(Photo: Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
In his heyday as an NBA guard, Byron Scott was one of the best outside shooters in the league. In his 14 years in the NBA Scott shot a career 37 percent from the 3 point line which includes the 1984-85 season where he led the league in accuracy from deep, shooting 43.3 percent. The caveat here is that while Scott was accurate from distance, he was very selective with the long range shot. The aforementioned season when he led the league in 3 point shooting percentage he only averaged 0.7 three-point attempts per game. In fact, Scott never averaged more than 3 three-point shot attempts in any season of his career. Today, even guards known for their lack of outside shooting touch will put up well more three-point shots per game than Scott who was actually a good outside shooter.
Since Scott came into the league in 1983 there has been a steady rise in the utilization of the three-point shot league wide.
In Scott’s rookie year the league average for three-point attempts by NBA teams was 2.4 per game which is less than what Jamal Crawford averaged per half last season by himself. This past NBA season the number of three point attempts by teams increased by nearly 800 percent to 21.5 per game.
The times have changed considerably since Scott’s days in terms of how teams utilize the three-point shot. It took some time but the realization was made that those three-point shots are actually one of the most efficient and smartest shots available in the game. Outside of a shot right at the basket, the rate at which a player knocks down a two-point shot is nearly that as when a three-point shot is taken except you get the added value of that additional point.
In this following graphic we illustrate the best and worst shooting teams from last season from varying distances on the floor and note the nominal difference in efficiency rate from 3 and areas below the three-point line.
Using the formula for calculating efficient field goal percentage which adjusts for the added point of a three-point basket by adding 0.5 for each three-point field goal made you will actually see that the three-point shot is significantly more efficient than almost any other spot on the floor, even rivaling the chippies which are right at the basket.
*stats via nba.com/stats
Considering all of the information it is no surprise that the consensus of basketball minds have concluded that the three-point shot is immensely valuable, extremely efficient, should account for a large share of an offense and shots below the three-point line, outside of those right at the basket, are less efficient and should be limited.
Coach Byron Scott is and has been one of the dissenting opinions in the value and need for utilization of the three-point shot. Prior to the start of the preseason Scott stated that he will be looking for the team to keep their three-point shot attempts down this season.
Byron Scott wants Lakers to average 10 to 15 three-point shots a game – also, doesn't mind his team fouling on D http://t.co/4SszxUaBTn
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) October 8, 2014
True to his word, the Lakers team have done exactly as Scott requested; in 3 preseason games the Lakers are averaging 8 three-point field goal attempts per game including Sunday’s match-up against the Warriors where the Lakers shot just 3 three-point attempts despite trailing for the entire game and at one point by as many as 41 points. For perspective, last season the Memphis Grizzlies were last as a team in three-point shot attempts per game with 14 per game.
Many have thrown the thought around that Scott is trying to move the Lakers in the exact opposite direction than where previous coach MIke D’Antoni was taking them; understandable considering where D’Antoni ended up was with a 67-87 record in his two years and having coached the team to the worst record in the Lakers’ 53 years in Los Angeles.
While anybody would want to run as fast as possible from any strategic principle that D’Antoni employed last season considering the results, in this case however, Scott has never been a fan of the three-point shot with any of his teams during his coaching stints.
Looking at each full season of the teams that Scott coached in his career you can see that his teams always ranked from the middle or towards the bottom of the league in three-point shot attempts.
*stats via basketball-reference.com
In looking at Scott coached teams there appears to be a correlation between the number of three-point shots attempted per game and overall effectiveness of the team’s offense in that season. As we can see, the only season where a Scott coached team ranked high in offensive rating was in the lone season where his team ranked high in three-point shots attempted per game (2007-08 season with the Hornets.)
Scott’s coaching history doesn’t just show that his teams de-emphasizes taking the three-point shot, but defending it as well.
While we see that in the last two full seasons as the Hornets head coach (2006-2008,) Scott’s teams defended the three-point shot well by ranking 6th and 8th in opponents three-point field goal percentage respectively; however, his team still allowed more attempts and makes than the majority of other teams in the league which as the numbers have shown is detrimental to team defense due to the adjusted value of the extra point a three-point makes produce.
Another correlation is discovered between number of three-point shots made and offensive efficiency, this time by looking at the opponents offensive effectiveness against Scott coached teams. As shown above, the two lowest three-point field goals allowed per game were in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 season; it is in these two seasons that a Scott coached a team ranked the highest in defensive efficiency, leading the entire league both years. The third lowest three-point field goals allowed was in 2007-08 where Scott’s Hornets ranked 7th in defensive efficiency, his 3rd best as coach.
As we have seen by reviewing Scott’s history as coach and the statements he has made early on in this NBA season is that the three-point shot, whether it’s taking them on offense or denying it on defense, will not be the focus. It can very well be a successful strategy except that it is not the way the league is trending nor supported by any analytic study that has comprehensively covered the topic.
Scott has stressed taking shots at the rim on offense and denying penetration into the lane on defense which can potentially allow more shots from deep as a consequence. In theory taking shots at the rim are great as they’re the most efficient shot available outside of a free throw. Denying dribble penetration and keeping players out of the paint is also an important defensive tactic since again, shots at the rim are converted at a very high rate. But, it is fair to question how a team is going to be able to get good shots at the rim if there isn’t an outside threat to keep teams from packing the painted area and creating that spacing.
Will 10 to 15 three-point shots a game be enough to open up the painted areas and create driving lanes in order to get those desired shots at the rim resulting in an efficient offense?
Will placing focus on denying players into the middle of the court and painted area over running players off the three-point line lead to a solid defensive team that is significantly better than what we saw last year from the Lakers’ squad?
We will soon see but Scott’s own coaching history shows it’s doubtful.
When you go against the grain, and taking 10-15 three point shots a game and having an indifference to the launching of three-point shots on defense in today’s NBA is definitely going hard against that grain, there are only two outcomes: You either look like a genius if you succeed or foolish if you fail. Lakers are desperately hoping for the former after a few stints of the latter.