There’s an assumption that a player being able to shoot a three pointer automatically results in the floor being spaced. But too often those assumptions are based on if __ is true, then __ must be rather than, you know, actually testing the hypothesis.
So Andre Drummond shooting a three pointer is approached with the perspective that he might not even need to be a league average three point shooter, because his threat to shoot would help his teammates. It’d draw his defender away and create more room at the rim.
Ok. So how sound is this assumption?
On the surface, it makes sense. A defender respects Drummond’s shot and gets a big body out of the paint. Well, we can test that logic by looking at the results of some of his fellow centers around the league adding a three point shot.
There’s been a few lately. After taking just four three point attempts in his first five seasons, Jonas Valanciunas took 74 last season and averaged an impressive 40 percent. After taking just one in his first four seasons, Dewane Dedmon took a whopping 141 last year. Amir Johnson has actually been taking three pointers for the past five seasons and even averaged 38 percent over the past two seasons despite a form that makes Stanley Johnson look smooth.
In some ways, Johnson is the template for what optimists could look to accomplish with Drummond. He’s never been considered much of a shooter, much more valued for his ability rolling to the rim and his work on the offensive glass. Yet since increasing his three point attempts, he’s had two seasons north of 40 percent.
His career percentage is still just 33.7 percent, so a few notches below average. Yet he’s still not much respected by opposing defenses for his shooting threat.
Each one of the three players we’ll look at is used a little differently for their three point shot. Amir’s way was usually either planting himself or drifting out to the perimeter to get out of the way.
These were from a season where Johnson actually shot 40.9 percent from three, and on 66 attempts. He even made his presence known as a perimeter threat early in the year by draining 4-4 from three in the fourth game of the season.
Yet teams were mostly willing to give up the look. At times when Johnson would drift behind the arc, his defender was usually willing to abandon him. It put the Celtics offense in the position to choose between playing 4-on-5 on offense or accepting the Johnson three point attempt.
The thing that jumps out about these possessions is that they’re remarkably boring. One person attacks the rim while everyone else hangs out stationary around the perimeter, kicks out to the guy whose man collapses.
While the idea is that having an additional player serving as a three point threat would open the lane for teammates, the opposite was generally true.
The Celtics offense tended to look much more effective and dynamic with Amir finding other ways to contribute than just hanging out behind the arc.
While Johnson rarely attracted his defender’s attention as a three point threat, he received much more respect as a dump off target - which is critical when it comes to the concept of actually spacing the floor. If the goal is to open up driving lanes for teammates, the option where the defender actually defends their player is going to do the better job of that.
One other point of note for Amir is the impact that his addition of a three point shot has had on his offensive rebounding. In his first eight years, prior to adding a three point shot, he never averaged an offensive rebounding percentage below...wait. It’s Amir. We should use per 36 numbers.
He only averaged below three offensive rebounds per 36 minutes once in his first eight seasons, just his rookie year. But he’s been below that mark in three of the five years since he’s started shooting from deep.
When it comes to how Casey would be likely to involve Drummond in the three point game, well, Valanciunas is an obvious example. But 68 of his 74 attempts came from above the break, which might be a surprise to you.
Most of Valanciunas three point attempts came on the pick and pop or as a kick out target as a trailer. They’re basically the same shots he was taking in 2016-17, only he stepped back a few feet. In 2016-17, he took 165 midrange shots and just two three pointers. Last year it was 64 from midrange and 74 from three.
These looks were always meant to be of the sense that if his man overcommitted to the ball handler, Valanciunas can punish by knocking down the open shot. And it worked pretty well. Valanciunas was generally a mid-40s percent shooter from midrange. But when the alternative is a mid-40s percent two point shot, stepping back a few feet for the three makes plenty of sense.
Here’s what it looked like in 2016-17.
And here’s what it looked like last year.
For the Pistons, we’ve seen Drummond initiate plays in many of those same spots. So it seems reasonable to put Dre in JV’s shoes. But the problem should be pretty obvious. Drummond is one of the best rim runners in the league off the pick and roll and is one of the best offensive rebounders of all time.
Coming off the screen, when his defender decides to neglect him is when he’s the ideal lob target. And if he just stops at the three point line when he’s trailing his teammate penetrating in the middle of the court, he takes himself out of the picture as an offensive rebounder (or dump off threat).
But if the Pistons are hell-bent on Drummond taking threes, there were actually a couple of situations with Valanciunas that were certainly beneficial from a floor spacing perspective - and would be with Drummond as well (assuming he can actually make them at a reasonable clip).
Valanciunas typically took that shot from midrange, but if it’s a new shot for Drummond, well, the three pointer is more valuable. There wasn’t much time left on the shot clock, so swinging it would have just meant a contested three pointer from Serge Ibaka. So. Might as well.
It’s easy to see this play with Blake Griffin in Kyle Lowry’s spot. Typically I’d prefer seeing Drummond hang out as a dump off threat, but if Griffin’s guarded by a fellow big then Drummond could still have a tough finish even if his man helps out.
But if Drummond is not able to make them at a reasonable clip, then just reverse the ball and find a better shot.
This would represent a nice dipping the toes in the water approach - though the approach contrasts with the 200 attempts for the season or 2-3 per game that’s been floated by Drummond and Dwane Casey.
When many Pistons fans hear Andre Drummond talk about taking corner threes, Dewayne Dedmon’s role is what they’re thinking of. Maybe they’re not thinking of Dedmon in particular, but it’s still Dedmon.
Unlike most of the centers who have taken up the three ball, a significant bulk of Dedmon’s shots actually are coming from the corner.
There was a problem there though. Despite Dedmon hanging out in the corner, it didn’t actually open up the lane for his man. There must have been a mistake. Dedmon knocked down his corner threes at 40 percent even!
Wait, Dedmon’s man actually made the lane even more congested! Um. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
Well, maybe this was just some cherry picked examples. After all, if you just look at when he’s taking shots, well, there’s a reason he’s taking it. He was open. But maybe there were times when his man stayed with him when he was in the corner and created some space in the lane?
Like with Amir’s contributions from behind the arc, Dedmon’s three point threat left the offense uncreative and no more difficult to defend. This was much more useful for creating space for his teammates.
In the end, there are certainly ways that having more guys who can shoot from the perimeter can open things up. But the simple fact of having a guy standing behind the arc and occasionally launch them won’t do it on it’s own. And in all reality, if the goal is to free up space, there are better ways for big dudes to accomplish that goal.