The Memorial Day Miracle. Steve Kerr’s three-point barrage to send the Dallas Mavericks packing in 2003. Robert Horry’s dagger in Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Manu Ginobili’s huge triple to propel the San Antonio Spurs into the Finals over the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2014.
The San Antonio Spurs have a storied history of hitting momentous three-pointers when it matters most. Still, head coach Gregg Popovich’s relationship with the longball is a love-hate one at best. Everyone knows Pop can be stubborn. I mean, the guy is still playing Marco Belinelli over DeMarre Carroll and Lonnie Walker IV, hoping that his occasional leaning jumpers can make up for his traffic cone defense.
That said, Pop still sees the value of the three-pointer in an age where half of the league is putting up 33 or more attempts per game. The Spurs have always had effective drawn-up plays to set up the likes of Danny Green, Patty Mills and now Bryn Forbes off of curls or baseline corner passes. With a roster with some definite shooting talent, let’s look at some early trends when it comes to the Spurs and shooting trifectas.
Before breaking it down by each individual shooter, here are a few stats regarding everyone in Silver and Black that’s taken five or more threes through seven games:
Most attempts per game: Bryn Forbes (7.3)
Best percentage: Patty Mills (48.6% on 17-of-35)
Worst percentage: Trey Lyles (11.1% on 1-for-9)
Most unnecessary off-balance attempts: Marco Belinelli (all 22 of his, probably)
When you watch Bryn Forbes shoot the basketball, there’s no doubt he’s the team’s purest shooter. When he gets his shoulders squared, his form is picture-perfect. At just 17-of 51 this year for 33.3%, he is underperforming so far from deep, but I wouldn’t expect that to last.
Even when Forbes is missing, it seems to be from rollouts or bad bounces instead of being long or short. Looking at his numbers on a per 36 minutes basis, Forbes is well ahead of last season’s three-point shooting rate. Forbes has the brightest green light to shoot from outside on the team and that’s apparent in the numbers.
Like Forbes, Patty Mills is also shooting more threes per 36 minutes than he did last season. But, unlike Forbes, Mills is on fire from deep, with a sizzling three-point percentage of 48.6%. Mills is a career 39.2% three-point shooter, so his percentage will definitely regress to the mean by season’s end. Still, it is nice to see the Aussie get off to a good start from the outside considering the points he gives up on defense.
And speaking of giving up points on defense:
While Marco Belinelli is playing nearly seven minutes less per game than last season (23.0 to 16.3), he’s still playing way too many. Belinelli is a career 37.5% shooter from beyond the arc, yet his shot selection seems to be at a career-worst.
For whatever reason, Marco likes to go for a heat-check after making one field goal, which usually doesn’t end well. After being tied for first on the team last season in three-pointers attempted per game with Forbes, at least he has cut that number down a bit. But, then again, when he is not taking and making threes, what else is he doing on the court?
Belinelli’s 4-of-22 start from the outside will need to improve drastically or he’ll begin to see his minutes cut even more (one would hope.)
Rudy Gay is coming off a career-high 40.2% three-point shooting season and looking healthier each game out. Perhaps these things factor into why Pop has given Gay more freedom to shoot from deep more often.
The most three-point attempts on a per 36 minutes basis Gay has averaged before this season was in 2007-08, when he averaged 4.6. At 6.1, the veteran forward is playing fast and loose this season, but his accuracy hasn’t quite been there yet. In time, I’d expect his percentage to creep back up near his 34.7% career mark.
Derrick White’s three-point shooting rate has also increased but not as dramatically as some others. While he had a slow start in the preseason, he has stepped up so far in the regular season, averaging 12.4 points on 43.8% shooting from three-point land.
As the whole guard rotation continues to be figured out, White’s ability to drive to the hoop in addition to shoot the ball sets him apart from some others that are more of one-trick ponies. His 7-of-16 showing on threes is a strong start to the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge: 3-of-11 (27.3%)
Dejounte Murray: 2-of-9 (22.2%)
Trey Lyles: 1-of-9 (11.1%)
DeMar DeRozan: 0-of-2 (0.0%)
DeMarre Carroll and Lonnie Walker: 0-of-1 (0.0%)
The only notable number from the rest of the roster is that LaMarcus Aldridge is putting up 1.7 threes per 36 minutes as opposed to 0.6 last season. While his attempts are still low, that increase coincides with the overall trend of most Spurs players upping their rate of attempts.
San Antonio is currently sitting at 28th in the league in three-point attempts per game at 26.4 per contest. Then again, to show bulk three-point shooting isn’t everything, the Spurs sit even in the standings with the Houston Rockets, who shoot the most threes at an astonishing 48.1 per game.
The Spurs’ slowly-increasing desire to shoot the deep ball is apparent in the numbers. So far this season, they’re shooting threes 4.6% more often than they did last season. Will that continue? That is something to watch in the coming weeks.