Go back to around three or four years ago and mention the three-point shot — on most people’s minds, the first team that would probably pop up in their minds is the Golden State Warriors. Probe for further reasons, and you would get multiple answers of “Well, they have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.”
In recent years, the Warriors have been at the forefront of the three-point revolution, helped by their revamped offense — a holy (or unholy, if you’re the opposing team) union of the San Antonio Spurs’ motion offense, the Chicago Bulls/Los Angeles Lakers’ triangle offense, and the Phoenix Suns’ 7-seconds-or-less/pace-and-space offense. Coupled with Draymond Green’s emergence as an elite playmaker, Curry and Thompson — already star players before the arrival of Steve Kerr — were given significant boosts to their power levels once Kerr was brought in to replace Mark Jackson.
While the Warriors paved a destructive path through the league, the rest of the teams watched and soon found out that Charles Barkley’s infamous statement — that jump-shooting teams will never win a championship — was rapidly becoming a farcical assessment.
Go back a few years ago — and perhaps as far back as twenty years ago — when the NBA was a league dominated by the big man. The value of these centers/power forwards was predicated on offenses being heavy on post-ups; they act as offensive fulcrums, through which the rest of the team revolves around and heavily relies on. The greatness of legends such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan is a testament to this.
But as the Warriors led the revolution of change toward a style of play that strays further away from the post and the rim, the rest of the league started to place a much greater premium on guards and wings that could shoot the three reliably and consistently.
The role of the modern NBA big man also started to change. While there is still a place for the traditional low post banger, the demands of the NBA’s changed identity as a three-point shooting league require that centers and power forwards possess the ability to stretch the floor and shoot a consistent jumper.
As a result of this shift in the way that offenses are run in today’s NBA, the Warriors have found themselves transformed from revolutionaries to being merely in the middle of the pack. In a category that they once practically monopolized, the Warriors rank 18th in the league in three-point attempts (30.1, per NBA.com). The silver lining of that statistic is the fact that they remain the top dogs in three-point field goal percentage, with 39.2 percent.
There most certainly is a debate in the Warriors community as to whether the Warriors are doing enough to catch up to the rest of the league in terms of three-point shooting.
“I don’t care,” Kerr answered when asked about the Warriors being ranked 18th in three-point attempts. “What I care about is great shots. I want to get really good open shots. Doesn’t matter if they’re from three or two ... I’d rather go 6-for-12 from 2 and have the team take the ball out of the net six times than go 4-for-12 from three and have to deal with eight fastbreaks.”
While there is a certain logic and sense to what Kerr stated — that open, good quality shots are what matter — the Warriors have often found themselves at the wrong end of a shootout contest, where they are out-shot from three-point range simply because they attempted fewer of those shots.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, it seemed as if the rest of the team paid particular attention to their coach’s comments, and in order to prove a point, started jacking up a plethora of three-point shots. At the end of the night, the Warriors had 46 three-point attempts, and knocked down 18 of them — flipping the switch against the team that ranked second in three-point attempts (40.5 per game).
The fact that the Warriors’ first three of the night came from their best three-point shooter is apropos — and it served as a tone-setter for the rest of the team, as it eventually opened the floodgates for the rush of three-point shooting.
Usually hesitant to unleash the Durant/Curry pick-and-roll at an early point of a game, the Warriors whip it out during this possession, where two Bucks defenders make the mistake of double teaming Durant and leaving Curry wide open on the perimeter. A quick pass to Curry makes the Bucks pay for their transgression.
Klay Thompson had an excellent night from three-point range, a much needed development seeing as how he was in the middle of an uncharacteristic shooting slump from beyond the arc. Going 4-of-9, Thompson’s threes came from a variety of actions and sequences:
1. A simple dribble hand-off gets Thompson ample space to pull up for the three.
2. The Warriors run “elevator,” where Thompson starts from the baseline and runs toward the three-point line, while two screeners close the door, preventing Thompson’s defender from going through to contest the shot.
3. Kevon Looney gets the offensive rebound and hands the ball off to Thompson, who goes up right away for the quick three-pointer.
4. Off of a defensive stop, Thompson gets the ball and fakes out his defender. A simple sidestep gets him the open three-point look.
While Curry and Thompson where able to make their three-point shots — qualities that are to be expected from them on a nightly basis — it was the supporting cast that provided a much-needed injection of shots from beyond the arc. Jonas Jerebko continued to prove his worth as one of the Warriors’ most valued acquisitions in the offseason. Often touted to be the fulfillment of what Omri Casspi was expected to provide last season, Jerebko — unlike Casspi — places a lot of faith in his ability to shoot the three. In the same vein, the team places a lot of faith in Jerebko to shoot the shots that need to be taken, and he has repaid that faith in spades.
When Curry attracts the inevitable double team, or when he drives inside and uses his gravity to shrink the defense, players like Jerebko are counted upon to play the role that they are expected to fulfill. He doesn’t disappoint.
Meanwhile, another great pick-up for the Warriors contributed to their rejuvenated three-point shooting. The recently-returned Alfonzo McKinnie has shown a penchant for shooting the three with no qualms and with no feelings of intimidation — qualities that the Warriors need from their supporting cast.
Just like Jerebko, McKinnie understands that the Warriors’ main offensive weapons will attract a lot of attention from the defense — and his role as someone who provides spurts of offensive support and relief is a much-appreciated one.
And finally, Andre Iguodala’s three-point shooting decided to show up in a marquee game. While he isn’t a particularly prolific shooter from beyond the arc, Iguodala has a knack for burying these timely threes — timely in the sense that it helped the Warriors break away from the Bucks, who at times were well within reach of the Warriors’ precarious hold on the lead.
At the end of the night, the question of three-point shooting came up again for Kerr. As always, Kerr answered in an endearingly cheeky manner.
Steve Kerr: “Like I said pregame, I just want to shoot more 3s than the opposition.” *smirks* pic.twitter.com/uKm5RBEdaa— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 8, 2018
Whether the pregame question pertaining to the Warriors’ lack of three-point attempts serving as fuel and motivation for tonight’s increased attempts is true or not, there is no question that the Warriors will benefit greatly from this development. Coupled with energy and focus on the defensive end — holding the Bucks to 39.1 percent shooting overall and 17.9 from three-point range — the Warriors are returning to their identity of being the dominating force that the rest of the league once feared.
But the three-point shooting and excellent defensive performance aren’t even the most remarkable things to be taken away from this game.
It’s the fact that they did all of this without their best playmaker and distributor, their best pace-pusher, and the maestro and orchestrator of their defense.
That man is coming back on Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. And if the Warriors show the same kind of effort that they did against the Bucks, then Monday is proving to be the return of not one, but two entities.
The return of Draymond Green, and the return of the supervillains.
Twenty-seven down, 55 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.