Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The idea of a positional revolution in the NBA has been a hot topic this summer (Rob Mahoney has been on the ball with the idea, so check out his stuff here). The idea, essentially, is that placing a position tag on a player establishes a certain criteria or at least an idea of what that player is. If someone tells you that your favorite team just signed a point guard, what do you think he is going to do for your team? Run the show, distribute the basketball and maybe even be the ring leader in the lockerroom, right? The problem with the whole idea of calling every player in the league that brings the ball up the floor and calls a play a point guard is that, by grouping everyone together, you have essentially said that Rajon Rondo and Chauncey Billups play the same position, when, in reality, the way they play basketball couldn’t be more different. Both guys bring the ball up the court but what they do in the half-court offense is completely the opposite of each other. Billups is always going to be a scoring guard before he becomes the league’s leader in assists while Rondo is on his way to being the best assist man in the league.
That’s just one example but there are tons of them throughout the league and we’ve reached a point where it’d be better to look at the positions players play differently rather than to continue calling Thabo Sefolosha a shooting guard when there are few people in the world that would say Sefolosha and the word “shooting” should be in the same sentence.
The basis of this fundamental change in our way of thinking, at least the way Mahoney has suggested we go, is that defensive roles are much harder to define than offensive ones which isn’t exactly an easy thing to figure out either. Instead of thinking that 1-2-3-4-5 stands for PG-SG-SF-PF-C, Rob suggests that we use defensive roles to position players based on what kind of players they defend on a regular basis. For instance, in the case of Sefolosha, his defensive role would be D2/3, meaning he defends present day shooting guards and small forwards.
One role in particular that I think is becoming very useful for teams across the league is one I like to call 3/D. Its not very specific compared to the D2/3 style but even without considering positional revolution, this new position is becoming rather popular.
Essentially, 3/D is meant to describe players that contribute offensively by connecting from long range and play defense well. Shoot three’s, play D. See? They are not go to options but they are capable and expected to knock down the open three when the ball finds them on the perimeter. On the other end, they are expected to defend the other team’s best player and to give it their all on every play. Because they aren’t running countless pick and rolls or dominating the ball on offense, this is a realistic expectation.
Most of the players that I have given this tag are inbetween six-foot-five and six-foot-eight, capable of being D2/3 for their teams. I suppose the 3/D tag could also be 3/D2,3, which takes into account what positions they are expected to defend but for now I’ll stick with my original abbreviation. Here are some of the guys in the league that I consider to be 3/D guys.
Batum, and former Blazer teammate Martell Webster, were the two guys that made me start thinking about this role and how teams use it across the league. Batum is young, just pup at 21 years of age, so he has a lot of room to grow, but as of now his role with Portland seems to be to knockdown three’s efficiently while checking the other team’s top perimeter options. And though he played in just 37 games last season due to injury, he showed why he can be such an asset in those two particular areas of the game by shooting 41% from three (39% in 116 career games) and using his six-foot-eight frame to defend opposing team’s shooting guards, small forwards and even some stretch power forwards. According to Basketball Prospectus, Batum had a defensive multiplier of 89% last season, meaning he held his man to 89% of their normal production (which would be 100%).
Webster was the other part of the Blazers’ impressive perimeter duo and it would have been nice to see Batum and Martell grow alongside each other for a few seasons. But instead Portland opted to go with Luke Babbitt in the draft and traded Webster to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Nevertheless, Webster shot 37% from three last season (including a few six-for-13 type games from three where his teammates got him the rock and he made his looks count) and he worked hard on defense. He’s six-foot-seven and should make for a good 3/D for Minnesota. The only problem is that Webster is going from clutter to clutter. The T’Wolves decided that adding Webster on draft night wasn’t enough so they drafted Wesley Johnson with the fourth overall pick and added another forward in Lazar Hayward at the end of the first round.
Other than Portland, the Phoenix Suns took biggest advantage of this role last season. Obviously Phoenix is notorious for having several shooters capable of lighting it up from deep but the commitment to defense, specifically on the wing last season, was a fresh and delightful plan that nearly got them to the Finals. Dudley was the catalyst of that second unit, lighting it up from deep by making 46% of his three’s (best in the league, if you ask me, considering the three guys above him didn’t play more than 56 games while Dudley played 82). Whenever Steve Nash or Goran Dragic pushed it in transition, Dudley was likely in the corner, ready to set and fire. Defensively, Dudley posted a defensive multiplier of 87% which he accumulated by using his bulky six-foot-seven frame to bully his man around.
Hill probably doesn’t belong here, mostly because he only took 80 three’s last season and partly because he wasn’t terrific on that end of the floor. Rather, he just put in a supreme effort, which was massively impressive for a (young) 37 year old, and was all over his man no matter who it was. He shot 44% from three, which is stellar, but that was with limited attempts. Still, I think he deserves some recognition simply because his veteran leadership may be why Dudley and the rest of the Suns’ forwards were so committed last season.
Richardson’s role may expand further on the offensive end than shooting three’s, but he did chuck up 400 triples last season (12th in the league). And he made 157 of those (good for 39%). Sure, he can still get to the basket and possesses a decent mid-range game, but Phoenix takes a lot of three’s and he took 23% of their long range shots. Defensively, Jason was at his best during his time with Charlotte but he still held his man slightly under their average last season on 1030 defensive possessions. That’s quite a few.
Yes, Shane Battier had a dropoff offensively last season. He dipped below 40% on field goals for the first time in his career and shot a career low 36% from downtown. But man, I have a hard time calling anybody else the poster boy for this role because of how obsessed he is with getting every detail right on the defensive end. Battier had a defensive multiplier of 90% last season and is undoubtedly one of the most well researched players in the league. His basketball IQ makes him such a tough defender every season. Even if he loses a step, he’ll find a way, somehow, to cut off that angle to the basket. Here’s hoping he can get his three-point shooting back to 38-39% this upcoming season. (Note: Trevor Ariza could have made this list but he took 407 three’s last season and made just 33% of them)
Parker was brought to the Cavs solely to play the 3/D role. Cleveland needed a shooting guard that could space the floor and knock down three’s when LeBron got them the ball while also taking the responsibility of guarding the other team’s best player so LeBron didn’t. Parker did a pretty good job filing that role by shooting 41% from beyond the arc and holding his men to 96% of their normal production. He was the guy going to the block with Kobe against the Lakers, chasing Ray Allen through screens and guarding Dwyane Wade for the majority of the game (until, of course, LeBron took over in crunch time and ran a muck on the league). (Note: Jamario Moon didn’t shoot well enough or play enough minutes last season but his role is virtually the same.)
Afflalo was brought to Denver to fill Dahntay Jones‘ role as defensive stopper but came to town with an extra weapon in his arsenal: the three-point shot. Afflalo shot 43% from three last season and was perfect with Denver’s offense. Whether he was open coming off of a screen or was spotting up in transition, Arron did a great job filling it up last season. Afflalo is six-foot-five and is an extremely hard worker on the defensive end. His defensive multiplier was actually above one last season (not sure what exactly went wrong), but his 79% rating from his final season in Detroit shows that he can be effective on that end of the floor.
I’m not sure how Wright will do with the Golden State Warriors this season when it comes to the defensive end. As you know, there isn’t much of a commitment to that end of the floor there. But at least during last season, with the seventh best defensive team in the league (Miami Heat), Wright was extremely effective as a perimeter stopper. The six-foot-nine forward held his men to 96% of their normal production and most of the time his man was Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony, so that number is respectable. Wright also shot 39% from downtown. Again, his three point percentage may stay the same this year but defensively he may not have the same drive to be a lockdown guy.
Ron’s offensive versatility vanished somewhat last season. Gone were the days of him posting up and using his bulk to get easy looks at the rim as Artest spent most of his time shooting three’s last season. He may not have been particularly good from distance, which is why his entire season, when it comes to the offensive end, was pretty disappointing, but still, he shot 36% for the year and that one he made with a minute left in game seven of the NBA Finals made up for all of the misses, at least in my mind. And then you have his defense, which was absolutely top notch last season. It may have seemed like he had a down year all-around because of his offensive struggles, but Ron had a great defensive year and had a defensive multiplier of just 72%. I hope to remove Ron from this list soon, not because of an impending decline but rather a resurgence offensively as he continues to try to get the triangle offense down pat. Should he do that, three-pointers won’t be the only way he can contribute offensively.
Outlaw is a very tantalizing player. He shot 38% from three last season in just 34 games and his six-foot-nine frame give him a solid base to be a great defensive player in the next few years. He’s just 25 years old and Travis will likely play the 3/D role with the Nets this season. If he is used correctly, Outlaw will be an excellent off-season addition for New Jersey.
Redick has actually come a ways from his college days as purely a three-point gunner and his position here makes it clear that one of his improvements has been his defense. Additionally, J.J. is starting to become more of a threat offensively, capable of running pick and rolls, getting into the lane and finding other shooters but for now, his three-point shot is his offensive strong suit. Last season, Redick knocked down 41% of his 274 three point attempts and he really should have had more looks considering how poorly Vince Carter played for some stretches last season. Defensively, his defensive multiplier may surprise you, but J.J. actually held his opponents to 94% of their normal production in 721 defensive possessions. And though it was on a smaller scale (374 possessions), Redick had an even more impressive 81% rating.
Pietrus may have surrendered 35/12/10 to LeBron in the Eastern Conference Finals two seasons ago but you couldn’t fault him for it. That was all on LeBron. Pietrus was in his grill, extending his long arms every time he took a jumpshot. James was just making them. And against lesser opponents than James, Mickael has success and his six-foot-six, athletic body allows him to check most wing scorers in the league. Pietrus shot 38% from three last season on 306 shots while holding his man to 96% of their normal production. Pietrus and Redick provide dynamic defensive options that can also hit three pointers consistently.
Richardson’s defensive numbers weren’t great least season but he shot 40% from three-point range and was the guy that Erik Spoelstra put on the Kobe’s and LeBron’s until Wade was ready to do the dirty work in the final five minutes. Now that he has switched Florida allegiances to the Magic, expect him to have a very good season on both sides of the ball. (Note: Matt Barnes had this role last season as one of Orlando’s three perimeter defenders but he shot just 32% from three, which is why he is not included on this list. Defensively, he qualified, though.)
Matthews was an undrafted rookie last season but that didn’t stop him from having one of the best years in the NBA. Wes had an even defensive multiplier of one, but he showed that he is willing to work very hard on that end of the floor and with another year or two under his belt he should be able to defend the top level shooting guards in this league expertly. From three-point range, Matthews shot 38% on 165 attempts and should continue to flourish with the Portland Trail Blazers this season.
Casspi was also a rookie last season and his exposure to the riggers of a long NBA season effected him down the stretch, where his numbers, specifically offensively, declined. That being said, he finished the year with a 37% success rate from deep and was a hard worker on the defensive end, earning him a 97% defensive multiplier.
18 guys, one role. Some are better than others, but I think these are the guys that fit the description of 3/D. Casspi is the only guy that I thought about and thought about before deciding that his six-foot-nine frame and high basketball IQ will do him well as he continues to grow in this league. You may also notice that a lot of the guys on this list are very effective transition players as well (Batum, Pietrus, Afflalo, Wright, Dudley, Richardson) which adds an extra dimension to this new role. However, I don’t want to change my cool little abbreviation to 3/D/T without all of these guys possessing effective transition abilities.
This new role or description for a certain breed of player may only be valuable to me as I will often use the term “3/D” to describe these players but I hope there credence for this role in the positional revolution that’s taking over the globe.