Jeff Griffith/USA TODAY
By the time the Magic came around in 1990, the 3-point line was 10 years old and still something of a mystery.
Not many teams used it. Certainly not as a primary weapon. If you want games from that era, plenty of players comfortably set up just inside the 3-point line or favor mid-range jumpers. League average 3-point field goal percentage in 1990 was 33.1 percent.
The 1995 Magic helped change that with Shaquille O'Neal surrounded by three capable shooters in Dennis Scott, Anfernee Hardaway and Nick Anderson. Brian Shaw was a strong shooter too and Horace Grant could spread the floor with his ability to step out and hit from 18 feet. The league average 3-point field goal percentage was up to 35.9 percent in 1995 and the average attempts by a team had increased by 132 percent.
The NBA had changed when Stan Van Gundy brought a 3-point shooting 4-out/1-in offense and proved that such a spread-the-floor style could find success in the NBA.
That offense left with Dwight Howard. That NBA has not. In 2013, 3-point shooting in the NBA stood at an average of 35.9 percent and 1,636 attempts. Even though the percentage appears to be flat, attempts are way up. Of the teams with the most attempts in a single season, seven of the top 10 come since 2009 and 23 of the top 25 come since 2000.
The 3-pointer is the high-efficiency favorite weapon of the NBA.
After years in the Stan Van Gundy offense, the Magic changed their approach to 3-point shooting. They did not completely eliminate the shot from their arsenal, but it was much less prominent. Some of that was certainly the lack of spacing in not having a guy who can draw the defense's attention merely by his presence.
"It's important for all of us to develop," Arron Afflalo said. "Hopefully the playamaking ability falls into the right hands. I wouldn't say that was my strongest suit. I tried to do some playmaking, and I can occassionally. Jameer, Victor, Ronnie, some of the big men as they start to develop attention down low will be better for me and better for the entire team if they can handle some playmaking."
Last year, the Magic were 18th in the league in 3-point attempts with 1,537 (about 19 per game). Orlando made 32.9 percent of those shots, 29th in the league. That was a clear reason the team struggled on the offensive end last year.
Coach Jacque Vaughn said he wants the Magic shooting a bit more 3-pointers, around 20 per game. More importantly might be having those players make their 3-pointers at a more efficient rate.
That is what players like Maurice Harkless, Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson have been working on all summer. They seem much more comfortable shooting from beyond the arc this year — Harkless is shooting 6 for 9 so far this season after shooting 27.4 percent from beyond the arc last year and Nicholson is 4 for 11 from beyond the arc after not taking a 3-pointer his rookie year.
"I have been working on it all summer, just getting my repetition with the coaches," Nicholson said. "It is going good so far. It's just another tool for the arsenal. We can stretch the floor in pick and roll situations and the end of the clock, so it's pretty good."
The Magic as a team are eighth in the league with 85 3-point attempts entering Tuesday's games. That is a bit more than 20 attempts per game. Orlando is making 43.5 percent of the team's attempts, fifth in the league. In the small sample size of the first week of the season, the Magic have become a better 3-point team.
And the rising tide has lifted all boats, so to speak.
With Victor Oladipo more capable of attacking the basket and creating for others, with Nikola Vucevic acting as a strong post presence to run the offense through and with Vaughn putting Arron Afflalo in better positions for him to score, the offense has flourished early on this season.
Afflalo said at the beginning of training camp he coudl tell Harkless and even Harris had improved their 3-point shot. He noted after the two wins this weekend that their game's expansion has really helped create space for him to expand his.
The numbers bear that out too. According to NBA.com's SportVU stats, Arron Afflalo is getting 4.0 3-point attempts per game on catch-and-shoot situations and is making 62.5 percent of them. Maurice Harkless is getting 2.3 3-point field goal attempts on catch-and-shoot situations and is making 66.7 percent of them.
It is difficult to make comparisons because last year's numbers are unavailable.
Quite simply though, the Magic are making 3-pointers at a higher and more confident rate. These numbers suggest the Magic are moving the ball around the perimeter well and are getting easier opportunities to score. And they are converting them. That is a good thing.
"The good teams they have 3-point shooters, they get into the paint, they get tot he free throw line," Vaughn said. "The formula is not very hard. If you can do it all, you're a pretty good team. Are we a work in progress? Yes."
Yes, as Vaughn put it at one point when asked about 3-point shooting, he would love a team that has 3-point shoters and a team that has post players and good balance, in general. But there is no denying the 3-point line is something beneficial the team can use.
It is also a part of the game Maurice Harkless, for one, said a team can continue to improve upon as the season progresses. While strength and agility training require exhaustive hours not available during the season, a gym is always open and available for the players to put up some shots.
The shooting also helps spread the floor for players like Harkless to slash and cut to the basket. This has become a hallmark of Harkless' game and is a part of the Magic's offense.
The threat from the outside needs to be a real one to create these opportunities. Just as the threat from the outside creates those cutting opportunities and space in the paint and toward the basket.
"I think in the game of basketball putting the ball through the hole is the greatest equalizer there is," Vaughn said. "The more people you have who can do that, the better off you are because of spacing. The more people we have that can shoot it and put it in, I'll take it."