting. However, the best his struggling Pistons team was able to get in return for him on the open market was a 2nd round pick and 2 below average players.
If Drummond had been putting up those numbers 20 years earlier, he’d be a perennial All Star – revered at the same level of a Dikembe Mutombo or the other elite centres of that era.
Instead he was basically discarded for whatever they could get in return.
So what’s next, and is it good for the league?
Just looking at the progression, it’s pretty clear that the number of 3 point attempts are set to continue increasing. Especially as now that there is so much focus and so much money being thrown around for good 3 point shooters that are 2-way players, it will inspire the next generation of players to focus much more on their perimeter shooting.
There are teams that are pushing more towards position-less basketball. The Rockets for example, shockingly traded away their prized 6’10” centre, Clint Capela, and now don’t bother to play a traditional bigman, opting instead to play players like 6’5” PJ Tucker, or 6’7” Robert Covington in the middle.
There will always be transition baskets off steals and backdoor cuts that lead to open layups. Mismatches on a big player on a small, or a player beating their defender off a drive. Floor spacing with perimeter players and fast ball movement opens things up for players to score off high percentage 2’s, however players like DeMar Derozan that refuse to adapt, as good as they are at their mid-range game, will begin to fade from existence over the next decade or so.
In future will 80-90% of a team’s shots be threes? And will that still be fun for fans to watch?
Extending the 3 point line won’t work unless the court is widened, because the corner-three shot will still be the same distance. So unless the NBA takes on my genus idea to balance things up and make the game exponentially more exciting (make dunks worth 3 points as well!) then I think we will be seeing teams trend up to taking between 50-60 threes per game in the near future.
Personally, I don’t like the idea of the NBA becoming a 3 point shootout. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and seeing the classic NBA matchups between players like Barkley, Ewing, Robinson and Hakeem, it’s concerning that we may be losing entire skillsets and styles of play that defined a generation as they’re no longer valued when taking analytics into consideration.
Seeing two 7-foot behemoths going head to head in the low post, strong players dominating under the basket is something amazing. It’s something you couldn’t see anywhere else. We might still see that to some degree, but with another 10-20 years of this progression, young bigs will be spending their time working on their threes over their low post footwork, so that they don’t end up another Andre Drummond that teams reluctantly trade away their 2nd round draft pick for.
You can go to any local basketball competition and see players spread their offense and play around the perimeter taking jump shots. But why would fans pay for $10,000 court side seats to see that (granted at a higher level than your local comp). If the league becomes an 82-game three point shootout, with the occasional fast break dunk off a steal then the NBA will no longer be amazing. And that’s where it is headed.
So how can this information impact your betting?
If you’re a punter, not just an NBA fan then that is a really important part of this article – what is the point of this knowledge if you can’t benefit from it when you’re having a bet.
Well, in short it’s another key piece of information to look at when picking a head to head matchup.
Is it any coincidence that the teams that give up the highest opponent 3 point percentage are also teams that will likely miss the playoffs?
The worst 6 teams in this regard for the 2019-20 season are:
- Knicks (17-38 record)
- Warriors (12-43 record)
- Cavaliers (14-40 record)
- Spurs (23-31 record)
- Wizards (20-33 record)
- Blazers (25-31 record)
Looking at how a team fares from three point range, compared to how they allow their opponents perform from the perimeter is a really good stat to look at.
When an intermediate level team is missing an underrated 3 point shooter, then that could also be a good time to find some nice value betting on their opponent.
Players like Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans, are 2 perfect examples of this – guys that make high % threes on volume shooting.
These guys have a high Offensive Box Plus/Minus rating with Robinson: +2.9 and Bertans: +3.3 (Bertans is top 20 in this stat in the NBA)
They’re the types of players that most casual fans wouldn’t have ever heard of, so their absence likely won’t affect people’s betting habits too much, but their impact cannot be overlooked.
For example, this season in the 25 games Bertans has played for Washington vs non-playoff teams, the Wizards have a 13-12 record. In those 25 games the Wizards have outscored their opponents by a total of 56 points (+2.7 point win on average) in the 4 games vs non-playoff teams that Bertans did not play in due to injury, the Wizards were 1-3 and were outscored by a total of 50 points in those 4 games (-12.5 loss on average).
It’s a small sample size, and could also be due to other factors, but with the game now becoming so reliant on efficient high volume three point shooting, players like Bertans with 3.5 made threes per game on 8.4 threes attempts (~43%), or Duncan Robinson who makes 3.5 threes per game on 8.1 attempts (~44%) are fast becoming an integral component to the success of NBA teams.
Written by Peter Arena