Deluge of threes in long-range forecast for NBA big men

Deluge of threes in long-range forecast for NBA big men
MILWAUKEE—It is a relatively new NBA phenomenon, this ability of big men to step out and take deep, deep three-point shots, and it’s not only changing the way the game is played. It’s changing the way it’s being coached as well.

It will be a huge part of the Eastern Conference final that began here Wednesday night, with Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez and Toronto’s Marc Gasol — who, in another era of the game or point in their careers, might have plopped themselves in the low post, put their backs to the basket and gone to work.

Now, the seven-footers are just as likely to be 24, 25, 27 feet from the basket, hoisting up long shots and forcing the other teams to adapt to their skills.

“You’ve got to get away from the norm, maybe,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before his team went through its pre-game shootaround at the Fiserv Forum. “It isn’t always big-big, size-for-size, or whatever.

“I just think it’s really interesting for basketball in general that the teams are shooting. Not only has the three-point shooting come so quickly in the last few years, (but) now it’s all of a sudden five feet, six feet behind the line. It keeps expanding.”


The ability and willingness to shoot from distances previously thought to be foolish has certainly changed — mostly through guards — the last few years. Guys such as Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook have basically unlimited range and can get up shots from the midcourt logo that coaches and teammates are fine with. Nurse has been urging his two points, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, to extend their range all season to keep up with the leaguewide trend.

But it’s the big men with unlimited range that’s new.

“We don’t have conversations like, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think we tend to teach and coach and encourage and give guys some freedom. If they continue to make them and have success, then keep doing it.”

Tactically, having traditional centres in non-traditional shooting spots on the floor opens up myriad possibilities for offences and myriad problems for defences, all to do with the space it creates.

“You’re always talking about spacing with both offence and defence,” Nurse said. “Offence, you’re trying to create space. Defence, you’re trying to take away space. When they’re stretching you out or they have the abilities to stretch out, it just makes it that much further to recover. If you’re providing help, it’s another stride to recover to.”

For the Bucks, having Lopez out beyond the three-point line — especially if he’s being followed by whichever centre is guarding him — creates driving lanes for the uniquely talented Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“It definitely makes it a lot further of a run for us, but we’ve still got to be disciplined and know what the game plan is and follow the game plan,” Lowry said. “They’re going to make some shots, they’re going to make some deep threes. Brook shoots the ball with the best of them now. You just got to be conscious and stay level-headed — never get too up, never get too down. Just kind of go with and make the adjustments as the game goes on.”


The Bucks have remade themselves into a wonderful three-point shooting team and Lopez has been the biggest beneficiary, a prime example of a big man with expanding range.

He took 512 three-pointers in the regular season, almost 200 more than he’d tried any year before, and shot a career-best 36.5 per cent from distance. He has become the poster child for big men with big shooting range, and Budenholzer didn’t have a hard time convincing him to let it fly whenever he felt like it.

“If you tell guys to shoot it, they’re usually pretty happy; it hasn’t been that hard a sell,” the coach said. “We always do want to balance it with attacking the basket, getting to the paint, collapsing the defence.

“We don’t want to be just a three-point shooting team. Hopefully we’ve got lots of different layers and ways that we’re scoring, but certainly when we’re open players tend to like that, so it wasn’t that much of a sell job.”
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