The Utah Jazz can't count to three

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz franchise has a problem with threes. We don't take them, and most seasons we don't make them. This season two players are doing a good job and part of an elite group. But they need some help, from the rest of the roster and the playbook.

It seems like every few years we have to talk about the three point shot and the Utah Jazz. The three point shot has been a part of the NBA for decades, yet some teams seem to shun the use of it. NBA offenses have evolved over time, and so too have the talents and skills of NBA players. Some coaches are still in the stone age. And some players look like they are just chucking up bricks from outside. When a team that has Xs and Os that don't look for the three, and has players who can't make that shot -- it's a match made in heaven. But it's a match made in heaven for the defense.

The Utah Jazz of 2013-2014 appear to be one of those teams.

Story Time:

There have been some really good three point shooters on the Jazz. We've had Kyle Korver, Jeff Hornacek, Mehmet Okur, Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Bryon Russell, Darrell Griffith, Raja Bell, Kelly Tripucka, and John Starks to name a few. Wesley Matthews and Dell Curry also played one season here. Oh, and that John Stockton fella too. Similarly, there have been some really good plays, either set ups or in the flow of the game, that the Jazz have used for threes. There's the simple drive and kick, or the ball rotation after a post double team -- all teams do this. But we've also seen great set-ups, like Jerry Sloan 's one play that he added to the playbook (I actually don't know who made it up) to combat zones that we saw back in 2010-11. I watched that set up in Synergy a million times and it's where a player initiates the play at the top of the arc, then runs to one corner, then sneaks his way to the opposite corner. He inevitably gets lost in the shuffle as the zone defenders have to keep up with the rest of the Jazz Flex offense. It produced an open shot the majority of the time -- it's just that the guy who was open ended up being C.J. Miles during the season where he shot really *really* poorly compared to his career average from deep.

I haven't been convinced about the out of time out plays to set up three pointers, but we were able to always get some okay looks back during the Memo days. Most of the time it seems to just be an isolation, which is where we got #MOLO from.

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The game today is increasingly wing oriented. The point guards play like shorter shooting guards who are shoot first in mentality. And the bigmen are playing more and more face-up and spreading the floor. The focal point here seems to be wings. And in this league you have to be able to hit the three now, no matter if you are a two or a three. (Or a one, or a four or whatever) So let's look at the players this season who are wing guys who are a) playing in games, b) taking threes, and c) making threes.

This fully discounts things like MPG, or defense, or getting to the line or whatever.

The Club:

These are the NBA players who have played in at least 50 games this season, take at least 2.0 threes a game, and make at least 35.0 3pt% from downtown. I have eliminated some players due to their height or primary position.

Player G M A % Player G M A %
1 Klay Thompson 67 2.7 6.6 41.2% 6 Wesley Matthews 67 2.4 6.1 39.4%
2 James Harden 59 2.3 6.5 35.3% 7 Trevor Ariza 61 2.5 6.0 42.2%
3 Jamal Crawford 61 2.3 6.3 36.8% 8 Wilson Chandler 58 2.1 5.9 35.1%
4 Paul George 67 2.3 6.3 36.8% 9 J.R. Smith 59 2.2 5.8 37.9%
5 Gerald Green 67 2.5 6.3 38.8% 10 Kevin Durant 66 2.3 5.7 40.4%
11 Carmelo Anthony 64 2.3 5.5 41.5% 16 Terrence Ross 64 2.0 4.9 41.5%
12 Kyle Korver 61 2.7 5.5 48.8% 17 Kevin Martin 56 1.8 4.5 38.7%
13 Martell Webster 62 2.0 5.1 39.3% 18 Chandler Parsons 61 1.7 4.5 37.3%
14 Joe Johnson 63 2.0 5.0 39.7% 19 Arron Afflalo 58 1.9 4.4 42.7%
15 Nicolas Batum 67 1.7 4.9 35.6% 20 Vince Carter 67 1.7 4.4 37.6%
21 Danny Green 56 1.8 4.4 40.6% 26 Manu Ginobili 55 1.4 3.9 36.0%
22 Tim Hardaway Jr. 66 1.7 4.4 37.6% 27 LeBron James 62 1.4 3.9 37.1%
23 C.J. Miles 50 1.7 4.2 39.3% 28 Paul Pierce 60 1.5 3.9 37.4%
24 Ray Allen 60 1.5 4.0 37.9% 29 DeMarre Carroll 58 1.4 3.7 38.2%
25 Mike Dunleavy 67 1.5 4.0 38.0% 30 Marco Belinelli 65 1.6 3.6 43.7%
31 Marvin Williams 56 1.4 3.6 37.7% 36 Jared Dudley 63 1.2 3.3 35.4%
32 Richard Jefferson 68 1.5 3.5 41.9% 37 Jordan Hamilton 50 1.2 3.3 35.3%
33 Wesley Johnson 65 1.3 3.5 36.6% 38 Marcus Morris 67 1.3 3.2 39.2%
34 Alan Anderson 65 1.2 3.4 35.0% 39 Andre Iguodala 56 1.0 2.9 35.0%
35 Khris Middleton 67 1.4 3.4 41.9% 40 Kyle Singler 66 1.1 2.9 37.0%
41 Dorrell Wright 53 1.1 2.9 37.2% 46 Courtney Lee 63 0.9 2.4 37.3%
42 Evan Fournier 61 1.1 2.8 38.7% 47 Harrison Barnes 64 0.9 2.3 38.3%
43 Mike Miller 66 1.2 2.8 44.6% 48 Anthony Morrow 60 0.8 2.2 44.5%
44 Omri Casspi 59 0.9 2.6 35.7% 49 John Salmons 62 0.8 2.2 36.8%
45 Kawhi Leonard 51 0.9 2.5 36.7% 50 P.J. Tucker 66 0.9 2.2 39.7%

Left out: Paul Millsap, Kevin Love, Patrick Patterson, Mirza Teletovic and Josh McRoberts.

These players are ranked by 3PTA per game. From this group we see some interesting things. The first, most obvious one, is that there are only two Utah Jazz players on this list, and they are ranked #31 and #32. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and we don't even have one guy in the top 30. We do have two right on the bubble. (But we'll get into that later) For this elite-ish group RJ is shooting well, 41.9%, and Marvin is shooting okay 37.7%. Some of these players are primary options, some are secondary, and others are just guys to fill in the gaps and to stretch the defense. Overall, though, the average is shooting 38.7% from downtown. By this metric RJ is above average, but Marvin is not. (And against, this is for the best three point shooters in the league)

To be one of the best three point makers (and the good offensive teams have these dudes) you need to do more than just make a high percentage (one season Greg Ostertag was 1/2 from downtown). You also have to take enough to be a threat. The average for this group is to take 4.2 threes a game. That means the cut off point by average is between CJ and Ray Allen. We give Ray a pass though because he's always dangerous. So if the cut-off for being used enough as a thread it 4 threes a tame our two best makers aren't quite there. They are both in the three threes a game and change group. Still very deadly I think.

Of course, getting back to the point I skipped for now, a big part of this is pace. Klay Thompson is tops on this list and his team plays at a high pace. He also makes a ton of threes. He's high use, high volume, and during the off-season just plain high. (Now that's a call back.) The Jazz play at a slow pace and each basket we get isn't easy, and a product of a lot of moving parts. I'm not crazy about the current Coaching staff's Xs and Os. Other teams seem to be getting more from their deep threats than we are. And as a result, they are much harder teams to guard.

So let's look at our 2013-2014 Jazz . . .

The 2013-2014 Jazz:

You may notice that there were only 2 guys from our team to show up in the Top 50. That's pretty good, because the normative scale would have been two in the top 60. Anyway, RJ and Marvin are getting it done for the most part, but plenty of guys aren't. To reach that 50 games / 2.0 3pta / .350 shooting club . . . well . . .

Player G M A % What is missing?
1 Trey Burke 56 1.7 4.9 34.2% 3PT% -0.8%
2 Gordon Hayward 63 1.1 3.7 31.2% 3PT% -3.8%
3 Marvin Williams 56 1.4 3.6 37.7%
4 Richard Jefferson 68 1.5 3.5 41.9%
5 Alec Burks 68 0.6 1.8 34.2% 3PA -0.2 3PT% -0.8%
6 Ian Clark 14 0.5 1.4 35.0% G -36 3PA -0.6
7 Diante Garrett 57 0.5 1.2 40.6% 3PA -0.8
8 Brandon Rush 37 0.4 1.2 34.8% G -13 3PA -0.8 3PT% -0.2%

This doesn't look like the end of the world but let's go over it point by point, player by player:

  • Trey isn't a wing, but I'm including him here because he's supposed to be our best three point shooter. He's taking nearly 5 threes a game, and is only 0.8% off from being where he needs to be. His ratings here are 100+%, 100+%, and 97.7%. This season, if he picks it up, he could get 'there' as a PG. Going forward having a PG who can hit threes should be a key part of our offense.
  • Gordon is missing just one thing too, the 3pt%. He's nearly 4% off though, so that's something that needs to get fixed sooner, rather than later. I'd love to see him take more spot up threes -- and fewer off the bounce threes. But that's just me. A dude like Kyle Singler is in this club, but G-Time is not.
  • Marv and RJ are in this club, so we don't need to discuss them much more
  • Alec, man, close but no cigar. He is shooting just as well (or just as poorly) from downtown as Trey is. And he's taking 1.8 threes a game. If he can become a more confident outside shooter who then takes more it will only help his game flourish going forward. Not a lot of the guys on the NBA list of Top 50 are slashers like him, but some are. Manu G, and James H are on the list. And their games are somewhat similar to Burks'.
  • Ian, well, he's shooting 35% when I collected this data. He's just not playing in enough games, he does shoot a lot of the time he's in the game though. I don't think anyone would be upset if we had an off-the bench threat who could be efficiently and effectively relied upon to hit deep ones -- something like what the Nuggets are getting out of Evan Fournier.
  • Diante is technically a PG, but he has SG size. And he's making his threes at a great, above 40% clip. He has also played in 57 games, dude just isn't that big of a shooter in our schemes. Maybe this is pace related, by design, or that his good shooting would go down with more shots. I don't know what it is, but I do know that he's shooting a much better than Earl Watson, Jason Hart, Brevin Knight, Ronnie Price, or Jamaal Tinsley from outside.
  • Brandon was supposed to be one of these elite wing shooters who could even have a future with this franchise after this season. He's almost there at the minimum value for 3pt% (only off by 0.2% -- the closest out of everyone on the team who didn't make it), but he just never got used enough this season to be worried about. Sure, defenders knew to stick on him, but when he was on the floor I don't think the threat of his shot making this season really gave the team any advantages.

I guess that's the bottom line, a threat is only as good as how bad it can hurt. I don't think anyone feels like keeping Alec Burks open from downtown is something that's going to hurt you. He may make a few, but he's not elite. He's not like a Ray Allen or J.R. Smith. Those are guys, regardless of how they are doing in a game, that I feel like will make every open three pointer they get. I don't think Alec is ever going to get there. I do hope that Trey and Gordon do get there. It would not just greatly improve our team, but also allow for our Xs and Os to also advance and develop with the course of evolution the game is taking.

I would also love it if Ian Clark can get to that Brandon Rush level, or better, by being someone with the reputation of being able to make threes when they count. I'd also love a pizza right now, but wanting something and having it happen are two different things.

While RJ and Marv may not be long term Jazz players in the future, have their struggles on defense, and are some of the least impressive starters in the NBA right now -- they both do something that no one else on the team is doing right now. They are reliable three point makers who qualify to be in this elite 50 person group (minus 5 bigmen). A few seasons ago the Jazz had no three point threats. This season we at least have two. And I can only imagine how much worse our offense would look without them.

So thank you RJ and Marvin for making open threes. Hopefully next season guys like Trey, Gordon, Alec, and Ian will be able to come close to joining this club. Also, fingers crossed, we run some more plays for threes as well. Diversifying the offense is more than just plugging in a different bigman to post up on the left-block.

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