Utah Jazz Midseason Review: Did we fix three pointers?

Harry How

This off-season the Utah Jazz front office really went out there and got us some serious three point threats. No we did not trade for Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick . . . but we did a number of nice moves to trade for Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, and sign unrestricted free agent Randy Foye. The team also drafted NCAA scoring guard Kevin Murphy as well. The focus on getting all these three point makers came as a stark contrast to how the team did not do anything to address the defensive deficiencies for our team. As a result, going 'whole hog' for threes meant that it was the primary focus of the front office in the off-season, and more importantly, that the end result or desired result for putting all our off-season eggs in the three point basket should be that we'd never have to worry about threes again in the short term.

So the All-Star break has come and gone, and we have a n=50+ data set with which to evaluate our team with. So we can really dig into the three point issue. Beyond Mo, Marv, and Randy . . . our main three point threats this season have been Gordon Hayward, Jamaal Tinsley, Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Earl Watson, and the rookie Murphy. Those 10 guys have taken the majority of our threes -- and outside of random events -- are really the only guys we need to talk about in the Utah Jazz three point attack. Ideally, no one else should ever take a three -- but that's not the case. So, for this group of 10 players, they have gone a collective 324/881 from downtown. That's 36.8%, which is not only higher than our total season mark of 36.3%, but a lot higher than last seasons' mark of 32.3%. So yes, our core three point shooters this season are getting it done.

But no, you're not getting off easy here! (Pulls you back to the hard wooden single school room bench by your ear)

Way back in the off-season I spent hours working on a post about our three point shooting, and also another about the different ranks or tiers of three point shooters. I'm not crazy enough to traverse our archives to find it right now. (Last time we went in with 10 men to find a post about defensive rebounding, only I and my native guide returned.) So there's no links there. The whole issue is that our shooting HAD to be better because that's the only thing we fixed; and if it was better, how much better was it?

Let's take a look.

Mid_seas_review_threes_historical

Well, that's sadly informative. I was living right now in the idea that we were living in the new golden age of Utah Jazz three point shooting. I guess that's true, we're just TAKING a lot of threes, and in comparison to LAST SEASON it looks great. Yes, our Core 10 guys from this year are performing better than our whole team this year. And yes, our team this year (2012-13) are performing much better than last season (2011-12) . . . but . . . that's really it. Propaganda aside, we're not even as good by this single metric (3pt%) as we were in the 2007-2008 Mehmet Okur / Deron Williams / Kyle Korver / Andrei Kirilenko days. And in terms of making the threes we took, again 3pt%, we're now (and during those D-Will days) both far behind where we were in the swan song of Stockton and Malone. That season Bryon Russell shot 39.6%, Howard Eisley shot 36.8%, Jeff Hornacek shot 47,8%, and John Stockton shot 35.5%. That ranking was based upon most 3PTA to least.

And while that's a sobering trip down memory lane, making the shots you take is one thing; but another thing is actually taking shots. The most 3PTA per game for that 1999-2000 group shot was B-Russ who shot 3.3 threes a game. Today Randy Foye takes 5.4 threes a game. We may not have accuracy now, but we have volume. (Oooh, symbolism for BOTH our team from outside, and also perhaps also the Utah Jazz state sponsored media like radio and internet channels! May not be accurate, but has volume. Oh Snap!)

The standard deviation data shows that we're above average, but within one standard deviation. (Not above one, but within the range of one) So we're not significantly better. We're better. But not *really* outstanding.

So let's look at this team, this season:

Mid_season_review_threes

This table has a LOT of information.

First, we see each of our 10 guys, then the totals / averages for these 10 guys as a group. Then we also have them separated into sub-groups: all of our dedicated PGs (Mo, Jamaal, and Earl); our starters (Mo, Randy, Marvin); our bench (Gordon, Alec, DeMarre); and then our bench PGs (Jamaal and Earl). These sub-group breakdowns are important.

Okay, now let's go and talk about each player and/or group:

  • Randy Foye: He's the biggest part of our '11-12 to '12-13 one season improvement. He shoots the best out of all of our players here (42.4%), he shoots 5.4 threes a game, and makes 2.3 threes. For Randy himself, 55.8% of ALL of his field goal attempts are three point attempts. He's a specialist. Usually specialists don't start on playoff teams (for example, Korver came off the bench back when we were in the hunt for home court); but he starts here. He is a huge part of our total three point attack as well, as 32.8% of ALL of the threes taken by these 10 guys (our core 10 three point guys, all at different three point shooting tiers), are threes taken by Randy. So to state this again, he's our best three point shooter, over half of his shots are threes, and one third of all of our threes, are his threes.
  • Gordon Hayward: Gordon is our second best three point shooter, he's #2 in 3pt% and #2 in total 3PTA as well. He's more diverse with his shot selection (less than 30% of all his shots are threes) than Randy, but his work from downtown is about 15% of our total effective three point attack this season. He's better than last season, in terms of being a more total force from outside. You could argue that the three main off-season moves (Mo, Marvin, and Randy) were supposed to make Gordon, at best, 4th on the team in being a three point threat. You could argue that he's our second biggest threat though.
  • Marvin Williams: Marvin is #3 in 3PTA (which is what this order is based on), but he fell back to earth. I guess this is a cautionary tale, as his 3PT% LAST season was astronomical (career: 33.0%; last season: 38.9%; this season: 33.9%). Is this what is going to happen to Randy next season? I really hope not, because I'm pretty sure the Jazz are going to bring him back next year. Well, back to Marvin -- he's taking a lot of threes, and seems to be sadly relegated to having to take a lot of threes. He's in that dissatisfied Andrei Kirilenko role on offense, as the token starter who isn't allowed to have any plays run for him. About 40% of all of his shots are threes, and it's usually a kick out, or ball rotation elicited three. It's not like we're running plays for him. And as a result, he's having an altogether forgettable season.
  • Jamaal Tinsley: Wow, so due to all the injuries, Jamaal is #4 in total three point attempts this season. He's shooting way better than he did at the start of the year. so that's good on him. He's at 30.4 3pt% right now, which is an okay-ish mark for the 80s and 90s. It's really not acceptable now, especially not when you combine that below average making ability with the fact that he shoots 51.8% of ALL his FGA as three point FGA. He's not really driving anymore, or shooting different shots. He's stuck with an insane kick out dude to the defense leaving him open to double Al Jefferson. This could be indicative of the Jazz' need to improve their roster by getting a back-up PG who has legit three point range.
  • Mo Williams: Mo started this season off as our best player, period. Go look back at the stats for the first 2-3 weeks of the season, he was on fire. He's cooled off significantly after braking a bone in his right (shooting) hand, and has only played 24 games this year. He's missed more games than he has played. If he was healthy, I'm sure his ranking in total Jazz three point attempts wouldn't have him be #5 on the list; but for a guy who has played only 24 games to STILL be #5 is pretty admirable. He's our third best three point shooter by percentage, and has a green light on offense, as he averages 3.5 three point attempts per game. (The only guy who shoots more threes a game is Randy). Mo isn't as huge a force for our total three point attempts mainly because he's missed games, right now he's clocking in as 10% of our Select 10's totals. Over 30% of his shots are from downtown, but he's super diverse as he attempts layups and 2pointers as well. He's not a specialist like Randy is (who shoots 55.8% of all his shots from three). Mo has not played every game, but when he's played; he's made a huge impact on the outcome of the game with his shooting (game in Boston . . . game against Spurs).
  • Alec Burks: Burks isn't a natural shooter like the guys ahead of him on the list; but his shooting stroke looks good. He's making one out of every three shots from downtown he takes this season (33.3%). He doesn't shoot a lot of threes, only 1.3 attempts a game; and less than 1 out of 4 shots of his are threes (23.1%). That's fine. I'd love to see his % be at least 35% to be really happy with him. I don't think he's ever going to be a volume three point shooter, a guy who makes 1.5 threes a game, or a guy who shoots 37% from downtown. He's doing okay, but he's not where I'd want him to be from outside. Thankfully, he seems to feel the same way. He hits end of the shot clock three point attempts, and gets them in rhythm. He's not a guy to actively jack up threes though. His strengths are elsewhere, and he knows it.
  • DeMarre Carroll: Carroll improved his shot and is shooting 29.5 3pt%. If he can keep improving it he can be that Bruce Bowen type who starts, is a defender, and hits that corner three. He's not here to be a three point threat though, and is clearly one of the middle rungs on my Three point shooter tier post. (Man, I really should search for it, I'm referencing it a lot!) He's a hustle guy, and seems to be improving.
  • Paul Millsap: Millsap was shooting second best on the team from three early on this season, but he hais trailed off of late. He hardly takes threes, Paul shoots only 0.6 threes a game, and it's only 5.4% of all his FGA. He has three point range, but rarely uses it. I think he would be a more dangerous player if he did take more threes, even if it was to bait the defense to set up a dribble drive like Mehmet Okurr used to do. He has the floor skills, he can shot, he's great facing up. He'd earn more in his next contract if he was capable of demonstrating a more effective three point game.
  • Earl Watson: Earl isn't good at threes. He's not much of a shooter or scorer. More than a quarter of his shots are threes though. That's a product of the defense doubling the guy we post up, who then leaves Earl open and he is forced into taking these shots. Again, not a strength, but something the defense does frequently enough for this to be a problem.
  • Kevin Murphy: Kevin is here just out of respect for the fact that we drafted him as a scorer / shooter, who took over 500 career NCAA threes, and finished with a 37.2 3pt% while shooting 41.6 3pt% as a Senior.
  • Point Guard Group: Mo is the driving engine here, and nearly 40% of all the shots PGs have taken this year are from three. That said, Jamaal and Earl bring this group down and it's less effective than normal (below average for the Jazz core 10 three point shooters this season).
  • Starters -- Mo, Marv, Randy: These guys collectively are killing it and are 56.2% of ALL THE THREES TAKEN for our team this year. They shoot nearly 40% from outside, and 45% of their shots are from outside. This is really a group heavily skewed by Foye's greatness this year though. Of course, if Marvin terminates the last year of his contract, all three of these guys are free agents. And that means all three of these guys could be gone. And that means that while we had a huge bump from last year to this year to 'correct' our three point woes -- the three guys who have corrected it could all leave. So all the good work from downtown this year could just be a slight bump and a bandage over a larger wound that did not really get fixed.
  • Bench -- Gordon, Alec, DeMarre: These guys are about average for what our team is doing, and they are all younger / less experienced players. Only about 1/4th of their shots are from outside (24.5%), so it's not like they are fully focused on the outside. They still make up about 1/4th of all of our 3pt attempts (25.2%). So that's in a pretty good ratio for where they are for the team as a whole, and where they are in terms of how big threes are to their games. So, uh, nice co-incidence. While their shooting is average-ish, they shoot less than 2 threes a game on average. BUT, that's still three guys, so you have to defend them as it's about 6 shots from outside a game. (Or most Randy Foye games) So they're not really threats from outside, they're about average. But they're young, and should get better. Gordon is the best of this group, Alec is okay, and DeMarre is working on it. Hopefully they all continue to get better from here -- this is the harder improvement. It takes longer, it's not as easy as signing three great shooters in the off-season. But the results could be longer lasting (youth vs. guys on expiring deals). (Yes, DeMarre is on an expiring deal, and he's not really *young* either.)
  • Bench PGs -- Jamaal and Earl: This is the big problem here . . . 43.4% of all their shots are from three, but they are bad from three. They only make 28.6% from outside. They don't take a lot of threes (they are self aware and know they are bad at it), but as the games become more and more critical, they'll be left more and more open in crunch time if they are on the floor.

So what do we have? The guys we brought in to be good from outside have been good. Marvin dipped down back to his career average, Randy is having the best shooting year of his career. Mo is Mo. So over all they're doing it. But their true effect against the rest of the last 15 data sets shows that we're only slightly above average as a result.

The guys with the upside to improve are average, but slightly below average I feel. Gordon is doing it, and we love his confidence now. Burks and DeMarre have both improved; however, I don't think they'll ever be great.

If there is a problem it's with back up PG -- this should be the position to target this off-season if we don't blow up our bigman core. We need a back up PG who can hit threes. Not just because Jamaal and Earl are performing poorly from three; but because most good teams just basically have one who can hit threes. It's important.

So over all -- we put all our off-season eggs in the three point basket; and we are better than last season (32.3% -- which is OVER -1 STDEV worse than average, and thus, between -1 to -2 STDEV below). But not significantly so. And over all, our team's core are up or down, but the lion's share of it all comes from Randy Foye this year. We're super lucky to have him -- but his remarkable shooting may price him a little too high in free agency. Furthermore, Marvin's single year shooting could be a cautionary tale as he went from being a 39% dude to being a 33% dude this year, and fell back to his career average. How hot can Foye continue to be? He is going to be 44% for the rest of his career? I really don't know, and while he's shooting over 5 times a game, and maintaining his current average, statistics tell me that I should not expect this trend to last forever.

Ultimately, we're better than last year. And it's due to Randy Foye. Will he last? Will this method of getting better last? Those are the worries that will haunt us for the rest of this season, and the future. For now -- enjoy this golden era of Utah Jazz three point basketball.

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