Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 3: Threes & Perimeter Actions

Some final words

Obviously, not every shot your team takes can, or should, be a three-pointer. Being a perimeter-oriented team isn’t the same as being a perimeter-only group, and if you noticed, all three teams featured here were excellent at getting to the rim and converting. Playing inside-out, or outside-in, is an ideal way of blending your shots and getting quality looks for 40 minutes straight. All three of these teams got 80% or more of their shot attempts from three or at the rim; 54 D-I teams were able to say the same this year, though almost no one shot as well as these three schools did.

As I write this, the Toronto Raptors are the 2019 NBA Champions. Few in the media saw it coming, though the majority of statistical models had Toronto as a small favorite heading into the Finals over the heralded Golden State Warriors. While Golden State has plenty of quality offensive players of their own right, Toronto possessed a key that no other challenger to Golden State has in the last five years: an entire roster of shooters. Every member of Toronto’s eight-man playoff rotation either possesses a 3PT% average of 35% or higher for their career (7 of 8) or shot 35% or better this season (Siakam). If everyone can shoot, it makes playing a less agile big guy defensively incredibly hard.

If you’re a coach at a smaller school or even in high school, these three schools should be success stories worth embracing and studying. None of them are positioned in or near what most would consider bedrocks of basketball talent. West Liberty is in a town of 27,000 20 minutes from the Ohio/West Virginia border; Nebraska Wesleyan shares a city with a much larger and more well-known school; Valdosta State basketball is probably the fourth-most famous program in town. All of them have achieved massive offensive success in their own unique ways, but there’s one consistent thread you can find through each, summed up by a quote from West Liberty’s Ben Howlett: “we don’t recruit guys who can’t shoot. We can’t.”

Of the ten best offenses by Points Per Possession (PPP) in all of men’s college basketball in 2018-19, six featured starting lineups where every player hit at least 10 threes during the season. Only one team started multiple non-shooters (St. John’s (MN)). While threes aren’t everything, the rate of three-pointers to overall field goal attempts has skyrocketed. Division I is moving the three-point line back in the 2019-20 season, but Divisions II and III have until 2020-21 to do so. Better load up on “guys that can do a little bit of everything,” as Howlett said.

Thanks for reading the third installment of Building a Better Basketball Offense. At the end of each post, there will be a link to extra notes or statistics I didn’t use, plus links to all GIFs and game videos used in the making of the post. Also, there’s transcripts of the interviews I did with each coach, with full audio files available upon request. Here’s this post’s edition.

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