The NBA’s love affair with the deep ball has never been greater, but the New Orleans Pelicans have not aggressively prioritized this valuable weapon during the current period of explosive growth witnessed over the last three years nearly as much as the rest of the competition.
Expect for that to change quickly.
With the hiring of David Griffin, Gayle Benson and the rest of the organization handed over the reigns of the Pelicans to a mind which firmly believes “you can never have too many shooters.” As many of you are aware, there’s good reason for that philosophy: Griffin shared the same air as a number of executives and coaches who believed in potent offenses and were deeply committed to the three ball in Phoenix.
Case in point, Griffin took that knowledge to Cleveland and immediately started to shore up the Cavaliers perimeter game once he was placed in charge of the front office. Spencer Hawes was brought in first to give Kyrie Irving a little more room at the 2014 trade deadline, and then after LeBron James arrived the following summer, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye and Kyle Korver soon joined the Cavaliers.
During the 2013-14 season, Cleveland ranked 20th in three-point attempts and 18th in three-point percentage. After Griffin assumed permanent control, Cleveland jumped up to second in attempts and fifth in efficiency. The Cavs remained near the top of both categories for the following two seasons as well.
Obviously, surrounding LeBron James with a stable of floor-spreading shooters is sound philosophy — which makes the Lakers roster construction last summer so incredibly puzzling; however, staying on topic, progressive teams are smartly placing great premiums on three-point attempts and long range accuracy more than ever. Reason being, the three-point shot has become a determinative factor between winners and losers.
“Now you look at a stat sheet after a game and the first thing you look at is the threes. If you made threes and the other team didn’t, you win. You don’t even look at the rebounds or the turnovers or how much transition D was involved. You don’t even care. That’s how much an impact the three-point shot has and it’s evidenced by how everybody plays.”
The three-point revolution should no longer be ignored by any team. NBA rules are presently geared towards offenses and they’ve never favored jump shooters more.
Not surprisingly, the biggest increases in three-point rate have occurred in each of the three past years. Analytics is responsible for driving this bus hard because franchises are in search of better efficiency at every turn. Those teams who shoot it well and often from distance have the advantage. Kirk Goldsberry, who recently joined Howard Beck on his podcast, shed further light on this important subject.
“Right now the league is taking about 36% of its shots from three-point range, but some teams are closer to 50% — and I don’t see why the league as a whole won’t get there,” said Goldsberry. “The 2017-18 Rockets were the first team in NBA history that took over half of its shots from three-point land. They were also the most efficient offense in the league. They have shown us what the future of basketball could look like if we continue to challenge efficiency with the current configuration of the court.”
The New Orleans Pelicans have thus far failed to keep up with this modern trend. 32.4% of their field goal attempts came from behind the three-point line last season. Only six teams posted worse three-point rates. In the previous two years, the three-point rate stood at 33.3% for the 2017-18 season and 32.2% for the 2016-17 campaign.
For comparison’s sake, the Milwaukee Bucks rode a 42.0% three-point frequency to the best W/L record in the league this season. This marked an enormous increase from the figures seen in the prior two season of 31.2% and 30.5%.
The Golden State Warriors have ridden the Splash Brothers and Company to three titles in the last four years. The Houston Rockets shoot more deep bombs than anyone else and remain legitimate title contenders regardless of the ho-hum names printed on the back of jerseys alongside James Harden. The Milwaukee Bucks possessed one of the league’s best offenses this season in large part because they surrounded Giannis Antetokounmpo with so many weapons waiting to deliver daggers from the outside.
Playing styles come and go in this league; David Griffin understands the NBA is cyclical, but at the same time he’s not going to ignore the present environment where being three-happy is a good thing. Anthony Davis news will likely dominate much of the headlines over the next several months; however, expect for the New Orleans Pelicans to start placing a higher degree of emphasis on three-point shooting, both in drafts and free agency, in the very near future.