“Mind your manners.” The classic adult-to-child adage you never want recounted to you again, but somehow find it slipping out to the next generation.
For some time now the Utah Jazz adage has been a version of “Mind your corner 3’s (and theirs),” a staple of Quin Snyder’s strategy on both sides of the ball has been to focus on the corners.
Last Saturday in a bout with the Timberwolves, the Jazz lost a close game in which they defended poorly, couldn’t make shots, mismanaged minutes for those in “foul trouble”, and allowed too many points off TOVs and OREBs (a -1 possession and -11 point swing, for those interested).
Some have pointed to the corner 3’s as hurting the Jazz in the game, particularly Jaret Culver spotting up on multiple occasions throughout the game. Let’s take a look a closer look at why that narrative exists and if it applies to the Jazz’s most recent loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves
Why You Should “Mind the Corner 3”
From a statistical perspective, the corner 3 is the second most valuable shot in terms of FGA location on the court as a league whole.
Over the past three seasons, the NBA corner 3 has generated 1.16 points per FGA. With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors protecting the most valuable shot (1.26 points per FGA) 48 min a night, the next step is to reduce opponent’s corner 3’s and increase your own frequency.
This focus has lead to the Jazz being one of the best teams at minding the corner 3.
Over the past 3 seasons, Utah has taken 10.5% of their shots as corner 3’s. Only the Houston Rockets have a larger frequency over the same time period. Last season the Jazz ended the year with the third highest corner 3 percentage at 41.1%.
While clearly a valuable shot, some may be wondering just how impactful the corner 3 is.
Over the past 5 seasons, a team’s corner 3 frequency has a +0.38 correlation coefficient to their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). While far from a perfect relationship, this correlation is strong enough to indicate offensive improvement can be made thanks to the corner 3.
The inverse is also true, as it applies to defense. While a handful of defenses may be effective without limiting their opponent’s corner 3 attempts, their defensive performance is certainly made easier by minding the opponent’s corner 3’s.
The Jazz have excelled here as well. Over the past 3 seasons, the Jazz have allowed just 6.3% of their opponent’s shots to be taken from the corners. Only the Philadelphia 76ers have been better over that time period. The Jazz allow an average percentage on such attempts at 37.9%.
In short, if you take a lot of corner 3’s, your offense will likely improve than if you don’t. If you prevent corner 3’s, your defense is likely to improve than if you don’t.
Looking at the net difference between offense and defense, the Jazz have been the best team in frequency and 8th in percentage. Talk about a strategic advantage! It’s now clear why corner 3 strategy and performance is a popular narrative.
Corner 3 Performance in the recent Jazz loss to the Timberwolves
How did the corner 3 impact the game?
During last Saturday’s game, the Utah Jazz allowed 7 corner 3 attempts to 101 overall FGA. That comes out to 6.9% corner 3 frequency allowed. Compared to their 3 season average of 6.3%, the Jazz really didn’t allow more corner 3’s than usual.
How about the Jazz? They attempted 8 corner 3’s to 94 FGA overall. That comes out to 8.5%. Compared to their 3 year average of 10.3%, the Jazz got about two fewer attempts from the corners than normal.
From a frequency standpoint, this narrative doesn’t fit very well. There are a handful of other perspectives that could better explain why the Jazz lost the game.
Of the 7 attempts Minnesota generated, they converted on 5 corner 3’s. The Jazz converted on just 1 of their 8 attempts. That’s the ball game, right there. The high variance of the 3 bit the Jazz in the butt last night.
Ultimately, the last question to ask as it relates to the game is how good of looks were the 7 for Minnesota and the 8 for Utah?
Refer to the above video for a compilation of the 15 corner 3’s in Saturday’s game.
Each play was tallied as a good defensive play or a poor defensive play leading up to the attempt. Let’s run through each individually:
Utah’s defense on the 7 Minnesota corner 3’s:
- BAD: three defenders gravitated to Ricky. Royce should have gone to the corner.
- BAD: Royce gambled on the steal, fell out of the play. Minnesota executed a 3-on-2.
- GOOD: attacked the closeout well but allowed Russell to get ahead of the play.
- GOOD: knowing your man, allowing Ricky to shoot while helping on cutting Russell.
- GOOD: faceguard and good contest of Ricky.
- BAD: both weakside defenders sucked in too far.
- GOOD: Rudy was up high on Towns. He’s just good.
Minnesota’s defense on the 8 Utah corner 3’s:
- BAD: Culver was sucked all the way into the paint to help on Rudy.
- BAD: Culver got stuck on the pick and there was no one above the pick to help.
- GOOD: Ricky did enough to help on the Donovan drive and contest the Joe 3.
- BAD: Towns gets caught playing zone off a pick and the Jazz whip it around for a 3.
- BAD: Russell forgets to keep marking Bogdanovic and allows an open 3.
- BAD: Russell gets sucked in to help on Rudy allowing an open 3.
- GOOD: Culver and Edwards stick to Donovan pretty well to contest the inbounds 3.
- GOOD: in a weird situation, Edwards gets to Bojan as well as could be expected.
Overall, there were mistakes on both sides. Ultimately Minnesota got a little lucky and the Jazz were unlucky. It happens. There is some good film to watch and other areas of the game to improve on.
Ultimately, the corner 3 is an easy narrative to explain the outcome of the game but in the simplest sense the shots were made or missed. In looking for tactical adjustments or improved areas of focus, we shouldn’t be looking to the corner 3 in this game.
The Utah Jazz have done very well in the preseason and first two games at generating corner 3 attempts and limiting those of the opponent. Continue to pay attention to this area of the game as it is one of the primary advantages the Jazz hold over their opponent.
In tonight’s game against the OKC Thunder, this could end up being a big part of the game. Over the last 3 years OKC is in the bottom third of the league in net frequency and percentage on corner 3’s. Combined with the major roster turnover, it will be fascinating to see their strategy against the Jazz.