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Sounds of Thunder: Oklahoma City Thunder Setting Their Sights on 3-Point Improvement

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There’s nothing sacred in basketball anymore with the 3-point shot. - Herbert Greene

The 3-point line was introduced into the NBA just before the 1979-80 season during the final three seasons of Pete Maravich’s career. Maravich, one of the finest shot makers this game has ever seen, took a total of 30 career attempts from beyond the arc. Granted, time and injuries limited “The Pistol” to just 86 games during that stretch, but that didn’t stop him from draining 66.7% of those long-range attempts.

Can you imagine the free-agency frenzy that would explode if a player possessing Maravich’s skills and shooting ability were available today? General Managers would be offering their first-born and throwing in a sibling for a bonus to secure that sweet shot. It’s ironic watching the game today and realizing how seldom you hear the name Maravich mentioned in discussions about the all-time greats and there is a very simple reason for that.

Pete Maravich was thirty to thirty-five years ahead of his time.


Look at this graph from a bestticketsblog post from 3 years ago:

In Maravich’s day, NBA teams took less than 3 long-range shots per game. Now they will take that many before the first time-out. This graph only goes to 2014, but the trend toward increased 3-point attempts has continued. The Houston Rockets set a new record after averaging 40.1 tries a night. 40.1!!! The Minnesota Timberwolves took the fewest shots in the league from beyond the arc this season at 21.0 —only 14 of a shot less than the league average just 3 season ago. Further, the league as a whole averaged a whopping 27 attempts per game. Almost 13 of the shots attempted this season, 31.6% to be exact, came from beyond the arc.

The reason teams took so few 3-point shots in Maravich’s era was because there weren’t many players comfortable shooting from that distance:

The league shooting average from distance was around the Andre Roberson line and the shot was generally taken only in times of desperation. The NCAA added the 3-point line in 1987 and when Rick Pitino and his “Bombinos” returned Kentucky to national prominence by embracing the long ball as a key component in their arsenal in the 90’s, the 3-point rout was on.

Thus my confusion about Maravich’s status among the all-time greats. If Pistol Pete were in his prime today he would be taking ten 3-point shots a game while blowing past any defender that attempted to contest with a cross-over considered great when refs actually called players for carrying the ball. The Pistol would likely average 35 to 40 points per game. PSShaw if you wish, but 35 to 40 might actually be short-changing the legend.

Not convinced? Witness perfection:

But so much for starting a row with the Jordan-ites and the LeBron-sters, let’s talk about today and how the Thunder stand in this mad mad world of long-distance NBA cruise missiles.

It’s Ain’t Your Daddy’s League Any More

Let’s face it, the days of the seven footer dominating this league are over, probably forever. Case in point, Dakari Johnson, the Thunder’s D-League All-Star. Twenty years ago a 7-foot player with Dakari’s skills would already be a rich man and a force in the NBA. In the new millennium however, the Kentucky big man is left hoping for a good summer and an open roster spot for minimum dollars next season.

Blame it on the modern day sharp-shooter. If the big man takes his traditional position near the rim, the sharp-shooter merely stands beyond the arc and rains 3-pointers on his head. If he comes out to contest, the quicker player just dribbles past him and dunks it. Granted, that’s an over-simplification, but that’s basically why the traditional big man is a breed hovering on the edge of extinction.

It’s also one of the many reasons one of the best scoring bigs in the league, Enes Kanter, is expendable. He’s slow, he can’t play defense and while he is scoring two points, the opponent is scoring 3. Not to mention, he is also eating up nearly $18 M of the salary cap each year in the process.

In the meantime, in a league averaging 35.8% made 3-point attempts, the Thunder are averaging 32.6%. Dead last. It’s no accident that the two best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA, Cleveland’s 39.1 % and Golden State’s 38.4%, are also the last two teams standing. Cleveland’s 39.7 and Golden State’s 36.0 points/gm from 3PA are #2 and #4 respectively, while the Thunder came in 26th with 25.3 pts/gm.

The Bright Spots on the Horizon

Fortunately for Thunder Nation, GM Sam Presti has worked diligently to rectify these deficits. Enter Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott. In their first season in Thunder blue the two combined for 115 makes on 305 attempts, or 37.7% from distance. This bodes well for the future when one considers that Abrines was a rookie and McDermott was a late roster addition after the trade deadline.

Abrines mentioned in his end-of-season interview it took him about a month to get comfortable with his new team, and the numbers bear that out. After a slow 25% start in November, Abrines lit the nets up at a 42.8% clip the rest of the season. As for McDermott, he took a little more time to transition from the Chicago Bulls to the Thunder and admitted in a recent NewOK interview he didn’t get comfortable until the post season. Thunder fans should hope he remains that comfortable as Dougie McBucketts nailed 53.8% of his 3-point attempts against the Rockets.

Here are the Thunder’s snipers end-of-season interviews and their plans for improving this summer:

It’s interesting to note that McDermott played college ball for his Dad, Greg McDermott, at Creighton University. During his end-of-season discussion, Doug mentioned developing more of a post game and in the NewsOK interview, his father pointed out his best spot was playing the 4. A nice twist considering the direction the league is moving.

Both Abrines and McDermott indicated they wanted to build on their offensive game this off-season, but it will be improvement on defense that will get them more playing time in 2017/18. Abrines showed an encouraging tendency to trust his length late in the season and wants to expound on that while McDermott will have to get better at defending dribble penetration.

Hopefully, Presti has something up his sleeve to add to his growing stable of sharp-shooters. In the meantime, count on these two to open training camp prepared for bigger roles while thrilling OKC fans with a few shooting exhibitions that would make “The Pistol” proud.