The three-point line was introduced by the ABL (American Basketball League) in 1961 as a way to engage fans and make the game more exciting. If you’ve never heard of the ABL, don’t worry, I hadn’t either. The league only lasted a season and a half before folding. The three-point line wasn’t implemented in basketball again until 1967 when the ABA (American Basketball Association) put it in. Finally, three years after the merger with the ABA, in 1979 the NBA decided to implement the three-point line (for reference, this was the rookie season for Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s).
The Memphis Grizzlies just discovered the three-point line in the 2016-17 season. That’s right, literally 37 years later, the Grizzlies are finally catching on.
Let’s just take the last five seasons - that’s a nice round number that we can use to compare (2011-12 season through the 2015-16 season). First I would like to establish that I understand Memphis won a good amount of games over the last five seasons. From 2011 to the end of 2015, in each campaign they were at least 16 games over .500 at the end of the season. So obviously what the coaches were doing worked, and worked really well.
In the 2011-12 season, Memphis was 28th out of 30 teams in the NBA in 3 point attempts, and they shot 33% from deep. The team that shot the most threes that year, the Orlando Magic, had more than double the attempts that Memphis did. Then, Memphis ranked dead last in attempts in the 2012-13 season. Ironically, that season is still the highest win percentage that a Grizzlies team has had, as they went 56-26.
There was more of the same in the 2013-14 season - Memphis was dead last again in attempts. See the trend here? The 2014-15 Grizzlies were 29th out of 30 teams in attempts, and in the bottom 10% in three-point percentage. And last year was their highest ranking in attempts through the last five seasons, as they were 25th out of 30 (but next to last in percentage).
Here’s a good thing to note as a Grizzlies fan though: the Grizzlies never shot above 35% from the three-point line in the last five seasons, and ranked in the bottom five teams in attempts. At least they knew they weren’t any good at them, and didn’t shoot too many. The lack of long range shooting hasn’t hurt the Grizzlies that much in the regular season. Check out the video below, and you’ll notice that most of the Grizzlies’ offensive action happens inside the three-point line.
As I mentioned earlier, they were still winning games. But where it becomes a problem is in the playoffs and late game situations. There’s a reason the Warriors are tough to beat - they have shooters all over the floor. The Grizzlies can back you down and score in the paint, but since 1979, long range jump shots have been worth more points than lay-ups.
The point is, I’m glad the Grizzlies are shooting more threes. They are currently 16th out of 30 teams in attempts and 18th out of 30 in percentage. The Grizz are shooting just under 36% from three; that’s one percent behind Houston who shoots way more threes than anyone else. The three-point line is necessary in today’s game, and Coach Fizdale has made it a point to implement it into his game plan.
THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES ARE A THREE POINT SHOOTING TEAM WHAT IS LIFE I DONT KNOW— Aimee (@HoopCityHellCat) December 30, 2016
Mike Conley ranks number 22 in the league in three-point percentage at 40.5%. Marc Gasol is the only center in the top 50 in three-point percentage at 38.5%. If you really want to get crazy with statistics, JaMychal Green is tied with the Cavaliers Kevin Love in three-point percentage this year at 38.1%.
The three-pointer has been huge for the Grizzlies this year. Defense has been more of a struggle than in the past for the Grizz, so the offense has been a bailout in a few games. I say that with caution because Memphis still ranks number 4 overall in opponent points per game. But the luxury of having multiple players that can hit threes consistently has not gone unnoticed.
Actually, everyone on the Grizzlies roster averaging over 15 minutes a game is shooting better than 31% from the three-point line. 31% is not very good (*cough* Andrew Harrison, also exclude Tony Allen because, well, you know), but that’s better than what it has been in the past.
What is not measured by three-point statistics is how much threes spreads the floor for the Memphis bigs to work in the paint. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph don’t have to fight through two or three defenders consistently to score the ball anymore. If they do draw multiple defenders, Coach Fizdale is confident that the players around the perimeter can knock down open threes. The discovery of the three-point line by Memphis has created a multi-dimensional offense, which hasn’t been seen in quite some time.
I look forward to seeing how the three-point line affects the opposing defense in a 7-game series. After all, Memphis has won four of their last five, and in all four of those wins the Grizz have made ten or more threes. I like the emphasis on scoring in different ways this year, and I’m confident the Grizz can maintain their lockdown defense in tandem with a new, more explosive offense.