The Fine Line: 3 Point Shooting


David Merritt is a former Michigan basketball captain and the founder of I Miss You, Inc..

I’ll start this post by saying that I have no answers or suggestions. This post is merely an observation concerning something I’m fascinated by: The fine line of 3-point shooting.

After watching Michigan’s offense struggle in the first half against North Carolina Central, this fascination arose again. The Wolverines were struggling on offense, and with NCC going zone shot 2 of 16 from 3 point land. That’s 12.5%. If you’re a numbers guy, you would think the solution is simple: stop shooting so many 3’s. It’s not so simple.

If you go back and look at the tape, you will find that Michigan’s offense was indeed working properly. Despite two or three bad shots, most of Michigan’s looks from 3 point land were good looks in the first half — they just weren’t falling. So what do you do when you aren’t executing what you’re known for…what you practice so hard at… and what a number of guys on your team are capable of executing at a high rate?

This is where the difficulty of coaching comes into play. Anybody who thinks he/she could easily do Coach Beilein’s job, think again.

And it’s not just about coaching. If you’re a shooter, shouldn’t you keep shooting? The moment you think twice about taking an open three is when your chances of making the shot plummet. It’s important to note that I’m not talking about contested threes. I believe if you’re struggling from deep, you should definitely be more selective with the quality of your shots. But what do you do when you aren’t hitting the wide open ones?

You have to take them. This is what you do. You’re a shooter. You’ve got to trust it. If you’re not open, pass it or drive it in the lane and get somebody else open. But if you’re open, shoot it. Trust it. Make it.

Michigan shot 6 of 13 from three in the second half – tied for its third best half of the year. What would you do?

Let’s look at this example. Is Evan Smotrycz’s decision to drive the ball here the right play?

On one hand, Evan didn’t seem too comfortable shooting this particular shot. As a result, he drove in to the lane and attacked the basket. Good job! He got himself to the line and made a move he was comfortable with. However, you need him to be comfortable shooting that shot. You need for Evan to get his swagger back. So you want him to shoot the freaking ball. Turns out, this move really helped Evan regain that swagger. He hit two of his next three shots (including a 3) and had two assists. The fine line is obvious here, and there’s no perfect answer, but you can see how important it can be to the balance of any game. 

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David Merritt is a former Michigan basketball captain and played on the 2008-2009 NCAA Tournament Team. David is also the founder of I Miss You, Inc. & The IMU Brand, an apparel company focused on offering high quality product while spreading happiness and bettering communities.

You can reach Merritt in a variety of ways namely through his twitter account, blog, or e-mail.

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  • Bit of revisionism here considering your charge of befuddlement on the part of the team, but we forgive you, Dylan. :) I think it’s true that you’ve got to keep playing your game (as Beilein said in the post-game interview), even if you’re stone cold two years running.

    Sooner or later this team is doing to start killing it from three…

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Just to be clear… This is David Merritt’s post.

      And, despite Michigan getting some good looks, I think they struggled to attack the zone on a number of first half possessions.

      • Sorry, Dylan. This IS a fascinating question, given that Beilein’s teams have so often been cold for the last two years. But I thought they maintained their composure, mostly, in the first half (I didn’t see all of it), and that–as David says–they stayed within their scheme.

        Obviously having Darius to bail them out is going to help. A big slashing forward would be pretty nice, too, not just for scoring, but in the way the court would be further opened up for the offense by such a threat.

  • Ehab El-Sharkawy

    I think you can make adjustments, to get better shots when the 3 is not falling. I think Smotrycz made the right decision by passing up the open 3 to attack the basket because at them moment he did not feel comfortable taking that shot. Like you said being confident is a key to making shots. So by driving he increased his chance of taking a higher percentage shot, which led to free throws. I think we all agree tha FTs are higher percentage shots than 3s and by seeing the ball go in the basket it will increase that confidence to be able to hit the 3 the next time you do have an open opportunity.

    We can still be a 3 point shooting team but still have a balanced offense. I just worry that in Big 10 play if the team relies stubbornly on taking mostly 3s they will get drilled when that shot is not falling. We are the 9th ranked 3 pt shooting team in the conference based on percentage so we definitely need to diversify the offense to have some plays to go to to end droughts and boost the player’s confidence by getting them some easier looks closer to the basket. Which in turn should make it easier to get open looks from the 3 point line.

  • georgeesq.

    To me, taking the ball to the hoop instead of taking a three was like giving a young QB a short, easy throw that he’s going to complete 90% of the time in order to get into a rhythm and confident.

  • 1. I agree with georgeesq, take the easy one to get back in rhythm.
    2. I don’t get people who are down of the 3 pt shot. Any team that can’t shoot them is in trouble because every opponent will pack the lane. You have to be good at it period. As long you have to be good you might as well pick that to emphasize and work off of. Every offense has something they hang their hat on or they a mesh mash of mush. For example, if you live off feeding your post players, what do you do when a team takes the away. You start somewhere and build your balance from there.

  • Sid

    I think for Smots and probably for Douglass and Novak, the easy shot is the open one, with a little bit of time to get your feet set. They’re not necessarily doing themselves any favors by heading to the hoop at this point, which isn’t to say they won’t improve.

  • 90 M Varsity

    Funny that this post was up because I came over here to ask a question. My question has to do with philosophy.

    If UM is shooting a ton of threes and we are still last in the conference, then could the philosophy be to shoot as many as possible, have as many possessions as possible, and that rather than play the percentages, (which will often be low as noted by our consistently poor conference rank under Beilein), you play the pure, raw number of threes made. So if you go 8 for 30, your percentage is poor, but you’ll take the 28 points worth of scoring.

    I have never been able to decipher all of your efficeincy stats, in part because I haven’t tried much. But is the UM offense geared to have threes still be a primary objective even when you don’t shoot them well? And if you do, then you play lights out. Is the reason why it seems to some like there is no “Plan B” because Plan A is shooting threes well, and plan B is to still try to get enough makes when you shoot them poorly?

    Just trying to get some clarity on a team who continually tries to win games from the three point line while consistently ranking at the bottom of the B10 in three point shooting percertange (while always being #1 in threes taken).

    • Sam

      Never knew you got 28 points by making eight threes…

      • 90 M Varsity

        It was a typo black. My bad

  • The Oracle

    I’ve never looked into all the stats he puts up here either, probably because I haven’t taken the time as well. I’m assuming points per possession is a big stat here because of JB’s philosophy of cutting down TO’s and creating TO’s somewhat over shadows the raw number of 3pt FG%? In other words, getting more possessions covers up the bad %?

  • also, shooting the three is what opens the middle for our array of back-door cuts. Remember how Vogrich hit two three-pointers against Utah, and promptly got 2 uncontested runs at the basket on the back door?

    • Gus Johnson Pure

      Yes, that was great. It represents 2/3 of an ideal offensive cycle: strong post play compacts defenses, opens up the three point line. Hitting open 3s frees up back door cuts. Back door cuts keep the D honest, re-compacted. This is why Morgan/Horford are so important: as long as they pose a viable post threat and can find shooters we should see better looks from 3. A drive-and-dish guard like Morris also frees up the perimeter.

      Last year we lacked a legitimate post scorer (Peedi’s game, while effective, was a drop step-away-from-the-basket, mid-range game) so defenses could stretch out and defend the perimeter. And when we couldn’t make 3s, our only hope was The Manny Harris Show or converting a lot of easy points of turnovers.

  • Rob Pollard

    I disagree with this statement, “…a number of guys on your team are capable of executing at a high rate?”

    Michigan does NOT have a number of “high rate” three point shooters. They have Douglass and maybe Vogrich & Smotz. That’s it.

    THJ shoots way too many 3-pt shots; all I heard about him before the year was how good his mid-range game is, yet more than half his shots have been 3s, which he makes at a 27% rate. Morris is a v good player who could be great, but he doesn’t have a long range game (which he seems to recognize, as he only shoots ~2 a game). Novak can make it occasionally, but he’s also sub 30%. And the less said about 1-14 McLimans’ shooting, the better.

    These 3 pointers may be open, but we have demonstrated over the last few years we don’t have the variety of folks who can make them. Perhaps as they get older/stronger/more confident (a la Stu, who seems much improved/stronger this year), we’ll be able to make a decent amount of 3s. Until then, I’d like to see more 15-18 footers (particularly from THJ), which in theory, should be more makeable. I understand that might be difficult, as we don’t have the athleticism to create our own shots, but I’d at least like the 3-pter de-emphasized somewhat; we’re just not that good at it.

    • Beast1530

      JB is not going to de-emphasized 3 point shooting. It will always be part of the offense, whether you like it or not.

      • Kenny

        I agree with Rob that THJ is shooting too many threes from the baseline and he should take it to the basket more.

        • Dylan Burkhardt

          Beilein has also consistently mentioned that Hardaway needs to drive the ball more — it seems like almost every press conference.

          • Rob – I see your point, however, being capable of doing something is different than actually going out and doing it. Michigan has at least 5 players that are capable of shooting 34-40% from 3 I believe. That doesn’t mean they are doing that now.

            I agree with your points on THJ.

  • Beilein’s Bricks

    I understand the philosophy and the offense, to a degree. However, when the players are incapable of executing (i.e., making 3-point shots), what is Plan B?

    I think Smot did the right thing in passing on that shot and driving to the lane. If it isn’t falling, get a shot-in closer. After 2-3 years, it’s pretty clear some of these guys are just not good shooters (when I think of a good shooter, I think of a Diebler who shoots over 40%), so at some point the red light should be applied to them.

    At this point, the only guys who should be taking them, with some regularity, are Stu, Evan, Vogrich, as they are the only one’s seemingly capable making them. If I was a team playing against Michigan, I would definitely pack-it in and play zone like Syracuse and NCC did, and then watch the bricks fall. Hopefully Michigan has more of a Plan B for those occasions.

  • UM Hoops Fan

    Here’s Kenpom’s offensive rank of Adj efficiency and the 3 pt % for JB’s last seasons at WVU: 2007 – 13th in the nation, 37% (62nd in the nation),
    2006: 12th in the nation, 35% (169th in the nation)
    2005: 18th in the nation, 36% (104th in the nation)
    And they were in the top 30 of 2pt fg% each of those years. They took a lot of 3s each of those years.
    What you’ll notice is extremely efficient offenses with decent to good — but not great — 3 pt shooting. 3 pt shots are, obviously worth an extra point, and they open up a lot of spacing for excellent 2 pt shots.

    In 2009, Michigan shot 33% from 3, and had a pretty good year. This year they’re at 31%. They need to pick it up a couple % points to 33 or 34 to really outdo expectations this year. If they could pick it up next year to 35% plus, watch out.

    Plus, there’s a funny irony about these complaints: People (often the same people) have been making these same complaints about JB for years and years — what’s their Plan B? Their Plan A of complaining ad nauseum isn’t working, so maybe they should try something else!

  • I am pretty sure the plan is to get better at 3’s and every other phase of the game. Let’s repeat, making 3’s opens the floor up, You get better at something by doing it. If you are weak in any phase of the game there will be teams that can take advantage of it. Also, I wish people would stop saying “Jack up threes”. A jack-up- three is a forced shot, very very few Michigan threes are “Jacked up”.

  • Gary

    I can’t back up any of this statistically, but my gut perception is that when they are getting open shots and the 3s aren’t falling, they get tight and just get worse (they also tend to stand around a lot more). Scoring on a drive or a backdoor or a short jumper seems to help break that trend. The 3s always seem to fall when they are also scoring in other ways, and it isn’t just that they are getting better looks because the defense is giving them more space outside. The looser they are, the better they shoot. Getting some baskets inside seems to help. As David Merritt says – they get their swagger back.

  • kevin

    i agree. as the saying goes: “shooters shoot” i think they should keep letting them fly, it always seems as though at least one person is always feeling it. and i think with they will be able to get inside and offset a barrage of trey’s with his style of game. D.Mo to me is the best player on the team, he just doesn’t seem to be a motion offense type of guy. He seems like he’d work better out of a slowed down offense with more traditional sets so he can facilitate at his rate (a lot of dribbling and waiting for things to open up). But I really agree with what david said about thinking about a shot, i’d have to say the hardest shot is a wide open one because it doesn’t happen to much and you’re just like……seriously lol. if these dudes just catch, rip and let it fly they’ll be straight. go blue.

  • Deacon Blues

    Excellent discussion. One more issue that has to be considered: the effect of the three-point line getting moved back two years ago.

    Since the rule change, two (predictable) things have happened nationally: Accuracy has fallen (from 35.1% in the last year of the old line to 34.1% now), and so has the number of threes taken. The average D-I team took 34.4% of its shots from 3 back then; now it’s 32.9%.

    Michigan, of course, has gone in the opposite direction on item 2 while being caught in the crosshairs of item 1. The ’09 team did fine (and actually shot more threes than this year’s team does), but that team had more shooters.

    What’s ailing the offense–besides youth–could simply be the fact that it’s harder to succeed as a perimeter-oriented team these days. Not impossible–Butler did okay last season–but harder.