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Klay Thompson, Patrick Baldwin Jr., and the great three-point-volume debate

Is the problem really too much threes? Or is it the nature and situational context of such shots?

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt of all time. When all is said and done, they may be one and two in terms of the greatest-shooters-of-all-time discussion.

But if there’s one more thing you can credit them for (or blame, if you look at it from a glass-half-empty perspective), it’s that they’ve completely revolutionized the modern game — or ruined it, if you don’t like how the modern game has turned out to be.

What was once a novelty shot has turned into the bread-and-butter of most NBA teams. A team that can’t shoot probably won’t go far in the league, let alone win a championship. You have the Splash Brothers to thank for that being the rule rather than the exception.

It’s a tired thing to say that Curry and Thompson have ruined the game. But something you’ve probably never thought about is the possibility that both of them may have actually “ruined” their own team.

In what way, you ask? One look at the three-point shooting metrics the Golden State Warriors have posted this season reveals the answer.

The Warriors attempt the most threes per game this season: 43.1. They have a three-point attempt rate of 44.9%, the highest in the league. They are combining that with a 39.1% success rate from beyond the arc, third best in the league.

To be fair to them, they have been backing up their exponentially high volume of three-point shots with accuracy. But it also makes them vulnerable to bouts of unfavorable variance.

I’m not necessarily against the team taking as much threes as possible, considering how many viable shooters the team has. Consider that six players are shooting above league average (36%) on threes this season (minimum 36 games played):

  1. Curry (42.7% on 11.4 attempts)
  2. Ty Jerome (41.6% on 2.0 attempts)
  3. Donte DiVincenzo (41.5% on 5.1 attempts)
  4. Thompson (40.8% on 10.7 attempts)
  5. Andrew Wiggins (39.6% on 6.1 attempts)
  6. Anthony Lamb (38.96% on 3.4 attempts)

With that kind of shooting arsenal on the team, they should be taking threes at a high volume. But the Warriors’ problems on offense don’t stem from their shot choice; rather, it’s a matter of context and situation.

Not everyone can be like Thompson and take shots like this, for example:

Or pull up against tight defense:

Or pull up off the dribble against a favorable switch:

There are only a couple of human beings on Planet Earth capable — and therefore, warranted — of taking these shots. Thompson’s one of them, and Curry is perhaps the one with the greenest of green lights. That means no one else on the team should be taking these kinds of threes.

I’m a proponent of good offensive process. Good shots for Curry and Thompson might as well be bad shots for everyone else. But look no further than the Splash Brothers as examples of how one can take the most efficient threes and help the entire offensive machinery to hum and run efficiently.

The key skill to have as a shooter in this Warriors offense: Make yourself available at all times.

Making yourself available for a catch-and-shoot three is crucial especially when such looks are created off of paint touches. DiVincenzo gets into the paint, collapses the Houston Rockets’ defense, and kicks out to Thompson in the corner for a three he makes in his sleep. It’s a simple form of offense but a highly efficient one.

In the same vein, DiVincenzo drills a three off of a created advantage:

Jonathan Kuminga and Kevon Looney set the HORNS ballscreens (simply put, screens set by two frontcourt players off of the “HORNS” formation) for Jordan Poole, who chooses to use Kuminga’s screen and engages Alperen Şengün playing in drop coverage. The paint touch forces help from the weak-side low man, allowing Poole to whip the skip pass to DiVincenzo in the corner for the three.

Another example: Patrick Baldwin Jr., who doesn’t qualify for the 36-game threshold (which is around 60% of total games played) to be included in the list above but is technically shooting well above league average. At 47.5% on 3.3 attempts, Baldwin is projecting to be an elite sharpshooter in the league, the kind of skill set — coupled with being 6’10” — that should give him life and longevity in this league.

Baldwin’s awareness and knowledge of where to be belies his status as a rookie:

After setting the ballscreen for Poole, Baldwin relocates toward the weak-side wing. He does this with purpose, which subsequently reveals itself: with Poole driving middle against the switch, Baldwin’s defender cheats off to help at the “nail” (area approximating the middle of the free-throw line).

From then on, it’s a simple kickout to Baldwin for the three. Due to the switch, the defender is way too small and too far away to affect Baldwin’s shot.

Threes off of actions where the ball pops and personnel are moving around in an effort to bamboozle the defense are also much better if your name’s not Curry or Thompson. Again, look no further than Thompson to set this example:

With the Warriors running “Knicks” action (in other words, a step-up ballscreen), they substitute the step-up screen with “Elbow” action (simply put, an entry pass to the high post/elbow followed by weak-side action). The weak-side action consists of a flare screen for Thompson that gets him open for a three.

It’s clear that Baldwin is watching what his veterans are doing to make themselves available and incorporating what he’s learning into his own burgeoning game:

This is a staple set called “Angle Pop.” The “Angle” component consists of the initial ballscreen, followed by the screener “popping” out to receive the ball to initiate 5-out “Delay” action.

A 45-cut followed by a pitch to Baldwin on the corner lift gives him another look, made possible by a vertically challenged defender who can do nothing against the high release point.

Baldwin finished with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, including a 3-of-5 clip on threes. He’s certainly making a case for entering Steve Kerr’s rotation, especially during this stretch of roster uncertainty, personnel shortages, and a stretch run that is giving the Warriors no room for error.

Thompson himself had one heck of a night: 42 points on 12-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc, and a 97 TS%. It’s only the 24th time in NBA history where a player has scored at least 40 points on 97% or better TS%.

As usual, Thompson did it through a diet of shots only he and Curry are allowed to take, and on shots that came from the natural flow of the Warriors’ offense. As Baldwin displayed throughout the game, the Warriors would benefit if the threes they took consisted mostly of the latter rather than the former.

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