The Magic's new relationship with 3-pointers


Mark Jackson was faced witha difficult dilemma entering his team's second matchup with Denver in the Playoffs. With David Lee out for the Postseason thanks to a torn hip flexor, Jackson asked his assistant coaches to talk him out of starting point guard Jarrett Jack alongside Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.

They gave him the go-ahead and the rest was history. Golden State evened up its series behind a 64 percent shooting night, one of the great offensive performances in Playoff history. The move worked perfectly and seems to continue to work as Golden State's offense continued to efficiently hum along in Game Three on Friday night.

The Rockets were faced with a similar decision and opted to sit power forward Greg Smith for Game Two and commit to a small lineup by starting Patrick Beverly. It worked to some degree as Houston turned a 29-point Game One loss into a two-point Game Two loss.

Even the Celtics, looking for an offensive spark, opted to slide Jason Terry into the lineup and take out power forward Brandon Bass. That plan did not work as well as the other two, but the general idea was there. These teams wanted to spread the floor more and create defensive issues by putting as many shooters on the floor as possible — sometimes defensive consequences be damned.

The power forward position has changed dramatically in the last decade. Perhaps it started with Mike D'Antoni putting Shawn Marion at power forward. The revolution in the NBA into positionless basketball largely happened in Orlando the last five years.

The 3-pointer is one of the most important shots in basketball. Offense are now completely built around it. The power forward is more or less dead. And the Magic might very well have started it. However, now the team is in transition and the franchise's relationship with the 3-pointer has completely changed.

The Magic signed Rashard Lewis to a max contract and change the NBA in four years. Stan Van Gundy, Orlando's recently hired coach, did something drastic in putting him at power forward instead of his traditional small forward. Van Gundy's idea was to spread the flor with 3-point shooters and let it fly with Dwight Howard drawing the defense into the paint.

The Magic went from shooting 11.7 3-pointers per game in Brian Hill's final season in 2007, good for 28th in the league, to shooting 25.3 per game and second in the league in 2008. That trend continued under Van Gundy as the Magic took 26.2 per game and second in the league in 2009, 27.3 per game and the most in the league in 2010, 25.6 per game and the most in the league again in 2011 and 27.0 per game for first in the league for the third straight year in 2012.

The 2009 team, of course, set the record for most 3-point attempts in NBA history as the Knicks and the Rockets passed that mark this season. Stephen Curry set the record for most 3-pointers made in a season this year. The 3-point shot is here and is central to offenses as the centers have begun to die out or be relegated solely to defensive stoppers (much to Shaquille O'Neal's chagrin).


The Magic under Jacque Vaughn shot 18.7 3-pointers per game, easing off the throttle that Stan Van Gundy set although not going to the snail's pace at which Brian Hill had his teams play at. Vaughn never seemed to put quite the same emphasis on the 3-pointer that Van Gundy did (understatement of the year), but he still recognized its value.

"Those always help," Jacque Vaughn said after the Magic hit 12 of 27 3-pointers against the 76ers on March 10. "They do a few things for us. Three is better than two on the scoreboard, and it also keeps the defense stretched out a little bit. If you make a few threes, the defense tends to overreact to penetration a little bit and you get good post position as well. The 3-ball helped us in those areas tonight."

Orlando is currently not constructed as a 3-point team — in fact, it is hard to find any pure 3-point shooters on the roster to consistently spread the floor with J.J. Redick traded. However, without that presence in the middle Orlando was not a big 3-point shooting team this year.

This season the Magic were just 1-11 in games they took 25 3-pointers or more. The 3-point shot was not something particularly kind ot the Magic and that might explain their offensive struggles as much as anything.

Three-point shooting is a sign of good ball movement and the ability to pull defense apart. Considering the Magic finished 27th in the league in offensive rating, that did not always happen.

To get the kind of good 3-pointers Vaughn wanted, he needed a team with a few more dribble penetrators and a few more shooters to spread the floor.

Of course, part of the problem is that the Magic have not reached their final product. Judging by the top teams in the league, that final product will include more than few 3-point shooters. As the Magic get good again, the 3-pointer will return for Orlando.