Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich on 3-pointers: ‘I’ve hated the three for 20 years’

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Every few years, Gregg Popovich grumbles about how much he loathes 3-pointers.

Even with the NBA hoisting an all-time high 35% of total shots from beyond the arc this season, the Spurs president-coach isn’t relenting.

Just 27% of the Spurs’ shots are 3-pointers, the league’s second-lowest mark. And San Antonio has ranked well below average in 3-point attempt rate in recent years.

Here’s a history of the NBA’s 3-point attempt rate (black) and San Antonio’s 3-point attempt rate (silver):

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Popovich, via Bulls.com:

“These days there’s such an emphasis on the three because it’s proven to be analytically correct,” Popovich Monday offered with what appeared to be a sneer. “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.”

“I hate it, but I always have,” Popovich said even as he’s adjusted over the years. “I’ve hated the three for 20 years. That’s why I make a joke all the time (and say) if we’re going to make it a different game, let’s have a four-point play. Because if everybody likes the three, they’ll really like the four. People will jump out of their seats if you have a five-point play. It will be great. There’s no basketball anymore, there’s no beauty in it. It’s pretty boring. But it is what it is and you need to work with it.”

First of all, as Popovich acknowledged, shooting a lot of 3s is generally a good strategy. They’re efficient shots that also provide spacing, leading to more efficient attempts inside the arc.

Until recently, Popovich reluctantly had his team shoot a healthy amount of 3-pointers relative to league average. Lately, San Antonio’s play has matched his rhetoric.

Sure, there are advantages to the Spurs’ style. By deemphasizing 3-pointers and going to more isolations and post-ups, they avoid turnovers and control pace. It helps their defense set and become more effective.

But there’s a ceiling on that style. It’s hard to build a high-end offense that way, and San Antonio’s is only middling. Though acquiring mid-range masters like LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan helps, personnel goes only so far.

Popovich is still a great coach. It’s hard to read this quote and watch the Spurs play and believe he holds as large an advantage over his peers as he once did.

Again, Popovich knows the importance of 3-pointers. His team doesn’t completely forgo long-distance shots. It sounds as if he just preferred the game be played differently.

But I don’t understand even that gripe. What’s more fundamental to basketball than shooting? How have old-school coaches like Popovich demonized shooting? Shooting is the purest aspect of basketball.