Tuesday, November 25, 2008

That 4th Scorer

Manu Ginobili connected on his first post-injury shot attempt, a 3 point basket. We should have expected as much. The Spurs live on the arc. Prior to the season, I wrote:
From a personnel standpoint, they've [the Spurs] added offensive-minded free agents and rookies. Hill and Mason, for example, can score and allow Tony Parker to play off the ball, making him more of a threat in certain line ups. Even with the loss of Barry, the Spurs should improve their 3 point percentage and be among the league-leaders in 3 point attempts when adjusted for pace.
Coming into tonight's game, the Spurs were 7th in the league in unadjusted 3 point attempts, and added 24 to their number by the final buzzer. Most notably, Roger Mason was an unconscious 5-7, bringing his season 3 point percentage to 51%. I expect Mason's numbers to settle. He won't shoot 50% on the season. Having said that, I couldn't help but recall this story from Buck Harvey:
For example, a year ago, he would end every summer workout the same way. His trainer, Joe Connelly, would require Mason to make five consecutive 3-pointers.

This summer, Mason took it further. Connelly says Mason missed only two days; the day Mason signed his contract with the Spurs, he flew back to the Washington area and was in the gym that night.

“He's no longer just a spot-up shooter,” Connelly said Monday. “He's revolutionized his game, and here's my prediction. He will be a candidate for the league's most-improved player award.”

The Spurs aren't anticipating that. But they don't yet know what Connelly knows, and what happened the day before Mason left for San Antonio earlier this month.

Connelly didn't have Mason make five 3-pointers to end the workout. Mason instead shot 109.

And made 101.

In other words, there is reason to think that while Mason's percentage is certain to come down, his early shooting marks an improvement over the 40% he shot last campaign. One of the striking things about his 2008 3-ball is where it is connecting from. According to NBA.com's Hot Spots, in 2007 Mason made 44% of his straight-on 3s--this was his most accurate spot from behind the arc. This season Mason is shooting 41% from that spot, but, unlike last season, this is his least accurate spot from behind the arc. On the season, he's more accurate from the wings and corners. Joe Connelly deserves a raise.

Even though Mason will cool off, I don't expect this to dramatically drag down the team percentage. When Parker returns, his penetration will allow teammates to hover around the arc. More interestingly, Parker does not seem as shy about taking open 3s this season. Prior to his injury, Parker was 3-5 on long ball attempts. Not a big sample, but a curious one for a player who is notoriously bashful about such shots. But, having watched his 5 games this season, I can tell you they were not forced shots. Tony wanted to take them.

Then there is Manu Ginobili. As with Parker, Manu will force defenses to collapse. With the likes of Mason, Finley, and Hill stalking the stripe, he'll have plenty of efficient kick-out options. And as with Mason, there is strong support for supposing that Ginobili will shoot at or above 40% from deep. Manu Ginobili has improved his 3-point percentage in every season of his career, slowing charting up from 34 to 40%. His step back 3 has become something of a signature move.

No one thinks of the Spurs as 3-point chuckers. They're too far east of Oakland, I guess. But in this respect, they can stand in the center of the Nellie Ball ring and look respectable.

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