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Utah Jazz three point shooting shows evolution of the game

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When you think of three point shooting teams you think of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. But the Utah Jazz are evolving quickly.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

I was first introduced to the NBA game back in the early 80s, where a three point shot happened almost by accident. Sure, some players could hit that shot, but most NBA playbooks were right to shun it. Even a guy like Larry Bird could play a whole season and finish it with fewer than 20 made threes back then. But times have changed. For a long time it looked like the Utah Jazz resisted this, like all changes, poorly. We've seen everything from the player's general skill levels to the lines on the court change over the last few decades. The evolution of the game happens around league wide trends and unstoppable players. The smartest players stay ahead of the curve. And the smartest teams do too. I argue that the Utah Jazz are doing just that.

My first Utah Jazz head coach was Frank Layden, and I've been in love with the franchise every year since then. I've seen the rise of the Jazz to contender status, the slow fall, another rise, another fall, a record scratch, and now the present day team. Convention dictated that if you were building your offense around inside scoring you would do it around a center. Utah did not, they did it around forwards Adrian Dantley, Karl Malone, and then later on, Carlos Boozer. In order to do that the team would be very easy to defend against if there was a center still roaming the paint, at the ready to help out on defense.

The key, then, was to draw that bigman out of the paint. In the old days the previous illegal defense rule made that possible by parking Mark Eaton or Greg Ostertag out around the three point line to graze and generate FTA for the team because of this rules exploit. The rule changed though, and the offense stagnated until floor space could be maintained by the addition of Mehmet Okur. Now the offense that had persisted for decades could continue to run, and there was someone out there to draw defenders away from the paint.

But the game keeps changing, and the nerfed rules for hand checking, and the growth of the wing oriented slashing game (far from the forward oriented post up game of Dick Motta) meant that a new halfcourt geography had to be invented.

Basically, everyone had to be able to move, and be capable of keeping the defense honest.

This is a shift from the solar system post approach, where one giant star has the rest rotating around him (think the Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon and all their three point shooters) to one where comets fly through the sky and you better get out of the way (watch some early LeBron James in Cleveland). A new order was needed.

Quin Snyder consulted his NCAA star charts and figured it out. And on a team where Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Dante Exum, and Derrick Favors can all face up around 15 feet and drive to the rim this evolution was necessary. What is it?

It's the rule of the three.

Over the last thirty years (29.x because this one just started) the Utah Jazz have taken approximately 24,718 three pointers in the regular season. They have made about 8580 of them, for a success percentage of 34.71%.

But for the most part, the Jazz playbook didn't even look at the three point shot. Furthermore, out of the shots that were taken, threes were very invisible minorities. Back in '85-86 only 2.4% of all the FGA where from downtown. But we've come a long way, baby.

Season Head Coach Win % FGA/G 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% 3PTA/FGA% Top 3PTA 2nd 3PTA 3rd 3PTA
1 1985 1986 Frank Layden 51.2% 86.4 0.4 2.1 20.7% 2.43% Bob Hansen 34.0% Pace Mannion 19.0% Rickey Green 17.2%
2 1986 1987 Frank Layden 53.7% 91.6 1.7 5.5 31.0% 6.00% Darrell Griffith 33.5% Dell Curry 28.3% Kelly Tripucka 36.5%
3 1987 1988 Frank Layden 57.3% 86.5 1.6 4.9 31.9% 5.66% Darrell Griffith 27.5% Bob Hansen 33.0% Kelly Tripucka 41.9%
4 1988 1989 Layden / Sloan 62.2% 80.4 1.4 4.6 30.0% 5.72% Darrell Griffith 31.1% John Stockton 24.2% Bob Hansen 35.2%
5 1989 1990 Jerry Sloan 67.1% 80.4 2.8 7.7 35.9% 9.58% Darrell Griffith 37.2% Bob Hansen 35.1% John Stockton 41.6%
6 1990 1991 Jerry Sloan 65.9% 79.7 1.8 5.6 32.3% 7.03% John Stockton 34.5% Darrell Griffith 34.8% Delaney Rudd 27.9%
7 1991 1992 Jerry Sloan 67.1% 83.7 1.9 5.6 34.5% 6.69% John Stockton 40.7% Blue Edwards 37.9% Delaney Rudd 23.4%
8 1992 1993 Jerry Sloan 57.3% 83.3 1.6 5.0 31.4% 6.00% John Stockton 38.5% David Benoit 34.7% Jay Humphries 20.0%
9 1993 1994 Jerry Sloan 64.6% 82.1 2.2 6.8 32.0% 8.28% John Stockton 32.2% Jay Humphries 39.6% David Benoit 20.3%
10 1994 1995 Jerry Sloan 73.2% 77.3 3.7 9.8 37.6% 12.68% John Stockton 44.9% Jeff Hornacek 40.6% David Benoit 33.0%
11 1995 1996 Jerry Sloan 67.1% 78.3 4.6 12.4 37.2% 15.84% John Stockton 42.2% Jeff Hornacek 46.6% Chris Morris 32.0%
12 1996 1997 Jerry Sloan 78.0% 75.8 4.1 11.0 37.0% 14.51% Bryon Russell 40.9% Jeff Hornacek 36.9% John Stockton 42.2%
13 1997 1998 Jerry Sloan 75.6% 74.5 3.0 8.2 37.2% 11.01% Bryon Russell 34.1% Jeff Hornacek 44.1% Howard Eisley 40.7%
14 1998 1999 Jerry Sloan 74.0% 72.4 2.8 7.8 36.1% 10.77% Bryon Russell 35.4% Jeff Hornacek 42.0% John Stockton 32.0%
15 1999 2000 Jerry Sloan 67.1% 77.8 4.0 10.4 38.5% 13.37% Bryon Russell 39.6% Howard Eisley 36.8% Jeff Hornacek 47.8%
16 2000 2001 Jerry Sloan 64.6% 76.7 4.0 10.4 38.1% 13.56% Bryon Russell 41.3% John Starks 35.2% John Stockton 46.2%
17 2001 2002 Jerry Sloan 53.7% 77.7 3.4 10.3 33.3% 13.26% Bryon Russell 34.1% Scott Padgett 43.4% Andrei Kirilenko 25.0%
18 2002 2003 Jerry Sloan 57.3% 75.5 2.7 7.8 34.9% 10.33% Matt Harpring 41.3% Scott Padgett 33.8% Andrei Kirilenko 32.5%
19 2003 2004 Jerry Sloan 51.2% 75.3 3.1 9.6 32.1% 12.75% Andrei Kirilenko 33.8% Raja Bell 37.3% Carlos Arroyo 32.5%
20 2004 2005 Jerry Sloan 31.7% 76.8 3.0 9.3 32.8% 12.11% Raja Bell 40.3% Gordan Giricek 36.2% Howard Eisley 26.2%
21 2005 2006 Jerry Sloan 50.0% 75.7 3.8 11.3 33.6% 14.93% Mehmet Okur 34.2% Deron Williams 41.6% Devin Brown 33.1%
22 2006 2007 Jerry Sloan 62.2% 78.9 4.3 12.9 33.5% 16.35% Mehmet Okur 38.4% Deron Williams 32.2% Derek Fisher 30.8%
23 2007 2008 Jerry Sloan 65.9% 80.4 5.0 13.4 37.2% 16.67% Mehmet Okur 38.8% Deron Williams 39.5% Kyle Korver 38.8%
24 2008 2009 Jerry Sloan 58.5% 80.8 4.8 13.7 34.9% 16.96% Kyle Korver 38.6% Deron Williams 31.0% Mehmet Okur 44.6%
25 2009 2010 Jerry Sloan 64.6% 80.2 5.4 14.7 36.4% 18.33% Deron Williams 37.1% C.J. Miles 34.1% Mehmet Okur 38.5%
26 2010 2011 Sloan / Corbin 47.6% 80.4 5.3 15.3 34.6% 19.03% C.J. Miles 32.2% Deron Williams 34.5% Raja Bell 35.2%
27 2011 2012 Tyrone Corbin 54.5% 83.8 4.1 12.8 32.3% 15.27% Devin Harris 36.2% Gordon Hayward 34.6% C.J. Miles 30.7%
28 2012 2013 Tyrone Corbin 52.4% 81.8 6.2 16.9 36.6% 20.66% Randy Foye 41.0% Gordon Hayward 41.5% Marvin Williams 32.5%
29 2013 2014 Tyrone Corbin 30.5% 81.1 6.6 19.2 34.4% 23.67% Trey Burke 33.0% Richard Jefferson 40.9% Gordon Hayward 30.4%
30 2014 2015 Quin Snyder 41.7% 77.7 7.7 23.0 33.3% 29.60% Gordon Hayward 32.8% Trey Burke 27.1% Dante Exum 35.3%

Quin has the Jazz using the rule of three and 30% of all FGA are from outside. The looks are coming every game, and are being made by design. The three pointer is no longer something that happens on accident, it's by direct design. If the defense follows along close enough to the ball movement they'll eventually fall into Snyder's trap.

And yes, I get it, the % hasn't been there yet this season for some of our guys, but it's early. When it normalizes the sheer abundance of open shots will provide a bounty of points. As it stands, the team was evolving towards this 30% nexus point anyway.

Utah Jazz 1985 2015 Three Point Shooting per game

Is it a normal growth, or exponential? Whatever it is, it's shooting nearly three times more threes than when the team was in the NBA Finals. And it's making more threes than ever before -- and that's with Trey Burke slumping.

The real evolution of the Utah Jazz and the three point shot isn't just taking more, or incorporating it into the offense more organically. (The majority of the threes are by design, and happen within the normal flow, not because someone comes off of three downscreens like Reggie Miller or Ray Allen). The real evolution is that everyone (for the most part) is going to qualify as three point capable.

So far this season 10 different players have made at least more than one three pointer. One more player has taken a three, and missed all of them; and yet another (Toure' Murry) will take and make threes if he ever gets to play this year. That will be 11 of 14 players -- the three who we do not expect to make a bunch of threes this year are Derrick Favors (starting center), Rudy Gobert (back up center), and Jeremy Evans (career 0/5 from outside). Oh, and all 10 of the guys who have hit threes average at least one hoist from downtown a game.

If you add it up, 14.4 3PTA per game are coming from forwards this year. Guards are getting to the line more, and bigmen are still finding spots inside and out of the paint to score from.

This offense isn't unique, as we've seen Chris Bosh and other bigmen predate upon teams who get sucked into group defending a slashing wing, he has hit more meaningful three pointers in the playoffs than most guards in the NBA. But it is an evolution of the Jazz offense.

We may not have been the first species on land, but we're no longer drowning on air the moment we get out of the water, anymore. Part of that is personnel, but a bigger part has been Quin's encouragement of people taking the open three -- even guys like Enes Kanter and Trevor Booker. Before being paired up with Quin and his playbook they went a combined 2/13 from outside over their career. That 15.38% isn't encouraging. But that's precisely that Snyder did with them, and so far this season they are a combined 13/36, which is 36.11% from downtown.

Evolution.

And if they weren't doing that then a lot more Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke drives would end in a turn over, and Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert wouldn't be so open under the basket.

When the Jazz a) finally determine the pace they play at, and b) Trey Burke starts to make his open threes -- watch out.

Historically Utah didn't take a lot of threes. But this year's team looks to leave history in the dust as they bomb away. It's where the game is going. And it's where our team is heading. And like with the experiments years ago to run the offense and exploit the defense it's going to result in better scoring inside the paint as an intended benefit. Just not by one guy this time around, but from our bigs and slashers.

The old offense had each player be a different shaped peg that fits into only a similarly shaped hole. Quin Snyder is running an offense that is making his best players into interchangeable Swiss army knives. And even if the team is two games below .500 right now, and have an average age of 24, they ALREADY have the 10th best offense in the league.

I can't wait to see how good this team can be.