It's okay for big men to play big

October 24, 2017

 

 

Here's a perhaps obvious but too infrequently-spoken truth about big-man three-point threats: They only need to be a threat.

 

It's great if you're DeMarcus Cousins and you've developed a genuinely good three-point shot that allows you to actually contribute to the team as a three-point shooter. But for most guys - think Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis - it doesn't need to run that deep.

 

In fact, and again this might be obvious, if your star big man is spending more time chucking threes at a low percentage and less time doing the things that make him a star big man, it becomes a hindrance. It doesn't erase value, but it can significantly cut into it. 

 

Basically there's no point having a 7-foot unholy colossus of agility, finesse and power if that colossus wastes everyone's time chilling out at the top of the arc. 

 

Joel Embiid, take heed.

 

The Sixers' insanely talented, bordering on actually unbelievable big man spent the first couple games of his season taking five dang threes a game, almost a third of his total field-goal attempts. He didn't make a single one. Philadelphia lost those games.

 

Embiid seems like a fine three-point shooter. He hit 36.7 percent last year on over three attemps per game, which is really quite good, particularly for someone of his size. His range can be a very nice tool in one of basketball's most gilded toolboxes. 

 

But he's also not Kyle Korver, y'know?

 

What makes Embiid special is that he is a ferocious protector of the rim on defense who can run the floor and finish on the other end, handle the ball with surprising proficiency, drive and slam all over other, chumpier seven-footers, destroy worlds on roll dunks and also help space the floor with his shot.

 

Believe it or not, even in in the 2017 NBA teams still need to score two-pointers. Last season no team scored a higher percentage of their points on three-pointers than two and no team even attempted more threes than twos, not even the Houston Rockets, who really earnestly appeared to try (just 53.8 percent of their field-goal attempts were in two-point range).

 

Which is all to say there is still a ton of value to be had in high-volume, high-efficiency two-point scoring, the kind of which Embiid can be among the few best in the game at and the kind of which has propelled Antetokounmpo to some early MVP hype.

 

On Monday night, when the 76ers finally won their first game, Embiid did it all in a 30-point, nine-rebound performance. Putbacks, ferocious dunks on the roll, short face-up jumpers. Dribble-driving from the three-point line with a spinning layup right in Andre Drummond's face.

 

 

 

 

What he didn't do was jack, and brick, a million threes. He took a single attempt, and made it.

 

Less can be more with this kind of thing. The point is that when you have a big man who is an exceptionally versatile scorer, who can overwhelm a defense and command attention all over the floor, you are severely dampening his impact by having him simply chuck a bunch of threes.

 

You just need him to be able to threaten to do that. On one play in the third, Embiid took a pass at the arc and, with Drummond closing him out, faked, went left around him and stuffed it home unimpeded.

 

This is the whole point of spacing, to free up those kinds of easy buckets which still make up the strong majority of NBA points. Yeah, Embiid needs to shoot from distance and hit with some reasonable degree of regularity to be the threat he needs to be in order to contribute to spacing. And yes, it would be all the better if he actually does drain a couple or more a game and produces even more by way of three-point scoring.

 

But there has to be a line. Guys like Antetokounmpo (27.2 percent on 2.3 attempts/game) and Davis (29.9 percent on 1.8 attempts/game) could and should have been even more valuable than they were last season.

 

Through Embiid's first two games he spent a bunch of time floating around the perimeter and ultimately taking shots he missed. That time could've been better spent and those shots could've been better taken.

 

It's easy to fall in love with shooting big men, but with guys on that next level it can't come at the cost of rendering a basketball monster just another three-point spotter. 

 

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