AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Five out: NBA entering era of 3-point-shooting centers

4 Comments

In 2014, the Atlanta Hawks snuck into the playoffs with a 38-44 record. Their reward? A matchup with the top-seeded Indiana Pacers, who boasted the NBA’s best defense.

Roy Hibbert, a mountain of a center, anchored Indiana’s defense by using his 7-foot-2, 270-pound frame to wall off the paint.

On the other hand, Atlanta’s starting center, Al Horford, suffered a season-ending injury in December. The Hawks rotated three replacements: Pero Antic, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. Ayon suffered his own season-ending injury in February, leaving Atlanta to choose between a past-his-prime, but veteran, Brand and Antic, a 31-year-old rookie who liked to shoot 3-pointers but converted them at a below-average clip.

The Hawks started Antic – and told him to bomb away.

"Even though Pero wasn’t a great 3-point shooter, we told him to shoot it, because we needed Hibbert out of there," said Kenny Atkinson, who was then a Hawks assistant coach. "That was the only way we were going to score.

"We had to take some risk."

Antic hoisted 42 3s in 170 minutes – the highest rate ever in a postseason by someone who started all his team’s games at center. But he made just 7-of-42, a dreary 17%.

Yet, the scheme worked anyway.

Antic pulled Hibbert from the paint, scrambling the Pacers. Hibbert was lost on the perimeter, and his teammates didn’t know how to play without an elite rim protector behind them. Indiana was on tilt, and its offense collapsed as everyone bore the weight of new defensive challenges.

Atlanta outscored the Pacers by 30 with Antic on the court and got outscored by 37 otherwise. Though the Hawks lost the series in seven games, they pushed the Pacers far more than anyone anticipated.

"That was kind of a little bit of an epiphany," Atkinson said. "This can help. This can help draw a great rim protector away from the rim."

The stretch-five revolution was underway.

Atkinson and the Hawks, coached by Mike Budenholzer, had become full believers. The next year, Horford shot and made more 3-pointers than he did in his first seven years combined. The following year, he again trumped his growing career totals – and he wasn’t alone. The shift spread beyond Atlanta by then.

Anthony Davis also shot and made more 3-pointers last season than he had in the rest of his career combined. So did DeMarcus Cousins, who topped his new career totals again this year. Marc Gasol and Nikola Vucevic did it this year, too.

But perhaps the biggest domino to fall was Brook Lopez.

Atkinson became the Nets’ head coach this season and inherited Lopez, an archetypical center who made just 3-of-31 3-pointers in his first eight seasons. In his first year under Atkinson, Lopez has made 134-of-386 3-pointers (35%).

If Lopez can shoot 3s, what is the limit?

We’re progressing toward finding out.

Centers made 1,479 3-pointers this season – more than double any other year, more than the last four years combined, more than the first 17 years of the 3-point arc combined.

Here are number the of 3-pointers made (orange) and attempted (blue) per game by centers, as classified by Basketball-Reference:

image

Season 3P 3PA 3P/G 3PA/G 3P%
2017 1479 4183 1.20 3.40 35%
2016 544 1662 0.44 1.35 33%
2015 331 1020 0.27 0.83 32%
2014 429 1310 0.35 1.07 33%
2013 118 485 0.10 0.39 24%
2012 115 443 0.12 0.45 26%
2011 176 588 0.14 0.48 30%
2010 481 1463 0.39 1.19 33%
2009 368 1080 0.30 0.88 34%
2008 500 1519 0.41 1.23 33%
2007 305 945 0.25 0.77 32%
2006 64 301 0.05 0.24 21%
2005 253 785 0.21 0.64 32%
2004 150 559 0.13 0.47 27%
2003 150 497 0.13 0.42 30%
2002 317 896 0.27 0.75 35%
2001 86 364 0.07 0.31 24%
2000 100 382 0.08 0.32 26%
1999 44 199 0.06 0.27 22%
1998 128 535 0.11 0.45 24%
1997 219 686 0.18 0.58 32%
1996 148 528 0.12 0.44 28%
1995 247 799 0.22 0.72 31%
1994 74 339 0.07 0.31 22%
1993 91 353 0.08 0.32 26%
1992 101 396 0.09 0.36 26%
1991 117 504 0.11 0.46 23%
1990 197 677 0.18 0.61 29%
1989 170 607 0.17 0.59 28%
1988 34 191 0.04 0.20 18%
1987 12 101 0.01 0.11 12%
1986 16 129 0.02 0.14 12%
1985 11 129 0.01 0.14 9%
1984 21 147 0.02 0.16 14%
1983 18 139 0.02 0.15 13%
1982 22 112 0.02 0.12 20%
1981 14 88 0.01 0.09 16%
1980 10 95 0.01 0.11 11%

For the first time in history, the average NBA game featured a center making a 3-pointer. But the opening weekend of the playoffs sent the trend into overdrive.

In eight Game 1s, centers combined to shoot 12-for-16 on 3-pointers (75%).

That doesn’t even count all the time teams used players listed at forward, like Serge Ibaka and Draymond Green, at center – a strategy that becomes much more popular this time of year. Teams have embraced small ball more quickly than positional designations can keep up.

"A stretch five," said Grizzlies coach David Fizdale, who implored Marc Gasol to become one, "is a serious luxury."

Enjoy it while it lasts.

It wasn’t long ago that stretch fours were a novelty. Teams had to create special game plans to defend them, because they popped up on the schedule so irregularly. Now, it’s a change of pace when a team starts two traditional interior bigs.

Stretch fives are the new frontier.

Coaches are quick to point out how much trouble opposing 3-point-shooting centers cause, but not every team has developed its own. As long as the former remains true, the latter will change.

The current crop of high-volume stretch fives all have their own origin stories. Davis started shooting 3s under Alvin Gentry, who saw the value of a playmaking center while coaching Draymond Green with the Warriors. Cousins didn’t like being labeled a center and wanted to expand his game. Gasol listened to Fizdale, who was a Heat assistant when Miami – due to injury – learned the value of small ball and then turned Chris Bosh into a center. Vucevic played for Frank Vogel, who coached that Pacers team torched by Antic.

Eventually, there won’t be anything special about a center who shoots 3-pointers. It’ll be the norm.

To be fair, it was hardly unpresented pre-Antic. Mehmet Okur, who retired in 2012 is the all-time leader in 3-pointers by a center (460). Channing Frye set the single-season record for 3-pointers per game by a center (2.1) in 2010, when he played for Gentry’s Suns. That broke the record by Al Harrington for the 2008 Warriors (1.9).*

*Counting only seasons players were listed as centers by Basketball-Reference

That 2010 Phoenix team, coached by Gentry, was still running Mike D’Antoni’s spread scheme. Harrington was primarily a forward during his career, but then-Golden State coach Don Nelson frequently used him at center.

D’Antoni and Nelson were seen as mad scientists, bending basketball into an unholy style. But they were actually visionaries not appreciated in their time.

Stretch fives have not become conventional, but they’re no longer such a rarity. Nine centers made more than one 3-pointer per game this season. No more than three had done that in any other year.

Here’s every center ever to average more than one 3-pointer per game:

image

Other players could join their ranks next season.

Big forwards who already shoot plenty of 3s, like Ibaka and Kristaps Porzingis, could soon be primarily centers. Young stretch fives like Myles Turner could take more 3s in bigger roles. Centers with established mid-range games – like Robin Lopez, Brook’s twin brother – could venture beyond the arc.

There’s so much incentive to experiment.

It’s not just the added value of a more efficient shot than a long two. It’s not even just the value of generally spacing the floor.

It’s that centers are often the best rim protectors, so there’s exponentially more value in a stretch five pulling an opposing center from the paint than a stretch four pulling an opposing power forward from the paint.

Stretching the floor has enhanced existing skills for these centers, too. Getting the ball on the perimeter with the threat of shooting has made Brook Lopez an even more effective driver. Gasol can survey the floor from beyond the arc, with a defender pressed closed to him rather than disrupting the passing lanes, and zip dimes from even more angles.

Lopez has embraced his new skill dutifully, though he didn’t want to talk much about himself late in Brooklyn’s awful season. Gasol has unleashed his 3-point shooting with joyous flair – at least once he got going.

"He laughed at first because I told him I want him shooting four a game, and he thought I was joking," Fizdale said. "But as you can see it’s not a joke."

Gasol came close, finishing with 3.6 3-point attempts per game. But there’s always next year.

The stretch-five revolution has just begun.

Damian Lillard, tired of OKC’s talk/antics, called his shot a day before

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Oklahoma City is brash, a reflection of their best players. Russell Westbrook was talking throughout the series against Portland because, well, that’s Westbrook. Dennis Schroder was pointing at his watch — imitating Lillard time — as the Thunder won Game 3. Paul George threw down a dunk (just after the buzzer expired) rather than dribble out the end of the Thunder win.

Damian Lillard saw it all.

Inside he was fuming, in a rage that continues as he waved goodbye to the Thunder after hitting a historic jumper. He told Jason Quick of The Athletic what went through his mind as the shot fell through the net.

“Yeah,” Lillard said he thought in the moment. “What you all have to say now?”

Wednesday, Lillard posted this to Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

On to the next…

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

Lillard was boiling over the night before the final game of this series, at his home in Portland, as Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports details in a must-read piece on Lillard dropping the mic on OKC.

And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.

“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me. If they think I am, then we can take it off the court and find out for sure.

“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”

Lillard won. He outplayed Westbrook.

Coach Terry Stotts had pulled Lillard off the court before the end of Game 4, a 13-point Portland win on the road, and Lillard said that was probably good because if he had been on the court he might have jacked up a 30-footer at the buzzer to send a message. Instead, he waited a game. And Monday night Lillard said this:

“I’m going to get the last laugh,” he said. “I promise you that.”

Drop. The. Mic.

Paul George says he will deal with shoulder issues this summer, come back healthy

Getty Images
2 Comments

Paul George averaged 28.6 points per game against Portland in the first round, but he wasn’t his mid-season efficient self, shooting 31.9 percent from three, where he took 46.5 percent of his attempts. George tried to make up for it by attacking the rim and drawing fouls, and he averaged almost 10 shots from the charity stripe a game (9.8, which boosted his true shooting percentage to an impressive 58.3).

OKC needed more of George and less of Russell Westbrook settling for jumpers, but George’s jump shot just was not going down at the rate it did the first half of the season.

How much of that was his shoulder problems? George admitted that four days before the playoffs started he couldn’t lift his hand over his head he was in so much pain. George said it wasn’t an issue in the playoffs, but nobody really believed him.

George said postgame he would get his shoulder healthy this summer, but dodged the surgery question, via Royce Young of ESPN.

Whatever he does — rest, therapy, surgery, going to Lourdes and getting water on it — George needs to get healthy because his efficiency is critical if Oklahoma City is going to get out of the first round of the playoffs. It would help if Sam Presti and company can add some shooting around him and Russell Westbrook (easier said than done with their tight cap situation).

Is D’Angelo Russell worth a $27 million max salary? Will he get it?

Getty Images
3 Comments

D'Angelo Russell had a breakthrough year for the Brooklyn Nets.

He was an All-Star in his fourth NBA season, averaging 21.1 points and seven assists per game, and a lot of the jump came because his shooting improved — 36.9 percent from three, and a true shooting percentage of 53.3 that’s close to the league average. His hitting floaters and jumpers opened up the rest of this game, and his confidence grew as a leader. He pushed the Nets to the playoffs, where he and his team played tough but fell short against the more talented 76ers. Russell struggled to a 3-of-16 night in the closeout game Tuesday, it was a learning experience.

This summer Russell is a restricted free agent. Brooklyn wants to keep him… but for $27 million? That’s his starting salary at the max. Brian Lewis of the New York Post said that’s what Russell wants.

But he’s got a $21.1 million cap hold, and could get a max offer from a point guard-hungry team. That would be $27 million, which league sources have intimated is what Russell wants. The Nets haven’t shown themselves to being convinced he’s worth that much, and could well let the market decide.

The Nets have the right to match any offer, but would they go to the max to do it? League sources told me most teams see Russell as a step below max, however, if a team is trying to poach a player via restricted free agency they have to overpay to get the team with his rights to back off and not match. Ultimately, that means his agents (Austin Brown and Aaron Mintz) finding a team willing to pay the price to nab him. Depending upon how the draft lottery and the rest of free agency goes, that team may be out there.

Sean Marks and his Nets are going to have a very busy summer and Brooklyn — while it loves the team it built — may not look the same at all next season.

Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser: “I am no longer comfortable staying silent”

5 Comments

Kelli Tennant, the former reporter for the Lakers’ regional broadcast network who has stepped forward to accuse current Sacramento Kings and former Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Luke Walton of sexual assault, stepped in front of the cameras on Tuesday and stated her case.

Tennant has filed a civil suit against Walton and she, along with her attorney, conducted a press conference Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Tennent said the incident happened before Walton was the Lakers’ coach, back in 2016 when he was an assistant with the Golden State Warriors. She explained why it was years before she came forward, as reported by NBC 4 in Los Angeles.

“I was 25 when this first happened. As a young woman who had only been in this job for less than a year, who was incredibly grateful for where I was and had worked incredibly hard to get to that position, I was scared and I felt coming forward would jeopardize every aspect of my life,” she said.

It is not uncommon for sexual assault victims to feel powerless and not come forward for years, particularly in high-profile cases where they know the public nature and the backlash that will follow — regardless of truth — from the accusations.

“I am no longer comfortable staying silent… No woman should ever be made to feel like a victim.”

Tennant also described the alleged incident that she says took place in a Santa Monica hotel room. She said they had a professional relationship and she had met him to discuss him writing the forward to a book she was writing.

“Out of nowhere, he got on top of me and pinned me down to the bed and held my arms down, with all his weight. He kissed my neck and my face and my chest. And as I kept asking him to please stop and to get off, he laughed at me.

“I thought he was going to rape me. I was finally able to get up after what felt like forever. And I immediately jumped up to leave the room, and he came around and grabbed me from behind and again held my arms down so I could not move. And started kissing my neck again. I kept begging him to please let go and to please stop. And he continued to laugh in my ear. He finally let me go, and I got out of the room.”

Walton, through his attorney Mark Baute, has denied these allegations.

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

The NBA, Sacramento Kings, and Golden State Warriors all say they are investigating the allegations. Sources say the Kings and league knew nothing about the incident prior to the lawsuit being filed, and there was no record of it being brought to the Santa Monica Police Department.

The Lakers released this comment: “This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”