The Clippers Don't Care About Threes, They "Just Hoop, Bro"
Los Angeles has the sixth best offense in the NBA and they are doing it without the three-point shot.
Photo by Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE
The below has been excerpted from this week's Outlet Pass, to get caught up on everything else you need to know in the NBA this week read the rest of the column here.
With the highest winning percentage in a Western Conference that was expected to rip them up, the Los Angeles Clippers are the story of this season. Nobody on their team has ever played in an All-Star game, but their depth, complementary design, youthful exuberance, and two-way tenacity have, so far, eclipsed any questions related to talent. Winning eight of their last nine games—a run that includes victories over the Warriors, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Bucks—the Clippers have the sixth-best offense in the league, and are nearly averaging as many points per 100 possessions as they did during Lob City’s heyday. And they’re doing it without the three-point shot.
Last week, I asked Doc Rivers if he wanted to shoot more of them. Here’s what he said: “I’d rather stay in the top ten in offense. You know it’s funny though, really, I think we’re six or five or seven, I don’t know where we’re at, but if we were that and shot a lot of threes I’d say ‘yeah let’s shoot a lot of threes.’ The goal is scoring. It’s not how you score. It’s to score as many points as you can. And we’re doing that. So there are games where we think we should’ve taken more threes, but there are also games where we thought we should take more layups, you know? So we don’t care how it adds up, and that’s what we talk about. If we can get to the 120 number or something like that, I don’t care if they’re ones. Let’s get there as quickly as possible.”
That’s all very fair, and, to a glass-half-full optimist, suggests that L.A. has yet to reach its offensive potential. Quality shots attempted behind the arc are good, and despite ranking 28th in three-point rate, the Clippers are basketball’s most accurate team from the corners; fifth-best from deep, overall.
“That’s something we’re still figuring out, how to get easier threes,” forward Tobias Harris said. “I think we can do a better job of locating them off turnovers on fast breaks, but we’re an ever-improving team. Every night we’re figuring out different things and I think once guys get more into their comfort zone [and let threes] fly, it’ll open up a lot more of the game for us. But it’s something that we do put an emphasis on.”
“We just hoop, bro.”
They’re built to attack in a modern way, with stretch fours (Danilo Gallinari, Mike Scott) and one ascending wing (Harris) representing three of the most lethal spot-up shooters in the league. Others—Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley—are way below their career average but still respected enough to open lanes for their teammates, be it Montrezl Harrell rumbling through for a lob or space for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to penetrate. (The Miami Heat are the only team currently averaging more field goal attempts from drives to the rim.)
There’s also an undeniable “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” vibe surrounding this team. They rank in the bottom five in assist rate, and as the league’s better teams shift away from the pick-and-roll by adopting a more diversified and unpredictable half-court attack, no group runs the pick-and-roll more than the Clippers, per Synergy Sports. They’re anti-style and post-analysis, but so far it all feels sustainable. We’ll see how long it lasts, or if they’ll inevitably need to embrace the arc a bit more than they have. Until then: “I’m gonna be honest with you,” Lou Williams told VICE Sports. “We just hoop, bro.”