Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Image
Here we are folks. It’s the Miami Heat vs. the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA championship. This is the matchup that we all wanted (we being everyone not looking forward to watching the Pacers set an NBA playoff record for turnovers) and there are plenty of story lines to follow. Both teams have a “Big 3”, LeBron is seeking his 2nd NBA title and revenge for a finals loss in 2007 to the Spurs, Tim Duncan is close to retiring and Gregg Popovich has vowed to follow him out the door, and not to be out done is the cat-and-mouse game that these two organizations played during their regular season match-ups by resting “injured” star players. The cat-and-mouse games will continue, but one area of focus will be the ability of both teams to make and defend the corner 3-pointer.
Importance of the Corner 3
The corner 3 is widely considered to be the best jump shot in the NBA (some call it the best shot, but give me a dunk over a corner 3 any day of the week).
- The corner 3 is the shortest 3-point shot on the basketball court and is the highest percentage 3-point shot.
- Teams will often position a player in this zone to spread out the defense and to draw a big man away from the rim (the Heat attempted to do this to Roy Hibbert with mixed success) and to deter the defense from double teaming or helping on drives to the basket.
- The corner 3 is also usually a result of ball movement rather than 1-on-1 shot making. Ball movement is the best way to beat an elite defense as the Spurs demonstrated against the stingy Memphis Grizzlies defense.
Corner 3 Efficiency
During the regular season, the Heat and the Spurs were two of the best corner 3 shooting teams in the NBA. Both rosters were constructed with this in mind, and both teams game plan to get their shooters open looks in the corners or right above the corner 3 zones. The Heat ranked 1st in the league in corner 3 attempts during the regular season and shot the 4th best percentage at 43%. The Spurs attempted the 3rd most corner 3’s and shot 41.1%, 6th best in the NBA.
Below are season heat maps provided by Basketball-Reference.com for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, two starters for the San Antonio Spurs. It’s no secret where the majority of their points come from (red zones).
Kawhi Leonard Danny Green
The Miami Heat are no different as Ray Allen and Shane Battier boast similar heat maps.
Ray Allen Shane Battier
Quite honestly, I could have put up the heat maps of other players (Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Matt Bonner, Manu Ginobili, Chris Bosh) and the constant would be a hot zone in either or both corner 3 zones.
Corner 3 Defense
The Heat were taken out of their game during the ECF against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers proved to be a tough matchup because of their size and physicality which forced Eric Spoelstra to play bigger lineups and effectively bench Shane Battier, and also because the Pacers ranked 1st in the NBA at defending the three point line, more specifically the corner 3. The Heat ranked 2nd during the season in corner-3 defense (opponents shot 34.1%) and have limited opponents to a league best 25.4% shooting from the corner 3 in the playoffs (I would rely more on their regular season opponent shooting percentage as the Heat faced the Bulls and Pacers, two of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA). The Heat might be lacking size, but they have the foot speed and defensive intelligence to close out shooters and force contested rather than open 3-point shots. The Spurs aren’t quite as effective preventing the corner 3 (ranked 10th in regular season) and were lit up by the Golden State Warriors during their 2nd round match-up (Warriors shot 56.5%).
The Bottom Line
So why does all this matter? Will the team that shoots the corner 3 best win the NBA finals? No. The NBA finals will not come down to corner 3 efficiency but rather in-game execution and adjustments. There will be moments in the series when coach Spoelstra or coach Popovich will insert a lineup with four shooters camped out around the 3-point line and force the opposing coach and team to react. There will be times when the opposing defense will have to decide whether to double team Tony Parker or LeBron James when they drive to the basket and leave shooters open. There will be fast breaks when Ray Allen will run to the corner rather than to the basket as Tom Habestroh details in this column. Most importantly, there will be late game situations where both coaches will have to draw up plays to either get shooters open in the corners or use them as decoys. All of this comes down to shot making and shot defense. The corner 3 just happens to count for three very important points and is a staple of both offenses. Let the cat-and-mouse games continue.