Dear CelticsBlog readers, the Boston Celtics will be throwing a three-point party this season and you're invited! Boston will kick off their three-point barrage against Brooklyn on October 29 at 7:30 PM.
The Celtics exploded from downtown this preseason, launching 28.8 three-pointers per game, which ranked as third most in the league. Shooting 35.7 percent, they were 10th in the league, but that is a drastic improvement from last year, when they attempted 21.1 threes per game (18th in the NBA) on just 33.3 percent shooting (28th in the NBA).
It's only small sample size from the preseason, but it's a fact that stretching the floor will be an integral part of Boston's system in 2014. Of the players expected to make the final 15-man roster, only two didn't attempt a three-pointer, Gerald Wallace and Tyler Zeller.
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Literally every lineup configuration coach Brad Stevens employed had multiple three-point threats on the floor. Whether it's guards Avery Bradley and Marcus Thornton, or bigs Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, the team is able to put pressure on defenses, opening up more space inside for driving and cutting teammates.
One reason why Boston is attempting more threes simply boils down to the numbers. In 2013-14, NBA teams averaged 0.79 points per shot on mid-range jumpers, with the Celtics ranked 11th at 0.81 points per shot. However, NBA teams scored 1.09 points per shot on three-pointers, a significantly higher number.
Boston, despite their struggles from three, still scored 1.01 points per three-pointer. With Olynyk and Sullinger's continued development, Bradley's extended range, and the addition of Thornton, the Celtics clearly have the personnel to make good use of three-point land.
But Stevens says he isn't exactly stressing the act of shooting threes, just finding open shots. It just so happens those shots tend to be three-pointers.
"We're not emphasizing it. We're just shooting it," Stevens said of his team's three-point parade, as quoted by Scott Souza of the Metro West Daily News. "The biggest thing is that, if you're a threat to shoot it from there, you have a better chance of getting to the line because then you drive closeouts. Closeouts run by you, you can use shot fakes, and you can be a basketball player."
This isn't "coach-speak" from Stevens, as some of his players have hinted at a more Houston Rockets-like approach.
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"I know that's what our coach wants us to do is shoot threes and shoot twos at the basket," Bradley told CSNNE. "One thing about Brad is he likes to go by stats. Stats don't lie. I know it is a better shot and it's something that I needed to improve on because it helps my game and it helps my team."
It's a simple statement, but it tells the whole story. 31.2 percent of Boston's 6,866 shots last season came from mid-range, and now that number will drop like a rock. Maybe Boston won't be as extreme as Houston, who saw only 11.1 percent of their shots come from mid-range, but they'll likely be somewhere in the 15 to 25 percent range, placing them in the bottom half of the league.
Boston is going to take mid-range jump shots when they are the preferred play -- you can't ignore that area of the floor, because it has immense value when used in the right situation. For example, that could entail a specialty player like Brandon Bass, who sank 45.9 percent of his mid-range attempts last season; or jumpers in response to a defender closing out on the three-point line, which is in Thornton, Bradley, Rajon Rondo, and Jeff Green's wheelhouse.
Another byproduct of Boston's three-point party is the intention to get more shots at the rim. The Celtics ranked 26th in the league in shot attempts in the restricted area and in the paint, even though they scored 1.03 points per shot there. They were simply not getting high percentage shots, instead settling for mid-range jumpers.
The importance of stretching the floor goes beyond just chucking up three-pointers partially because, as Stevens said, a player has a higher probability of getting to the line if he drives to the rim after a defender closes out. The floor is spaced, pressure is put on the interior defense, and this is where fouls often occur.
Even though Boston's roster looks similar to last year's, they will likely improve on their 99.7 offensive rating because of the evolving style of play. With a spread floor, Boston will find open three-point shooters who can either launch treys of drive to the bucket. Just make sure to RSVP before Wednesday, because the Boston Celtics are rearing to launch from deep.