“Don’t settle for a jumper!”
It’s fairly common to hear NBA announcers decry the use of the three point shot on fast breaks. If you have the defense on its heels, the reasoning goes, you should push the ball all the way to the basket or just bring it out and set up your half court offense. But what if they’re wrong?
Pts Per Break
|New York Knicks||37.47%||Golden State Warriors||1.82|
|Golden State Warriors||32.87%||Atlanta Hawks||1.82|
|New Orleans Hornets||27.59%||Orlando Magic||1.80|
|Atlanta Hawks||26.45%||New Orleans Hornets||1.80|
|Brooklyn Nets||24.76%||Los Angeles Clippers||1.77|
The table above shows the five teams that took the most three point attempts as a percentage of their total field goal attempts on fast breaks during the 2012-13 season, as well as the five teams that averaged the most points per break. Three teams (Warriors, Hawks, and then-Hornets) appear on both lists. Each of the five teams that attempted the greatest percentage of three pointers also scored at or better than the league average in terms of points per break (1.72), per NBA data compiled by Bloomberg Sports.
The 2013-14 season has seen a similar pattern emerge. Four of the top five teams in points per break this season are also in the top five of percentage of total fast break field goal attempts that come from behind the three point arc. Each of those five teams have scored well above the league average, which again stands at 1.72 points per break.
Pts Per Break
|Golden State Warriors||44.34%||Golden State Warriors||2.03|
|Portland Trail Blazers||36.84%||Sacramento Kings||1.91|
|New York Knicks||36.11%||Dallas Mavericks||1.86|
|Sacramento Kings||32.14%||Los Angeles Clippers||1.85|
|Los Angeles Clippers||30.91%||New York Knicks||1.83|
Indeed, in each of the last two seasons, the correlation coefficient between percentage of fast break field goal attempts that are three pointers and points per fast break is stronger than that of actual three point field goal percentage and points per break. Put more simply, it seems as though the simple act of taking a three pointer on the break is more closely related to efficient fast break scoring than actually making the shot.
With that in mind, I decided to take a look at a few players and the different kind of three point looks they typically get on fast breaks.
Kevin Love – The Trailer
When he isn’t busy throwing full court outlet passes to a streaking Corey Brewer, Love often sneaks up behind the action and waits for a drop-off pass near the top of the arc. With a creative passer in Ricky Rubio often running the break, Love doesn’t have to wave his arms up and down and call for the ball that often. Ricky knows where to find him. Most bigs make rim runs in transition, and their defenders are thus used to defending against that when the ball is pushed up the court. But Love often runs right to the top of the arc and stops, which gives him a good deal of space to get off a shot before his defender closes out, as happens with both Tristan Thompson and DeAndre Jordan above. Love has made 45.9 percent of his transition threes in the last five seasons, per the video tracking service mySynergySports.
Ryan Anderson – The Spot Sniper
While Love will trail the play and wait for a dump-off, Anderson has a slightly different approach in that he often runs directly to his favorite spot on the floor and simply waits there. He developed particularly good chemistry on the break with point guard Greivis Vasquez last year, with Vasquez assisting on 29 of Anderson’s 40 transition threes on the season. Anderson’s favorite spot is the wing, from which he has shot 39.6 percent in his career. Anderson in the last five seasons has shot 42.0 percent on transition threes, according to Synergy.
Stephen Curry – The Pull-up Master
It’s basically impossible to shut down Stephen Curry behind the arc to begin with, but when he’s carrying the ball on the break with wings streaking down the side and a big man trailing the play for a rim run, defenders are far too often caught backing up just a little too much and giving Steph just enough room to let it fly. Curry has made 46.9 percent of his transition threes, per Synergy, over the last five seasons, and while they haven’t all been of the pull-up variety, a great deal of them have. Steph leads the league in pull-up threes attempted on a per game basis, according to SportVu player tracking data released by the league and STATS LLC, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he led the way in that category for eternity. With Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut flanking him on breaks, Curry is more dangerous than ever.
Danny Green – The Beneficiary
Danny Green doesn’t often carry the ball up the court on fast breaks. San Antonio has Tony Parker for that. And because Parker attacks the basket with such abandon, Green is often the beneficiary of defenses collapsing into the paint. Every so often Parker will push all the way to the rim as if he’s going up against the behemoths in the lane, only to throw a diagonal pass across the court to Green in the corner or on the wing. Green’s made 45.2 percent of his transition threes over the last five years, and Parker’s aggressiveness in going to the basket is a huge reason why.