When the Suns played the Houston Rockets on Nov. 16 – a game in which Houston scored 90 first-half points – the two teams put up a combined 74 3-point attempts.
The Rockets took nearly as many 3-pointers (44) as they did 2-pointers (46).
Welcome to Mike D’Antoni’s NBA, where the 3-point shot has become the weapon of choice and those who don’t employ it are doomed to fail.
“If you can’t shoot you can’t win,” San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “All the top teams have people that are almost impossible to guard. You don’t see too many scores of 89-84 anymore. You have to be able to shoot the basketball.”
One statistic illustrates just how prevalent – and essential – the 3-point shot has become. The 2004-05 Suns, coached by D’Antoni, powered by Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire, and forever remembered for their “Seven Seconds or Less” offense, were the forbearers of the 3-point revolution.
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Phoenix led the NBA that season with 24.7 3-point attempts per game. This season, that number would rank 26th.
“One reason no one in the NBA shot a lot of 3s was that nobody could shoot them,” said D’Antoni, before his Rockets played the Suns Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “So you didn’t shoot them. Now, with everybody shooting 45 percent, why wouldn’t you shoot them?”
Not surprisingly, D’Antoni’s Rockets are shooting them more than any other team. Houston leads the league with 43.5 3-point attempts per game and has taken 51.1 percent of its shots from 3-point range, up from 46.2 percent in 2016-17.
The Rockets are on pace to shoot more than 3,500 3-pointers. No other team in league history – with the exception of last year’s Houston team – has shot more than 2,800 in a single season.
So here’s the question: D’Antoni revolutionized the NBA in that 2004-05 season. Is he doing it again by making the 3-point shot the focal point of the Rockets’ offense? And will other teams follow?
“I don’t know about shooting 40 or 50 (a game),” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “Houston has a lot of really good shooters. I don’t know if there’s that many people in the world that can shoot that well.”
Suns interim coach Jay Triano said that the NBA is trending toward teams taking 30-plus 3-point shots per game. But he’s less concerned with the overall number than he is how and when the shots are taken. And by whom.
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“I’d like for us to get there (Phoenix is averaging 26.6 per game) but I don’t want to say, ‘Yeah, we need to get 30-plus’ because if they’re not 30 quality shots I don’t want them,” Triano said. “If we’re shooting 27 percent I don’t like it. It’s got to be good shots after ball movement, after we’ve changed sides of the floor. Then I’m comfortable with it.
“If it’s five guys around the perimeter and you’re passing it around, you’re not going to get a quality 3. But if you change sides of the floor, get into the paint, get into the drive-and-kick game then I think you’ve got a better chance of shooting good 3s.”
This season, 53 players are averaging at least five 3-point field-goal attempts per game (Booker and Troy Daniels are the only Suns among those 53). Within that 3-point spectrum is another statistic that illustrates the belief among players, coaches and analytic departments that an open 3 is a better shot than an 18-foot jumper:
Twenty players are averaging at least three pull-up 3-pointers a game. Only seven players did so in the 2013-14 season.
“That’s how the game is evolving,” Booker said. “You realize a contested two or a mid-range shot is not as effective as a 3. Sometimes when you’re 2-on-1 you try to get a layup but teams also go for 3s now.
“I think they broke it down efficiency wise and analytic wise. I don’t pay much attention to it but I’ve been a shooter most of my life.”
D’Antoni was asked recently if he felt vindicated by the fact the rest of the NBA has adopted the style of basketball his Suns played 13 years ago.
“It makes you feel better,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a laughing stock. I didn’t want to do something that was completely wrong. The vindication is I’m still working.”
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