Moore: In the Bubble, the NBA’s 3-Point Revolution Has Finally Rendered All Alternatives Invalid
Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images. Pictured: Seth Curry and Kawhi Leonard
Donovan Mitchell: 57 points. Then 51.
Jamal Murray: 50 points.
Luka Doncic: 42 points. Then 43.
Utah offensive rating through four games: 131.
Miami is up 3-0 with an offensive rating of 115, which ranks just 7th among playoff teams. It would rank 2nd in the regular season.
Scoring has gone berserk inside the Bubble.
And it’s not free throws or pace. It’s not rebounding.
No one can miss inside the Bubble. Off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, overall. It’s absolutely bonkers how teams are shooting in the playoff so far.
It’s also indicative of how the NBA’s 3-point shooting evolution has coalesced into a model that renders alternatives invalid.
If you do not have an off-the-dribble scoring threat and spot-up shooters, you are doomed. If you cannot defend 1-5, you are in trouble.
Data via Synergy Sports:
Teams are shooting more than 5 percentage points better off the dribble so far in Orlando than they did last season, and over 3 percent better than in the previous five years’ high in 2017.
To put this perspective, in 2017, playoff teams scored .885 points per possession on pull-up jumpers. This year, they are scoring .953. Over the course of a game that adds up to roughly 1.5 points higher per game, which doesn’t sound like a lot but given the variance involved and how tight point differentials tend to be, it’s a huge deal.
It’s not just those dynamite scorers, though, the catch-and-shoot numbers are off the chart as well. Again, via Synergy Sports:
The Warriors aren’t even in the playoffs and this is the highest shooting performance we’ve seen in NBA playoff history. Teams are bombing threes.
Look at the teams thriving in the playoffs.
Miami, built around Jimmy Butler, with Goran Dragic suddenly revived, along with Duncan Robinson, shooting the lights out. The Heat are shooting 83% on unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers in the playoffs. Bam Adebayo is an inside-out big who can switch to guard perimeter players and make plays for others.
The Celtics swept the Sixers, with the fourth-best pick and roll scoring offense in the playoffs behind multiple perimeter scorers in Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown.
The Jazz lead the Nuggets 3-1 behind what Donovan Mitchell has done, elevating to elite scoring playmaker, punishing the helpless Nuggets defense sinking under the weight of Nikola Jokic’s cement movement.
The Mavericks have evened the series vs. the Clippers behind Luka Doncic punishing every coverage the Clippers have sent, and dishing to shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry. Dallas without Kristaps Porzingis Sunday essentially played five-out with Maxi Kleber, and the spacing benefited Doncic.
And of course the Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, with shooters surrounding. Their offense hasn’t even really gotten going yet but they lead the Magic 2-1.
The top 15 teams in jump shot scoring are 14-8 ATS. This isn’t shocking, right? The teams that shot better covered the spread more often. But consider that includes the Jazz and Mavericks, both underdogs outperforming expectations.
Teams that make fewer than 15 3-pointers this postseason are 12-18 ATS, while teams that make 15 or more 3’s are 11-4 ATS and 11-4 SU. This represents a drop from 80% ATS for teams with more than 15 3’s to 74%, meaning that being a good shooting team isn’t enough, because your opponent might just outshoot you.
It’s not a way to counter getting outplayed. It literally renders everything else moot.
What’s more, there’s not a lot of sustainability fluctuation. The Heat have been above 54% eFG in all three games of the series. The Jazz have maintained a 130-plus offensive rating thanks to Denver’s wretched defense.
If you don’t have premium, top-line offensive creators, you’re sunk. If you don’t have knockdown shooters, you’re in trouble. Even if you have both, like the Clippers, it may not matter if the opponent has a better combo of creator and scorer.
The Lakers are the only outlier here, holding Damian Lillard and his phalanx of shooters to a sub-100 offensive rating as they’ve taken hold of the series.
We’re seeing the NBA evolve, but we’re also seeing something unprecedented in the bubble conditions. Players have cited better depth perception without the rows and rows of fans. There was increased scoring in the reseeding games, and that’s continued into the playoffs.
It’s not an absence of defensive effort (with the exception of Denver and at times, Philadelphia). It’s that there are no real ways to stop the kinds of perimeter weapons in the league now. If they can shoot like this, with the rules the way they are, there’s no real way for defenses to stop them.
The Clippers have to play Ivica Zubac to protect the rim from layups, but Doncic is attacking Zubac in drop coverage over and over.
There are no good options. There are no alternatives. Offense rules the day in the NBA Playoffs.
Unders have gone 14-14 so far. But three of those come from the Lakers-Blazers series, an offensive slog with an overmatched No. 8 seed vs. a dominant defense with limited offensive firepower.
This isn’t to say overs will continue to grow more profitable, but it’s something to watch especially if a team has those kinds of creators.
Shooters rule the day.