The offensive concept of pace-and-space was nearly an unbeatable combination for the Miami Heat, the plan of surrounding LeBron James with multiple shooters good enough to net two straight NBA titles.
Plenty of teams are having success with the approach.
None more than the San Antonio Spurs, who ended Miami’s championship reign with their pace-and-space attack.
Shooters might be valued more now by NBA teams than ever, particularly those who can connect from beyond the 3-point line. More than 86 percent of those who played in the league tried at least one 3-pointer last season, and the most attempts in the history of the league were taken from that distance — continuing a trend and smashing the previous mark that was set just one year earlier.
And no one seems to believe the fascination with movement, passing and plenty of 3’s will end anytime soon.
“The teams that are playing with the pass and shooting seem to be doing really well,” said Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, one of the league’s best shooters. “I think the Spurs are the model that a lot of teams are understanding that not everyone gets to have LeBron James on their team. Not everyone gets to have one of the few super-dominant, all-pro, superstars in this league and so playing with the pass and playing with space and playing quick is a really good backup.”
The Spurs led the league in 3-point accuracy last year, making more shots from deep than ever before.
In the playoffs, their percentages got even better, and in the NBA Finals against the Heat they shot a wildly good 47 percent from 3-land.
“I hate it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
No, he wasn’t kidding when he said that in June. Popovich detests the 3-pointer, but in this NBA, it’s a prerequisite.
“It’s changed the game,” Popovich said. “It makes it tougher to cover that much room defensively on the court, so you do have to pay attention to it defensively. It’s a heck of a weapon. … To me it’s not basketball but you’ve got to use it. If you don’t, you’re in big trouble.”
To wit: Of the 14 teams that made 600 attempts or less from 3-point range last season, 10 didn’t make the playoffs. The other four combined to go 14-21 in the postseason.
“All the analytics guys have looked at it and they see the value of the 3-point shot, especially the corner 3-point shot,” Heat forward Danny Granger said. “Teams are obviously game-planning to get those shots and to get shooters to space the court.”
It’s not accurate to say everybody in the NBA is shooting 3-pointers.
It just seems that way.
Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Paul George were all among the 10 most prolific 3-takers last season — and they’re all listed at 6-foot-9 or taller. James made eight straight 3’s in a game against Charlotte, on his way to a 61-point night. Spencer Hawes and Chris Bosh combined to take more than 500 shots from past the arc — and they’re both 7-footers, give or take an inch.
Hawes actually shot a smidge better from long range last season than San Antonio’s Danny Green — who just happens to have record for most 3’s in an NBA Finals.
Now the Cavaliers are surrounding James with shooters in Cleveland, including Love.
“It’s more of a skilled league,” Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Just the way fouls are called, the way the offense and the freedom of movement is, if you’re a skilled basketball player there’s a place for you. And skill is shooting the basketball. I think we’re seeing that across the board in our league now.”
When Vaughn played, the game was more physical, defenders allowed to do more things within legal limits. Vaughn said the first time he ever had a pick set against him was by longtime league strongman Charles Oakley, and he laughed at saying that he’s “still recovering” from that hit.
Suffice to say, there aren’t many Oakleys in today’s game.
Finesse is in, force is out.
“The game has definitely changed,” Vaughn said.
Preseason numbers show more of the same. The Heat took nearly 50 shots from 3-point range in a team scrimmage earlier this month. Corner 3’s seen to tax teams defensive rotations more than anything else, and offenses aren’t going to take away that weapon anytime soon.
In short, 3’s are wild in this NBA.
“The game that we play today is a different game that was played 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago,” Korver said. “Rules are different, philosophies are different, and shooting is a big part of the game. I think for a while people thought that shooting was a lost art in the NBA and I feel like it’s made a huge comeback recently and the trend is that it’s probably going to keep going.”