In today's NBA, everybody shoots: bigs, smalls, mediums, and tweeners. It's cliche by now to say it, but it's true: it's a space-happy league with open shots galore, and teams need guys who can hit consistently from deep.
This isn't just "analytics" speak; efficient three-point shooting is becoming more and more intertwined with winning. For the fifth consecutive season, more than 20 players shot 40% or better from three. Sixteen of the 25 are employed by playoff teams, and to take it a step further, nine of the top-10 reside in the Western Conference; the same conference that bludgeoned the East head-to-head and boasted nine teams with winning records.
It's why over the next few months you'll hear names like Danny Green, Wesley Matthews, DeMarre Carroll, Devin Booker, and Frank Kaminsky hotly debated in Pacers' circles. The Pacers--like everyone else--could use more shooting on the roster, and each of those players are intriguing for different reasons. But before Larry & Co. dive headstrong into the Draft/FA for shooting help, shouldn't they consider their internal options first? Could a few players coming back (or likely coming back) develop into 40-percenters? Let's take a look at four potential options:
Future 40% Grade: A
Rudez came in with a reputation as a three-point marksman and he didn't disappoint. He and C.J. Watson were the only players on the team to land in the 40% club. It wasn't always a fluid process, however. If you watched Rudez at the beginning of the season, you'll recall his annoying habit of routinely splashing shots inside the arc, and clanking everything outside of it. But somewhere along the way, he graduated from long-two savant to three-point assassin. Let's look at the month-by-month splits:
As you can see, once the calendar turned to February, Rudez pretty much donned a Kyle Korver cape for the rest of the season. Based on shooting numbers alone, he should be a staple in the rotation, but defensively, he presents a vexing case for advocates of positionless basketball. Though he tries awfully hard, Rudez has difficulty guarding wing players and big men alike. It's not a question of can he develop into a 40-percenter, it's a question of can he play defense well enough to justify more floor time?
Future 40% Grade: B-
Forget Sixth Man, or Most Improved, Stuckey was the hands-down winner of Bamboozler of the Year in 2014-2015. A career 29% shooter from beyond the arc in Detroit, he scorched his way to a 39% clip this season. There is no small-sample-size argument to be made here, either. Stuckey attempted 141 threes in 71 games:
Perhaps due to early season injuries and/or an undefined role, inconsistency plagued him the first few months of the season. Stuckey regained a hot hand in February, and never looked back. Possibly the most impressive part of his second-half tear is that his three-point attempts increased from 1.5 to 2.8 per game, yet his overall numbers improved.
All that being said, a legitimate question arises: which Stuckey is the real Stuckey? Thirty-nine-percent Stuckey or the Detroit-version? I lean towards the former for one particular reason. More on that later.
Future 40% Grade: B-
Out of the gates, Miles disappointed more than any other player on the team. After all, he was the "prized" free-agent acquisition of last summer; a billed floor spacer, and in part, he was expected to replace Lance Stephenson's production. Injuries derailed him early on (including the worst migraine ever), but eventually the sweet-shooting lefty found some consistency:
Hmmm, methinks we're observing a trend here: another uptick in percentage and consistency in February and beyond. Could there be more to this than injuries, role, and/or transition to a new league/team?
For further consideration, I present to you:
Future 40% Grade: C
Mr. Sam Young in Training had a rough season from the field, scoring a 9/10 on the Derrick Rose Violent Clank Scale. None of his field-goal attempts was more prickly than the three-pointer, which endured some ghastly spells:
As difficult as he was to watch at times, Hill ended the season on a much brighter note from distance, offering a sliver of hope that he can be a consistent threat in the future. But what really makes his chart interesting is to see yet another climb in the month of February.
So, what is it about February that clicked?
I know, I know, I said four guys, not five, but this particular one has nothing to do with shooting and everything to do with George Hill ... the playmaker and depth provider. The one thing each of our aspiring 40-percenters had in common was a spike in 3PT% and consistency from February onward, which coincided nicely with George Hill regaining starter minutes after enduring his own rash of injuries.
Team 3PT% bares this out even further: as a group, the Pacers shot 33% from October through January, but then improved to 39% from February through April, which would have been second best in the league stretched across the entire season.
Of course, the George Hill factor isn't all-encompassing. Injuries, role, the adjustment process, lack of depth, etc. all played some role in our quartet's early season struggles, and we can probably expect those same issues to affect the team in some fashion next season as well. But the evidence in favor of Hill transforming this team from Unwatchable Ugly Duckling to Halfway Entertaining Winner is overwhelming at this point, and I think the argument can be easily made that maintaining Hill's health and new role will be far more important than any middle-of-the-road addition(s) in free agency or through the draft.
You didn't think I'd forgotten about him, did you? Unfortunately, we didn't see much of PG-13 in 2014-2015, but the little we did see was encouraging. George shot a healthy 41% from three, and looked like a more comfortable shooter overall. But in this case, we must be wary of sample size, and maybe more importantly, we must be wary of the unknown. For instance, when finally healthy, how will No. 1 Option Paul George mesh with Aggressive George Hill?
Future 40% Grade: Incomplete