Dec 10 2013

Three is the Magic Number

Oh yes it is. It’s the magic number.


Spencer Hawes is attempting more 3-pointers per game than Ray Allen, and he’s hitting them at a higher rate. This doesn’t seem like it could possibly be true, but it is, in fact, a fact. The Sixer is launching 4.1 triples a night and making good on 42.7 percent of them, while the NBA’s all-time leading 3-point shooter is at 3.9 and 38 percent. Spencer Hawes, who’s spent much of his brief Philadelphia career as a walking punchline—albeit a terrifically patriotic one—has developed into one of the top perimeter threats in basketball. At the very least, one of the tallest. This is important.nba_a_haw_cr_576x324

The value of 3-point shooting is something that everyone with a calculator and an open mind agrees on these days. (This growing group, unfortunately, still doesn’t include many NBA head coaches.) Not only are 3s worth more than 2s—because, duh—but, even if they are off target, they lead to offensive rebounds much more frequently than midrange misfires.

“When you ask coaches what’s better between a 28 percent 3-point shot and a 42 percent midrange shot, they’ll say the 42 percent shot,” a member of the Raptors analytics team told Zach Lowe last spring. “And that’s objectively false. It’s wrong. If LeBron James just jacked a 3 on every single possession, that’d be an exceptionally good offense. That’s a conversation we’ve had with our coaching staff, and let’s just say they don’t support that approach.”

According to the Raptors’ quants—who are on the vanguard of hoops’ big data revolution—everybody, even sub-35 percent 3-point shooters, should be jacking triples like they’re going out of style; which they, not incidentally, won’t be any time soon. We’re in the era of the long ball in the NBA. And Spencer Hawes is precisely the kind of player whose value will spike because of this league-wide change in philosophy.

Thing is, the center’s success from 3, while above his career norms, doesn’t look like an aberrant statistical blip. Hawes took 115 3s his second year in the Association, hitting 34.8 percent of them, and, in 2012-13, shot 42.1 percent from long range after the All-Star break. He’s a career 33.6 percent 3-point shooter who is clearly trending in the right direction. When given the latitude to do so, dude can shoot.

All of which puts Sam Hinkie in a peculiar position, or at least one that gives close observers of the team an opportunity to learn a great deal about the way the GM thinks about team building. There’s been an interesting argument in the blogosphere recently vis-à-vis whether Hinkie is truly tanking this season—deliberately building a bad team in the interest of getting a higher pick in a stacked draft—or simply looking towards the future with little concern, win or lose, for the present. Hinkie’s handling of Hawes will go a long way towards settling this debate. Will Hinkie be willing to forfeit a stretch 5, just entering his prime, merely to get a little worse?

Spencer Hawes has become a very good basketball player that is helping the team win now and, at 25, and with a skill-set that’s increasingly in demand, he’s a good bet to help the team in the future as well. Just a few months ago, it seemed a long shot that he would last the season in Philadelphia. Turns out, he’s got a knack for making good on those.