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The Chicken, the Egg, and the 3-Pointer

By Jeff Koch on November 18, 2012.

The Spurs’ offense just hasn’t looked right in this young season. Part of this is being compared to last year’s historically great and efficient offense. But even in a vacuum, things just haven’t looked or felt quite right. There are many things to look at, but one glaring issue has been the 3-point shooting. The team appears to be taking and making less.

The 3-point shot is vital to the Spurs offense. It opens up the floor, spreads out the defense, and creates driving and passing lanes that are easily exploited. It forces defenses into a tough choice: clog the lanes to prevent Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili from abusing them at the rim, but leaving our shooters open on the perimeter? Or stay at home on the shooters and let our creators have their way in the interior? Either way, the Spurs are getting what they want. But this can only happen with the 3-pointer.

In the early part of this season, our offense seems particularly out of sync with the 3-pointer. We are passing up wide open shots to make passes that gain no advantage (and, in essence, reset the offense). We are hesitating on open shots, allowing defenders to close, and then being forced to put the ball on the floor, mostly to no advantage. We are failing to make the extra pass that leads to the wide open 3; we are passing up the wide open 3 to make the extra pass. It’s great to have an unselfish team, but there needs to be a balance between aggressiveness and selflessness. In short, our decision making surrounding the 3 is suffering. (Part of me wonders if this is some secret long-term plot from Pop to prepare the team for the playoffs, when defenses tighten up and wide open shots becomes less wide open, forcing players to make different choices than they are used to making [I’m looking at you, Matt Bonner]. But even that seems a bit too devious and clever for Pop.)

And either coincidentally or not, the rest of our offense is also suffering. Now here’s where the issue gets interesting: is the decline in the 3-pointer a cause or a symptom of the decline in the offense? Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Spoiler alert: I don’t know. But I do know that our offense flows a lot smoother and is a lot more dangerous when the 3-pointer is a vital weapon. Like against Denver last night. Shot a lot of 3s and made a lot of 3s, and our offense looked better than it has all season. Again, which came first?

Maybe it’s mostly a symbiotic relationship. Great spacing and decision-making creates open 3s, which then opens up the lanes, which allows spacing, which creates passing and driving lanes, which forces defenses to make choices, which leads to wide open 3s, which leads to even more space, and on and on and on and on.

I don’t know if the 3-pointer is the chicken or the egg, but I do know that our offense is much better when the shot is being taken and made.

Other notes from last night’s win against Denver:

–Manu seems to be slowly getting his groove back. Mostly, his outside shot was on fire. This can be a symptom of good health, though, as it speaks to a looser back. It also speaks to sound decision-making, which has been an issue for Manu all season. (And again, the relationship between the 3-pointer and efficiency.)

–I hope Leonard’s injury is nothing that a little rest can’t fix. He hasn’t seemed completely right since the first week of the season, so better to sit him now than make things worse. And there really is no better back-up at SF to have than Jackson. Leonard is vital to what the team does on defense, though, and we need him for any sort of run in the playoffs.

–Outside of Duncan, Danny Green has been the most consistent player on the team this season. He really understands the system and the game, and always seems to be in the right place. He has a knack for moving without the ball and in space, and is often the recipient of passes at a totally unprotected rim. He is a pleasure to watch play.

–It is very likely that November and the first part of December is the toughest part of the team’s schedule. Our schedule consists of tons of road games and tons of games against playoff teams from last year. So to be 8-2 is quite an achievement. And if we can sustain a great record through the early season slog, we have a strong chance to be at the top of the Western Conference yet again.

Up next: a tough Clippers team that ran us out of their gym a few weeks ago. Here’s hoping for a little revenge.

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