Nevada Smith, coach of the most innovative pro basketball team you've never seen, says almost all the criticism he hears about his chosen strategy comes from older fans and scouts.
"It's mostly those old-school basketball guys," says Smith, coach of the D-League's Rio Grande Valley Vipers, who have attempted 46 3-pointers per game over their 9-1 start to this season. "They ask why we're doing this. They say it's not basketball."
Smith just laughs it off. The Vipers, Houston's D-League affiliate, average nearly 112 possessions per game — about a dozen more than any NBA team. All that sprinting and 3-point gunning has produced 115 points per 100 possessions, best in the D-League and a number that would blow away the entire NBA. "If we could take a 3 every time down the court," Smith says, "we probably would. There's going to be a game where we shoot 60. I'm telling you. And people are going to think we're crazy."
No NBA team is doing anything close to what Smith and the Vipes1 are pulling in the D-League. But it's not an accident that the Rockets' D-League team is playing this way. Daryl Morey, Houston's GM, controlled the search for the Vipers' coach, and Morey made it clear he liked the run-and-gun style Smith's teams played at Ithaca College and Keystone College, Smith says. "They wanted someone whose teams would play in the 130s," Smith says. "I don't think they'd ever hire someone who played in the 80s."
About 34.7 percent of the Rockets' field goal attempts this season have been 3-pointers, putting Houston just behind the record-setting 35.4 percent share the Knicks put up last season. Threes have accounted for 25.3 percent of all field goal attempts league-wide, above last year's all-time record share (24.3 percent) — and well above the 16 to 18 percent shares the league averaged for most of the mid-2000s. The average team jacks just shy of 21 3-pointers per game, another record rate, up from about 19.9 last season. The Vipers and Rockets might be outliers, but the larger basketball landscape is trending in their direction. All of which raises the question: Are we nearing the point at which the 3-point shot will become too dominant a part of basketball? Is all the long-range chucking good for the game?
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The trend has been growing for years obviously and it's one of the things basketball fans hate about the college game at the moment. Less bigs and more 3 point shooters in the future? It's certainly trending that way.
Raptors tie-in: Nick Nurse plays a similar up-tempo style with a ton of 3s and may someday be the head coach of the Raptors, even if it's just on an interim basis.