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Threes and Layups

February 06, 2019 AT 12:00 AM

A revolutionary analytics-driven offense

Two leading title contenders in the NBA have adopted the same modus operandi on offense, based around three-point shots and shots at the rim. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are masters of what has been dubbed ‘Moreyball’, named after Daryl Morey, the analytics-minded general manager of the Rockets.

This system is a substantial departure from the days of old, where masters of the mid-range such as Michael Jordan and his spiritual successor Kobe Bryant dominated from 15-feet out. Their games were built on post-ups, triple-threats and sublime footwork, which allowed a multitude of individual offensive options.
For teams like the Warriors and Rockets however, the options are team-based in nature. By spreading the offense and giving players the green light to fire away from deep, these teams force their opponents to guard all five positions. This system works on a simple statistical premise: by taking only three-point shots and shots at the rim, the team is able to maximize shooting percentages to derive a higher point-per-possession output.

Although the three-point shot is a lower-percentage shot in absolute terms, it provides more relative value as a decidedly average 33.3% three-point shooter will score as many points as a 50% two-point shooter, who would be considered elite by NBA standards. Teams focus more on the corner three as well, since it is a shorter distance from the hoop and also stretches the defense out further.

The three-point shot has another advantage in its complementary fit with the layup or dunk. Multiple shooters force the defense to commit to the perimeter, especially with the accompanying decrease in post-ups, leaving the lane open for shots at the rim. With superstars such as Stephen Curry and James Harden who can easily beat their men off the dribble, this creates a no-win for the defense. As a caveat, these offenses should still allow players to play to their strengths, for instance with Carmelo Anthony and his talents in the mid-range game.

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