I understand your skepticism.
Josh Smith comes to mind immediately. The screams of “NOOOOO!” from a harassed Philips Arena crowd are probably still ringing through your ears. Why on earth would the Hawks want another “mid-range shawty” jacking up three-pointers?
Because Horford needs to start shooting threes.
Al’s a good shooter; there’s no denying that. This season, he shot 45% on long-twos longer than 15 feet. The two seasons before that (excluding the injury shortened 2011-12 season), Horford shot 48% (!) and 53% (!!!) from that distance.
Recently, it seems that Horford has been working to expand his shooting range. He took six threes this season, the most of his career, and a few of those weren’t just late-clock situations; they were plays specifically set up for Horford to shoot the three. In his pre-game warmups, part of his routine was hitting a three from five spots on the floor. He always ended his warmups by hitting a corner three.
Horford expressed to the media earlier this year that the three-ball is something that he wants to add to his repertoire. While it is still a work in progress, coach Larry Drew did have plays drawn up that had Al set up behind the arc.
This is a play from the March 1st game at Phoenix. There were no huge time constraints at the time, meaning that Horford shooting threes wasn’t limited to pure desperation plays.
I have one problem with this play: it’s too brilliant to have only been ran once all season. (this was the only occurrence that I was able to find)
From this frame, you get the basic layout. Kyle Korver was inbounding. Devin Harris, Zaza Pachulia, Josh Smith, and Horford were all on the floor, giving the Hawks plenty of offensive options. After the inbounds to Pachulia, Horford goes to set a screen for Korver.
As the arrow shows you, Horford sort of slips the screen and heads for the corner, utilizing a screen from Zaza on Marcin Gortat to get open. Luis Scola, who was supposed to be guarding Al, responded too much to Korver and is still in the paint when Horford receives the ball in the corner and becomes the next victim of a Zaza screen. Gortat tries to close out, but it’s too late by that point.
Horford hits the shot.
Two things I must point out that are vital to the success of this play: one, it doesn’t work without Kyle Korver drawing the attention of the defense. As HawksHoop contributor Chris Barnewall illustrated here, a lot of the Atlanta offense this year was predicated on Korver drawing defenders. Korver’s on/off efficiency differential of plus-8.0 works as a great statistical indicator of Korver’s importance.
Secondly, Horford’s lack of three-point attempts means this play is going to work more as a surprise to the Phoenix defense. If this was something used more often, the Suns may have been able to sniff it out.
Of course, Horford NOT having a lack of three-point attempts is exactly what I’m advocating here. Atlanta could have used more plays like this throughout the season. Not only would it have spaced the floor even better, but it would have easily increased offensive efficiency.
According to NBA.com/Stats, the league average for long-twos hovers around 41%. Even in an off year where he was recovering from his pectoral injury, Horford still shot above the league average on long-twos at 45%. This is also the same percentage that Horford shoots on twos that are further that 20 feet out, just a step away from the arc.
The league average on three-pointers is between 36-37%. Factor in the extra point, that’s an effective FG% (eFG%) around 55%, 13 percentage points higher than the average long two. Considering that shots a step back are worth an extra point, doesn’t it just make sense for Horford to take that extra stride?
Just to get the feel of what could have been, let’s imagine that Horford did take that step backwards. According to Basketball-Reference, Al took 146 twos that were within a step of the three-point line, which I defined as all the twos he took outside of 19 feet. If all of these shots were suddenly threes that Horford shot at the league average, Al would have scored 41 extra points on the season, enough to boost his season PPG average to 18 points.
While that may not seem like a lot, you have to consider other factors that would also change with this. If Horford is scoring more points than usual, he likely would have started taking more shots overall. Of course, a lot of his three-point attempts would likely be limited to pick-and-pop plays; think of the plays ran for Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka, two other bigs who made strides in adding the three-pointer to their respective skill sets. However, because the NBA has started to respect Al’s shooting ability more than ever, adding the three would mean Horford could linger out by the perimeter and draw a defender. Because of floor spacing that would exist with Al being a three-point threat, Josh Smith is probably playing closer to the basket and taking less three-point attempts. (a win for everyone) And if you move Horford even further out of the lane, this would have left even more room for Jeff Teague and Devin Harris to attack the paint. If you have Horford sitting all the way in the corner, there’s a lot of room for a big man to try and cover if he is forced to help on an attacking guard in a pick-and-roll. The Hawks either get an open layup or an open corner three. This would have served the Hawks well, as the coaching staff had nicknamed corner threes “layups” this season.
Horford’s a great offensive player and he’s shown a great work ethic in his career with the Hawks. The evolution of his game to include the three-pointer only seems natural, as it’s one of the few areas he has left to put major work on. We aren’t sure yet who will be the coach of the Hawks in the 2013-14 season; however, we do know that they need to encourage Al to continue his work on his jumpers and rewarding the big-man for his work by using the three-point shot more in the Atlanta offense.