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Ad Nauseam Part 2 - Opponents' Three Point Shooting

I've long maintained that sometimes your opponent's three point shooting is about your team's defense, and sometimes your opponent's three point shooting is about your opponent's three point shooting.  If you look at shooting percentages as a continuum, I think we can all agree that defense impacts 2 point FG percentage the most, impacts FT percentage the least, and that 3 point FG percentage is somewhere in between.  And as fans, we all know that players usually take threes in more or less the same situation.  When Tim Thomas gets an open look at a three, he takes it.  Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn't.  It has little do with the defense.

After the Miami game, in which the Heat shot a decidedly not hot 3 for 25 on their threes, the Clippers were leading the league in opponent's three point percentage at 28.6% having allowed 82 makes on 287 attempts.  In the subsequent 6 games (5 of them losses), opponents have shot 46 for 101 (45.5%).  Against the Spurs and Rockets, it's somewhat understandable, as those teams shoot the 3 ball often and well.  Against Portland andUtah (20th and 24th in makes), it's head-scratching.

In the Clippers last 5 losses, their opponents have shot 41.7% or better on their 3's.  The Clippers have been outscored from the three point line in each of those losses by 18, 24, 12, 21, and 24.  The Clippers don't use the three in their attack (the subject of another 1000 word essay), so it's not unusual for them to be outscored from the arc.  But the recent numbers are debilitating.  Don't get me wrong - LA wasn't going to beat the Spurs or the Jazz playing in 1975, with no three point shot and really tiny shorts - but the scores would have been much more respectable.  As for the last two games against Portland and Houston, it is not unreasonable to say that hot three point shooting by those teams was the difference in the game.

Portland was 9 for 16 on their threes on Friday night.  This included 3 for 3 by Ime Udoka (who is shooting 45.9% on the season, but still, he's Ime Udoka), 2-4 for Jarrett Jack (his 10th and 11th threes of the SEASON, pushing his percentage above 20%), and a 30 footer by Zach Randolph on a busted play (his 4th three of the season).  Much has been said about the Clippers wasting 59% shooting in a loss, and indeed that is a shame.  But guess what?  The Blazers shot 51.3%, and adjusted for their 9 threes, they shot 57%.  So someone was gonna lose that game despite torrid shooting.  

Was the defense that bad?  It wasn't great, but I didn't think it was horrible.  Jarrett Jack was shooting under 20% coming into the game.  You pay him to shoot threes if you're the Clippers.  And of course the Randolph make came at the end of a great defensive possession.  Meanwhile, that crazy Sergio Rodriquez play, where he goes driving down the lane, goes into the air, and then throws a blind pass about 35 feet to the opposite garden spot, resulted in 2 makes, out of 4 times they ran it.  Maybe the Clippers should have been ready for it from the scouting report, but you just don't expect that pass in that situation.  It was nutty.  Anyway, people look at the Portland box score and reflexively say 'They didn't defend the three point line.'  But they weren't that bad, if you ask me.

Against Houston, you pretty much have to double team Yao.  Now, here's the thing.  Houston has this incredible weapon in Yao, and they have surrounded him with a bunch of mediocre players, many of them one-dimensional.  With no Tracy McGrady, Luther Head is their starting 2 guard, and what can he do other than shoot?  Meanwhile, Chuck Hayes starts at the 4, and he CAN'T shoot at all (what was that monstrosity he threw up there in the 2nd quarter?), but he can rebound, and he can set screens.  They know that the double team is coming on Yao, they put a shooter in the opposite corner behind the arc, they swing the ball, and Hayes sets a pick on the double teamer, who's job it is to rotate to that last pass.  It's simple, and it works.  The Clippers rotated their asses off, but Houston got clean looks anyway.

In a five point loss, where the lead was 4 with a minute to go, if Houston shoots 6 for 17 (35.3%, just about their season average) instead of 8 for 17... well, you get the idea.

So, has something happened to the team to take them from best in the league 28.6% 3 point defense through the first 17 games to an unheard of 45.5% in the last 6 games?  You can't really blame this one on injuries, since Maggette and Cassell are the worst perimeter defenders on the team.  Are the players simply too distracted by trade rumors to execute effectively on defense?  Or did they just happen to have some games where the other guys hit their threes?

Conversely, did the Clippers defend the three point line astoundingly well against the Heat to hold them to 12%?  Or did Antoine Walker and James Posey play like a couple of chuckers that game?  

This is one of those stats that's going to even out.  By the end of the season, the Clippers will be among the league leaders in opponents three point percentage.  They've run up against some teams that shoot it well in general (like the Spurs) and who have shot it well specifically against them (like the Blazers).  Don't get too worked up about it.  Move on.

(That's 950 words on opponents threes.)