Over the last several years, the value of the three-point shot has risen. Well, it still only counts for three points, technically, but teams and coaches are learning more each season how to utilize the long shot to maximize their offensive potential.
The true value of the three is the fear it strikes in the opponent. When a sharpshooter is scooting around screens off the ball, the defense has to pay extra careful attention not to let him get loose for an open look. That extra attention the shooter draws means his teammates in the paint or on the opposite side of the floor have more room to work should the ball quickly swing their way, likely increasing their chance to score.
Baylor’s relationship with the three-point shot has been a capricious one for the past few years. In the Brady Heslip era, the Bears launch a ton of threes. Since the departure of Mr. Three Goggles, though, both made and attempted three-pointers have declined.
Baylor fans will recognize the outlying season of 2010-11 as one of the most disappointing in Scott Drew’s tenure with the Bears. A team that feature Dunn and freshman phenom Perry Jones III, plus Anthony Jones and AJ Walton, should never have seen such a dramatic decline in three-point attempts. But then, that team couldn’t hold onto the ball or run plays. It also didn’t help that Dunn accounted for 249 of the team’s 474 attempted threes. That season aside, however, Baylor has been relatively consistent in the total number of team attempts from deep. Heslip and Pierre Jackson were both excellent shooters, and the offense created a lot of shots for them. After they graduated, the Bears have gradually attempted fewer threes over the last two seasons.
Baylor’s deemphasis of the three point shot is reflected by more than simply raw totals. Three-point shots have, overall, accounted for a lower percentage of Baylor’s attempts for the past two years as well.
Follow that yellow line indicating the percentage of the Bears’ attempts that came from three. From 2010-11 to 2014-15, Baylor held a fairly consistent three-point rate. Baylor’s three-point rate last season, though, was lower even than the disastrous 2010-11 season. That dip in attempt rate came in spite of continued accuracy, as Baylor’s three-point percentage has been fairly steady even without Heslip. 2014-15, then, seems like a bit of an outlier.
When cast against the national averages, last season looks even more like an aberration.
This chart represents Baylor’s national rank in each of the five categories we’ve looked at thus far. Thus, lower is better. Note the rapid changes starting from the 2013-14 season. As the rest of the country attempted a higher rate of threes, Baylor moved away from them. The Bears zagged where everyone else zigged. Because of the prowess of Rico Gathers and Johnathan Motley inside, Drew designed his offense around the rim rather than the arc. This change came in spite of Baylor’s relatively high percentage compared to the rest of the country. Discipline in shot selection is one explanation for the decline in attempts while maintaining accuracy. The Bears were looking for a certain quality of shot, and so the threes they attempted were, mostly, quality looks, pardoning the occasional forced three at the end of the clock from Taurean Prince or Lester Medford.
Moving forward, what might be expected from the Bears and the three? One way to look at it by considering who has been taking these shots. What positions have been responsible for not just attempting threes, but for taking shots, period?
The above chart represents the distribution of overall shot makes and attempts over the last three seasons, broken down by position. For clarity, I classified Prince as a wing, rather than a forward, since he spent more time with the ball on the perimeter than backing his man under the rim. What becomes immediately clear is how balanced Baylor’s offense has been, particularly the last two seasons.
With personnel more suited to playing near the rim, the offense has also moved more towards the paint. Below is a chart indicating the distribution of threes by position.
When Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson were hanging around, the forward spots were responsible for a much, much larger percentage of threes than last season, where the contribution of forwards to three point shooting is almost invisible.
So, heading into the 2016-17 season, could we see a reversion towards more three point shooting? Gathers and Prince are gone, two players who attempted a lot of two-point shots, leaving behind a team with a bevy of guards who can launch from deep and a couple of skilled bigs in Motley and Terry Maston. If Drew continues to build his offense around the post as he did this past season, there isn’t much reason to think Baylor will see a drastic jump in three-point shooting this season. On the other hand, if Manu Lecomte, Al Freeman, and King McClure see increased scoring responsibility, the Bears might look more like they did a couple of years ago than last year.