NBA Four Quarters (11/18/16)

By Sean Pyritz @srpyritz
Seven Feet Behind the Line

In 2011, there were 18 threes attempted per game. Thus far this season, teams are attempting nearly 26 three-pointers every game. The team with the fewest three-pointers this season, Washington, averages over 19 threes each night. There are currently three teams on pace to set the record for three-pointers attempted – Houston, Cleveland, and Brooklyn. Houston is on pace to shoot just shy of 3000 threes. To put that in perspective, when the three-point line was introduced in 1979, the entire league shot only 5003 three-pointers, combined. We are truly living in the age of the three-point shot.

What's the big deal, you might ask, don't three-pointers go up every year? The big deal is exactly that, big. There are currently six centers shooting over four three-pointers per contest – Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, Frank Kaminsky, Brook Lopez, Kristaps Porzingis, and Channing Frye. There have never been more than two centers to achieve that feat in any season since the three-pointer has existed, according to the conservative definition of center at If we remove Frye from the group as he is a long-time sharpshooter, the other names reveal a telling trend. Towns, Kaminsky, and Porzingis are all second-year players and represent a new era of centers - perimeter players trapped inside seven foot bodies. Incoming big men in this league are free to roam the entire court, no longer shackled to the block.

The other names, Gasol and Lopez represent an unexpected turn of events in the NBA three-point crescendo. Both have already made more three-point shots this season than in the rest of their respective careers prior. New head coaches David Fizdale and Kenny Atkinson have embraced the modern game, imparting the deep range green light on their seemingly non-shooting seven footers, with great results. Was there anything cooler than Marc Gasol hitting the game deciding three-point shot in Los Angeles on Wednesday night? While there will always be a home for the giants of the league in the paint, it is nice to see them get an opportunity to join the three-point madness. I for one support the egalitarian nature of the modern NBA game.

In another pleasant surprise for the league, the Chicago Bulls have stormed out the gates to an 8-4 start. The doubters swarmed this team in the preseason, questioning the feasibility of a Rondo, Wade, Butler backcourt in an era where, as we've established, the three-pointer is king. Those fears appear justified as the Bulls are one of the worst shooting teams in the league, however, they have the seventh most efficient offense. It is clear the doubters overlooked the biggest strength of this Bulls team – its formidable frontcourt. The Bulls are leading the league in offensive rebound percentage, grabbing over 30% percent of their own misses – up from just over 24% last season. The addition of Robin Lopez has proven critical to their success, providing the energy on the boards of a young Joakim Noah with an upgraded shooting touch.

I took a closer look at the Bulls recent matchup with the Wizards to better understand how they have been so dominant on the offensive glass. One of the most effective ways to hurt anyone on the offensive glass is to force a defender to abandon his man in help and have said man crash the boards hard. The Bulls did a great job of capitalizing on the help advantages created by their pick and roll actions. In the first clip in the video below, the Wizards are forced into a switch, leaving a smaller man on Robin Lopez or in other words an easy rebound. In the second play, the Washington defender Marcin Gortat is playing just enough help against the screen for Lopez to slip behind him for the rebound. On the last one, Washington is again scrambled by the pick and roll leaving an opening for Butler to grab a fortuitous bounce.

What really stuck out the most from this game though was the sheer force and relentlessness of the Bulls when chasing rebounds. On many occasions they simply outworked the Wizards in one on one situations as highlighted in the clips below. Heck, on one of the plays below, Lopez beats two Wizards to tip in a Butler miss.

This type of effort on the glass allows the Bulls to create extra possessions without sacrificing transition defense. The Bulls rarely sent more than the two big men to chase the rebound, often just having the closest big chase alone. It also helps that Butler, Wade, and Rondo are amongst the sneakiest and most physically gifted gamblers in the business with the experience to know when to crash if the opportunity presents itself.

Scheduling Issues

This early in the season, it is hard to get a feel for how the schedule has hurt or benefitted teams because we are still unsure how good many teams around the league actually are. Thankfully, we have our trusty schedule quirks that we examined in the offseason and we can see who has had it the easiest and the toughest through each team's first ten games.

Miami – the Heat have had the largest average rest day difference in the league, playing on 1.6 days of rest compared to just 1.0 days of rest for its opponents. Intuitively, the Heat have had the rest advantage in six of its first ten contests, also a league high. Continuing, opponents have faced off against Miami on the third game in four nights on five occasions and on a back to back on four occasions, also league highs. Add on top that six of the first ten games have been at home and it is hard to imagine a more favorable schedule structure to start a season, casting an even darker shadow on Miami's early struggles.

Utah- this was a close call between the Jazz and the Kings, but the Jazz take the cake because seven of their first ten came on the road compared to six for the Kings. Utah has the largest negative rest day difference in the league, also barely notching past Sacramento. Opponents have had the rest advantage on four occasions against the Jazz while only the disadvantage once – the same can be said for Sacramento's opponents. Finally, none of Utah's opponents played on a back to back, while Utah has played in two itself. Compounding the tough schedule structure with so many major injuries thus far, it is amazing the Jazz have managed to do as well as they've done.

Plays of the Division

I want to quickly show a couple of the plays I covered in the division previews as proof that they continue to be effective in the new season. Click the links to read my breakdowns of the plays.

Central Division – Cleveland

Back screens still deadly!

Northwest Division – Utah

Missed it, but that's as wide open as you can ask for.

Archive Special – Golden State's Dribble

You may remember this one from the Finals. You can check out what I wrote about it then here. Toronto certainly did not read it.