The Brooklyn Nets are still carving out their offensive identity on the heels of a front office regime change, a coaching hire and massive roster turnover. But one thing seems clear as they head into the 2016-17 season: that identity will include plenty of long-range shooting.
Almost nobody relied less on the three-point shot last season than the Nets. Just 21.8% of Brooklyn’s total field goal attempts came from behind the stripe, a lower three-point rate (3PAr) than everybody but Minnesota (20.2%) and Milwaukee (18.9%), per Basketball-Reference.
But it’s a new day in the borough, and head coach Kenny Atkinson has sent a pretty clear message to his players: let ’em fly.
In six preseason games, 41.2% of the Nets’ attempts were long balls. Only Houston — the world capital of Moreyball and the new home of pace-and-space pioneer Mike D’Antoni — had a higher 3PAr at 41.5%.
The Nets’ preseason 3PAr would have led the league last season, when more than half the league (19 of 30 teams) still took less than 30% of their shots from long range. Then, the Nets went on to take 45.4% of their shots from three in their season opener. It doesn’t appear to be an accident, as Atkinson and his players have acknowledged.
“That’s what we do,” said team captain Brook Lopez, who has also been focused on taking his range out to the perimeter. “It’s in our system and we have confidence in each and every one of us to shoot the three. We know we’re capable of it, and it opens up a lot of things up for us in our offense.”
Lopez alone shot 12 three-pointers in five exhibition games — which is saying something since he had taken just 31 in nearly 500 career regular season games before that. A career 9.7% shooter from deep coming into this season, Lopez is hoping that more regular looks can help him establish some comfort out there. And so far, so good: the star center knocked down 33% of his preseason attempts and hit one of two against Boston on Wednesday.
Adding that component to his game would help Atkinson’s motion tremendously. It was also potentially quiet the questions about Lopez’s fit on a team with new management and basketball ideas. It shouldn’t be a stretch for the big man, who has always been fairly reliable on mid-range and long twos (41% career). For now, though, he sounds a lot more concerned about getting the offense humming along.
“We just have to continue to play unselfishly, move the ball around the perimeter. We can’t really let it stick. That’s not where our talent lies.”
A more democratic approach to possession allocation is probably the right call for the starless Nets, especially from three. They spend the summer acquiring enough shooting that it shouldn’t all be on one or two long-range bombers. Wing signees Randy Foye and Joe Harris are good catch-and-shoot guys. Even big men like Trevor Booker, Luis Scola and particularly Justin Hamilton have either proved that skill set or have shown they have the tools to develop it.
Scola really reinvented himself overnight as a stretch big to fit into Toronto’s offense. He had never taken more than 3.1% of his shots from deep in any single season, then suddenly jumped to 26.9%. He also converted 40.4% of them. Booker was working on the same process in Utah, but not coming on quite as instantly. He increased his 3PAr to 14.7% in two seasons with the Jazz, and made 33% of them. He did have nice individual performances, like a 36-point outburst in a 2015 game at Portland that included a perfect 4-for-4 from downtown.
For Hamilton, the question is whether or not he can use a steady role to translate his strong performance overseas. His 40.6% shooting with Valencia last season indicates that he might be a better NBA shooter than his spot minutes have ever allowed him to show.
Both rotation point guards are capable of knocking down long-range jumpers. Jeremy Lin is a career 34.6% shooter, and Greivis Vasquez might be an underrated catch-and-shoot PG. The Venezuelan shot 38% over a two-year span with Sacramento and Toronto.
Foye and Harris both had off years last season, but are both pure shooters. And the Nets will soon add to their wing rotation with Caris LeVert, who shot 44.6% from the college three last season while using the three-point line for four of every 10 shots.
So as players get more comfortable, the number of three pointers might actually go up from it’s already sharply increased rate. And that’s fine with Atkinson, as long as they’re the right type of shots.
“We’re committed to it, we believe in it, but… we do want open shots,” Atkinson told BrooklynNets.com during the preseason. “It’s not an all-out extreme 3-point attack. I think it’s we’re trying to get open shots.”
It’s a sample size of one game, but on Wednesday, the Nets did OK in that regard. Of their 44 total three-point attempts, 34 were “open” or “wide open” per the NBA’s tracking cameras, meaning the shooter had at least four feet of space. They shot 38% on those shots, an effective field goal percentage of 57%. By contrast, they shot 2-for-10 on the threes that were closely guarded.
And to Lopez’s point about ball movement being the real key, 39% of Brooklyn’s catch-and-shoot threes went in, while they only converted 25% of all threes off the dribble. That should be instructive to the Nets in terms of what kinds of shots they should be looking to create.
Because one thing seems pretty clear after a preseason full of long-range bombing and another 44 attempts in their debut: one way or another, these Nets are determined to put up threes.