Treys Looming Large In NBA Play

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

TREYS LOOMING LARGE IN
CURRENT NBA PLAY

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

For several years here in the NOTEBOOK we've emphasized the fact that 'defense and rebounding wins championships.'

It's a hallmark of our coverage in both college and pro basketball. The REALITY of this goes all the way back to the Bill Russell days in the NBA...and probably back to when James Naismith's students were trying to keep cohorts from throwing a ball in a peach basket.

In recent seasons though, it's become clear that three-point shooting is starting to become a very important 'third wheel' to the formula. If you have two top quality teams facing each other...who BOTH succeed in defense and rebounding...then three-point production is the tie-breaker. For all practical purposes, winning an NBA championship now involves all three things. You can't be bad at any of them! If you're good at all of them, you have a shot to lift the trophy at the end of the year.

We've been devoting Friday's to NBA coverage this winter...because it's always a very busy pro hoops day and a very quiet college day. Today we planned on running down three-point production for you. As we prepared the data, it was clear that three-point shooting by itself wasn't enough to paint the true picture of its impact. Let's run through the top 10 trey teams and you'll see what we mean.

MADE TREYS (through Wednesday's games)
Orlando 500
Phoenix 465
New York 430
Cleveland 377
Milwaukee 369
Houston 368
Indiana 363
New Orleans 359
Toronto 332
LA Lakers 331

Three-point shooting has become important...but teams like New York, Houston, Indiana, and Toronto just aren't championship material. Three-point shooting BY ITSELF doesn't make you a contender. This is what derailed Phoenix during their peak years...and it's influencing 'Phoenix's children' New York (former Suns coach) and Toronto (former Suns management).

But, if you use the COMBINATION of three-point shooting and defense, you see how powerful the combination is. Here's how those top 10 trey teams rank in defensive efficiency through Wednesday Night (points allowed per possession)

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
LA Lakers 2nd
Cleveland 3rd
Orlando 4th
Milwaukee 8th
Houston 16th
Indiana 17th
New Orleans 19th
New York 21st
Phoenix 29th
Toronto 30th

The three teams most people are picking to make a run at the title jump to the top of the list. The Lakers are heavy favorites to win the West this year barring injuries. Orlando won the East last year, upsetting favored Cleveland to get there. Boston used to be part of a 'big four' in the NBA. We haven't talked about them yet because they're not top ten in treys (they do rank 1st in defensive efficiency by the way).

If we just ran three-point shooting by itself today, you'd have false reads on some of the groups who can make long range shots. They're not as good as trey volume makes it look. The combination of treys and defensive really pops the contenders to the top. That's why we want to put three-point shooting on your radar. It will help you differentiate the contenders once they're playing each other in big games down the stretch, and in the postseason.

Let's run through the rest of the trey standings:

MIDDLE 10 TEAMS
Portland 324
Denver 316
Atlanta 315
Sacramento 313
San Antonio 310
Dallas 310
Boston 301
Golden State 296
Miami 286
Washington 275

There are some playoff contenders in the mix here. In fact, popular 'darkhorse' picks like Dallas, San Antonio, Denver, and Atlanta all show up. Boston isn't thought of as a darkhorse given their talent base...though it's possible that would be the right category given how quickly they've aged.

The point we want to make here is this. Whenever this group of contenders faces the higher group of contenders, they may be giving away 3-6 points in a typical game. They'll have to make up that deficit in other categories. How are they going to do that when the defensive efficiencies of the Lakers, Magic, and Cavs are so high? You're going to out free-throw Kobe or LeBron? How can you outscore teams with great defenses if you're making fewer three's than they are?

This is why the Lakers are the power at West (the full scope of what they do gets short shrift from the media...you'd think it's Kobe and 11 stooges on the roster). This is why Orlando won the East last year...and why Orlando and Cleveland are more dangerous threats than Boston this year. Defense AND three-point shooting.

Let's do the same thing with this second group regarding defensive efficiency. We'll at least see who has the best shot to break through as a surprise.

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Boston 1st
San Antonio 10th
Dallas 11th
Miami 12th
Denver 13th
Atlanta 14th
Portland 18th
Washington 23rd
Sacramento 25th
Golden State 28th

Boston plays great defense. The group from San Antonio to Atlanta is in the upper half of the league, and shows as a subset why the combination of treys and defense are important. They get you into the playoff picture if you're good at both. The best teams in the categories are championship contenders. The next rung represents playoff teams. Portland's on the fringe of what it takes to be a playoff team. The rest are distant also-rans.

Are you ready to pick San Antonio or Dallas to dethrone the Lakers when they rank several spots lower on the defensive efficiency ladder AND they make fewer treys? How are you going to justify that? Sure, if Kobe suffers a serious injury, the race suddenly becomes wide open. The Lakers get worse in BOTH categories if he's out. If he's not out, it's very tough to win a best-of-seven series against them, particularly without home court advantage.

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Let's finish off the worst of the three-point teams.

BOTTOM THIRD
Charlotte 273
Philadelphia 270
Oklahoma City 247
LA Clippers 243
Utah 228
Minnesota 206
Memphis 194
Chicago 192
Detroit 186
New Jersey 184

Now here's a look at their defensive rankings:

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Charlotte 5th
Oklahoma City 6th
Chicago 7th
Utah 9th
LA Clippers 15th
Philadelphia 20th
Detroit 22nd
Memphis 24th
Minnesota 26th
New Jersey 27th

Defense will get a few of these teams into the postseason. How about Vinny Del Negro getting Chicago to finally play Spurs-style basketball! Those with superior defenses can win in the regular season against weaker opposition even without great trey production. We really love the hustle we're seeing many nights with teams like Charlotte and Oklahoma City. They're not ready to beat the elite in the postseason. Poor three-point production will dig a hole for them they can't climb out of.

There's a busy NBA schedule tonight. We hope you'll study the card with today's material fresh on your mind. We know many of you are hyped up about college hoops now. Please don't completely ignore the NBA. Too much money to be made!

Here are games we're paying particular attention to this evening:
Chicago at Atlanta on ESPN
Houston at Memphis
Denver at the LA Lakers on ESPN

We'll also be checking in with our New York sources for any insights in the New Jersey/Boston and Milwaukee/NY Knicks matchups.

Of interest Saturday Night: New York/Cleveland, Miami/Chicago, Denver/Utah, and LA Lakers/Portland. Of course, college hoops has a monster schedule Saturday that we'll be attacking with abandon. We're really looking forward to:

Villanova/Georgetown
Duke/Boston College
Gonzaga/Memphis
Texas/Oklahoma
Michigan State/Illinois

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