By Josh Cohen
Sept. 21, 2017
ORLANDO – The NBA has changed. Big men are stepping out and routinely knocking down long range shots.
Patrick Ewing played 17 seasons in the league, was an 11-time All-Star and made 19 total threes throughout his career. David Robinson, a 10-time All-Star, connected on 25 triples in 14 seasons. Hakeem Olajuwon sank the same number in 18 seasons and he, too, is one of the greatest centers in NBA history.
More recent dominant big men – some retired others active but aging – never needed or bothered with the 3-point shot. Shaquille O’Neal banked in a 3-point heave at the end of a quarter during a game in 1996 against the Bucks. That was his only trey of his illustrious career.
There were a few centers back in the day that were “capable” 3-point shooters. Arvydas Sabonis came to the NBA later in his career and in his rookie season at age 31 drilled 39 shots from downtown. He made 136 of them in seven seasons in Portland. Manute Bol, one of the tallest players in league history at 7’7, buried 43 from beyond the arc.
Fast forward to today’s most prolific scoring centers and it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a 3-point shot in his arsenal.
DeMarcus Cousins and Al Horford are two that started the trend. Cousins made 11 threes in his first five NBA seasons before canning 70 of them in 2015-16. Horford, meanwhile, sank 88 3-pointers that same season. Before that he had made just 21 from long distance in eight years.
Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic – now three of the best offensive big men in the world – came into the NBA equipped with range. They have made a combined 250 threes thus far in their careers.
The Orlando Magic have two evolving spread fives. Nikola Vucevic made 23 threes last season – 16 more than in his first six seasons combined. Marreese Speights, who like Vucevic has always been an excellent pick-and-pop mid-range shooter, extended his range last season with the Clippers and dropped in 103 3-pointers off the bench.
There are several benefits of having a reliable stretch five – or in the Magic’s case two of them.
For one, it pulls opposing bigs away from the basket. There is greater opportunity for second chance scoring because of increased offensive rebounding. Also, the lane is less clogged. Guards have more room to explode inside and either finish at the rim or kick out to open shooters.
It’s much easier for a team to space the floor when all five guys are confident long range shooters. Either in high screen-and-roll sets, isolation situations, post-ups or off-ball screens, teams that are loaded with floor spacers make it much more challenging for opponents stay locked in defensively.
Here’s a table that shows the number of threes some of the league’s marquee big men made in 2016-17 compared to the prior season.
Throughout the 2017-18 season, OrlandoMagic.com will analyze various team and player stats.