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Expect to see more Pistons’ threes in 2015-16

Detroit set a franchise record for three-pointers made last season in Stan Van Gundy’s first year as head coach, but don’t be surprised if this year’s team tops that mark.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There was not a lot for the Pistons to brag about in 2014-15, as they missed the playoffs for the sixth straight year and finished with only the twelfth best record in the NBA’s "Leastern" Conference. But they did connect on 703 threes, easily besting their old record of 582, which was set in 1996-97. Embarking upon a new season, the odds are high that the new mark will not last for long.

When Stan Van Gundy was hired to lead Detroit both in the front office and on the floor last summer, his role in developing Dwight Howard in Orlando was cited as a major reason for the hire by owner Tom Gores. Many commentators opined that Van Gundy was the right guy to help Andre Drummond develop into an All-Star. While that surely is a key part of his vision, along with a renewed emphasis on defense, the most immediate change the new man brought was an offensive system that prominently features the three-point shot.

In Van Gundy’s previous coaching stints in Miami (2003-05) and Orlando (2006-11), he made the three a key weapon in their attack. This was especially true during his tenure with the Magic, a team that led the league in both three-point shots and baskets during his last three seasons as their head coach.

Since then, three-point shooting has figured prominently in the offensive scheme of many of the league’s best teams. NBA champion Golden State led the way with .398 shooting on threes this past season. That mark was just a tad above San Antonio’s league-high .397 in 2013-14, when they won the title. And the 2012-13 Heat were second best with an accuracy rate of .396 in their last championship season. Can we detect a trend?

Nowhere to go but up

When Van Gundy came to Detroit, there was hardly anywhere to go but up, as the Pistons were 29th in three-point accuracy for 2013-14 (.321 percent). Their leading shooter was Brandon Jennings (457 attempts), who had connected on only .337 of his threes. Next up was Josh Smith, who made .264 percent of 265 attempts. Only Kyle Singler (.382 on 246 shots) was a legitimate long-ball threat. On the whole Detroit had attempted only 19.3 threes per game, which was 22nd in the NBA.

Based on Van Gundy’s most recent work in Orlando, it seemed like a reasonable projection that the 2014-15 Pistons would raise the number of their attempts to about 25 per game – and they did (24.9). A key reason for this increased volume was free agent additions D.J. Augustin, Caron Butler and Jodie Meeks, all of whom had previously proven to be capable marksmen. While only Butler shot better (.379) than his career average, the new crew took 30 percent of the team’s threes and made .345 percent.

Second-year shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the way with 444 attempts, also making .345 percent. Singler was the most accurate regular, canning .406 of his threes. Until his season was cut short, Jennings shot .360. Late addition Anthony Tolliver surprisingly ranked second in attempts (228) in just 52 games, also making .360 percent. The team’s efficiency was aided by the fact that Smith’s shots were significantly reduced even before he was waived. The overall result was an accuracy mark of .344, which was 17th best in the NBA. The Pistons’ franchise record of 703 makes was ninth, and their 2,043 attempts ranked 11th.

Waiving Smith led to more three-pointers

A comparison of how Detroit fared from beyond the arc before and after Smith left is even more revealing. As the Pistons slogged to a 5-23 start, they shot .330 from three (7.7 of 23.3). For the remainder of the season (the "Post Smith Era"), when they went 27-27, the team made .351 percent of their three-pointers (9.0 of 25.8). The long ball was a key factor in their 32 victories, as they shot .390 percent (10.2 of 26.0).

During the 12-4 run that ended with Jennings’ injury, Detroit shot .369 from three (10.7 of 28.9). Losing Brandon hurt, as the team subsequently made .335 percent (8.1 of 24.2) in going 4-6 up to the All-Star break. Nevertheless, for that 26 game span the Pistons shot .357 (9.7 of 27.1) on their triples.

After the break, when Detroit had traded away Augustin, Jerebko and Singler, the three-pointer still played a major role in the offense. New starting point guard Reggie Jackson was not the distance shooter his predecessors had been, but others picked up much of the slack. During the final third of the season, the Pistons made .344 percent of their threes (8.4 of 24.5).

In the 17 games after the break when Greg Monroe started upfront with Andre Drummond, Detroit shot .332 from beyond the arc (7.9 of 23.9). When Monroe missed 11 games in March and April due to an injury and Tolliver started, the team shot .362 from three (9.2 of 25.4). While he only averaged 9.5 points in those 11 starts, Tolliver hit .426 on his three-pointers, and they accounted for .750 percent of his points. Even Jackson made .417 percent of his threes during that stretch.

Van Gundy’s off-season moves emphasize shooting

It was apparent that Van Gundy would once again prioritize adding shooting to the roster this summer, and he did not disappoint. The biggest catch was Ersan Ilyasova, who was acquired from Milwaukee for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams. The power forward from Turkey is a career .370 percent shooter from three. When top free agent targets DeMarre Carroll and Danny Green signed elsewhere, another trade brought in Marcus Morris (career three-point average of .363) from Phoenix.

More recently, point guard Steve Blake was acquired from Brooklyn. He’s made .385 percent of his threes during his 12-years in the league. Draft picks Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard both displayed three-point range in college, as did second-year point guard Spencer Dinwiddie and third-year wing Reggie Bullock.

And, of course, Caldwell-Pope, Jennings, Meeks and Tolliver are all returning. Together they accounted for 385 of Detroit’s 703 threes, hitting .352 percent. At every position other than center, Van Gundy will have a couple of options who are proven long-range threats.

Still another addition that may improve the Pistons three-point accuracy is new shooting coach Dave Hopla. In August of 2012, he set a new world record by making 18 NBA three-pointers in one minute, using only one ball and one passer. Anything he can do to help the players shoot more accurately from three will clearly benefit the offense.

Pistons set sights on Magic records

While last season set a new high in threes made by Detroit players, that total was bested by every one of Van Gundy’s Magic teams except one. His last year in Orlando, his squad made just 670 threes. But that was in a 66-game strike-shortened season. They still led the league in three-point attempts and makes. The high-water mark was 2009-10, when the Magic made 841 threes (shooting .375 percent). For an 82-game season, their "worst" total was 770 threes in 2010-11.

No one should be surprised if the 2014-15 Pistons top last year’s mark. The only question is whether they’ll threaten any of those old Magic records to become one of Van Gundy’s most prolific three-point shooting teams.

GAME SPLITS (RECORD) 3PM (Avg.) 3PA (Avg.) 3P%
"Josh Smith Era" (5-23) 7.7 23.3 .330
"PSE" to All-Star Break (16-10) 9.7 27.1 .357
After All-Star Break (11-17) 8.4 24.5 .344
After Break-Monroe (4-13) 7.9 23.9 .332
After Break-Tolliver (7-4) 9.2 25.4 .362
All 82 games (32-50) 8.6 24.9 .344