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Al Horford and Marc Gasol showed the benefits of bigs shooting threes

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They’re spreading the floor and making life tougher for defenses.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody is going to mistake Marc Gasol and Al Horford for Unicorns. They aren’t once-in-a-generation talents making highlight reel plays every night. But they’re both adding new elements to their offensive games. They’re examples of centers who have suddenly expanded their range to the three-point line.

Horford and Gasol were effective mid-range shooters for their entire careers. But last season, Horford began shooting threes. He took 3.5 per game, while shooting a respectable 34%. His attempts are up this season to 4.6 per game, although he’s shooting slightly worse.

This change has paid immediate dividends for Marc Gasol. He’s taking 3.6 threes per game, while hitting 43% of them. It’s helped him average the most PPG in his career so far.

Their most recent matchup is a good example of how this expanded range impacts the way defenses play.

Gasol was on fire to start the game. He made his first two attempts and finished the game 3/6 from three. But the impact goes further than making threes—just the act of taking the shots changes how defenses react.

Gasol drew two fouls by pump-faking at the three-point line. Before Gasol even made a three, Horford was closing out hard. In this first play, Horford recovers from covering the pick-and-roll. He’s really aggressive getting back, and this allows Gasol to pump-fake him into a foul.

The same happens later in the fourth quarter, with Amir Johnson committing the foul. Ideally the defenders don’t leave their feet on these plays, but that only happens because of the respect for Gasol’s shooting.

Horford didn’t have quite the same scoring night as Gasol, but he can have a similar impact on the game by stretching the floor. He only made one of his three-point attempts, but he showed off his playmaking abilities beyond the arc. Horford is an adept passer, and that skill extends to when he has the ball beyond the three-point line as well.

As Alex Kungu spotted, watch how the defense reacts to Horford here.

Horford draws two defenders and then finds Avery Bradley for an easy layup. He’s really good at making quick decisions like this to find the open man. Horford makes another play like this later in the fourth quarter.

He pump-fakes Randolph, then finds Crowder for an open three after the defense rotates to him. Memphis’s defense might not be perfect here. But Horford’s ability to shoot threes puts pressure on them, which leads to mistakes.

Horford and Gasol have always had the ability to shoot from beyond the arc. Now that they’re consistently taking threes, it’s expanded their impact on the game. It’s almost like having a running QB in football in the sense that it adds another element for a defense to deal with. Factor in their passing creativity (both players are having career assist years), and the offensive benefit is huge. They don’t have the flash of unicorns like Porzingis* or Giannis, but centers like Horford and Gasol are changing the game in their own way.