“They’ve gotta shoot more threes,” they said.
“It just comes down to the math,” others proffered.
“It just doesn’t work in the modern NBA.”
Pundits around the league were quick to critique the San Antonio Spurs for their lack of three-point shooting in the first half of the season, and yet the team is still playing winning basketball. San Antonio is currently 32-22, sitting fifth in the Western Conference in a transitional year despite averaging a league low 24.8 three-point shots per game.
Head Coach Gregg Popovich added his usual petrol to the fire of commentators, who accused the five-time champion – now 70 years old – of being too stuck in the past and unwilling to join in the three-point shooting revolution. He said: “There’s no basketball anymore, there’s no beauty in it. It’s all pretty boring.”
In many ways, he has a point, especially when you watch 48 minutes of this.
Many will disagree with Pop, which is fine. But after looking at the results as the Spurs are about to go into the All-Star break, even the fiercest critic would have to concede that the lack of volume three-point shooting in San Antonio is not just the result of the perceived stubbornness of their coach. It is a decision to zig when the league is zagging, and it’s been working for them all season.
San Antonio has the sixth best offensive rating in the league. While many feel this could get even better if the team increased its three-point attempts, the numbers suggest it would be a detriment to their record if they started firing them up for the sake of it. In the 10 games when the Spurs have out-shot their opponents from beyond the arc, they have a record of 5-5. However, when they attempt fewer threes than the team they are playing, the record improves to 26-17, a winning rate of 65 percent.
It is the quality in shots, not quantity, that lead to wins in San Antonio – just as it has for more than 20 years. So far this year, the Silver and Black are hitting 40.9 percent of their outside shots, better than any other team in the NBA. The Spurs manage another league-leading 44.3 percent from distance in wins – a full two percent better than the Golden State Warriors. Even in losses, good threes are still the norm, and they are managing to hit 36.2 percent of them (second only to the Sacramento Kings).
The loudest criticisms of San Antonio’s shot selection have quieted down now, but will return if the team goes through a slump. Fortunately those words won’t likely affect their current strategy. The Spurs know better than anyone else when they should pull the trigger, and when they shouldn’t.
Their disciplined shot selection has played a huge part on their success. If the young squad and its new set of veterans want to keep winning and play well in to the playoffs, they need to stick to the script and avoid shooting a high volume of three-point attempts just because others think they should.