As most of the NBA’s teams and free agents waits for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to make decisions, a few deals have been agreed upon. Taken as a whole, there are two main takeaways. First, there’s a lot of money out there to be spent in free agency. Second, there appears to be a premium placed on deep shooting.
The market was set, to a degree by the sizable contract given to Jodie Meeks by Detroit, a three-year deal for $19.5 million. Now, this is a somewhat special case as Detroit’s misshapen lineup saw them shoot a blood-curdling 32.1 percent from deep last season. Only the JV squad in Philadelphia shot worse. Given the interior talent on hand in Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, a little floor spacing would go a long way.
Still, $6.5 million per season is an awful lot for Meeks, a slightly undersized 2 with essentially one NBA skill. Compare Meeks’s contract to the one signed by Shaun Livingston (three years, $16 million), a superior player in every aspect of the game save deep shooting, who signed for less money.
Other players who have signed for surprisingly high amounts include Avery Bradley re-signing with Boston (four years, $32 million), Spencer Hawes joining the Clippers (four years, $23m), Patrick Patterson re-upping in Toronto (three years, $18m), and C.J. Miles (four years, 18$m) signing with Indiana. The Pacers also secured little-known Croatian stretch-four Damjan Ruden – who shot 46.6 percent from three in all competitions for Real Zaragoza of Spain in 2013-14 including a mind-blowing 51.9 percent in the Eurocup. Even Ben Gordon, banished to the bench for the better part of last season in shooting-starved Charlotte, inked a two-year, $9 million deal. The common denominator? All have legitimate three-point range.
So why the run on shooting?
Partially, the NBA is a copycat league. The Spurs just won a title in part by combining ball-movement and multiple floor spacers to pick apart “more athletic” superteams in Oklahoma City and Miami. It’s not hard to sell higher ups on trying to duplicate proven success, so everyone wants shooters.
But this is broader than just San Antonio’s success. The NBA has been moving toward shooting more three-pointers for some time. Some of it is the realization that three is greater than two, and a shot from 18 feet doesn’t go in often enough to make it worth more than a shot from 24 feet in most cases. Some of it is also the competitive environment; the 2004 rule changes eliminating hand checking on the perimeter opened the way for smaller, more dynamic point guards to penetrate off the pick-and-roll. More sophisticated defenses started overloading the strong side of the floor to prevent this penetration, putting a premium on the ability to punish teams for overhelping in this way. Court geometry plus the extra point means more three-pointers.
The growth in the three is demonstrable. Even as overall shooting and foul drawing has stayed fairly constant, the growth in long-range attempts have continued to rise every year:
In the above chart, the sharp spike in three-point attempts in the mid 1990s coincides with the league’s ill-fated experiment with a shorter line, note that even when the line was returned to 23’9” in 97-98, three-point attempts did not return to the old level but rather to the roughly the same pattern of increase as was evidenced before the change. The post-2004 rule changes are also apparent in the sharp increase in both Effective Field Goal % and free throw attempts in the subsequent seasons.
So, though some of these deals may be overvaluing long-range skill, they do reflect an acknowledgement of the importance of having enough shooting in today’s NBA. And team’s can never have enough shooting.
What does this mean for the remaining free agents in the class? Shooting specialists such as Mo Williams, Anthony Tolliver and Mike Scott could draw eye-opening deals. Anthony Morrow has reportedly caught the eye of both the Heat and Thunder. On the higher end of the market, this splurge for shooting probably scotches any chance of the Wizards re-signing Trevor Ariza for much less than the $12 million per season they paid for Marcin Gortat.
At least for this offseason, there’s no reason to expect to be able to find shooters in the bargain basement as players will continue to jump for these prices.
Seth Partnow lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife, daughter and dog. He blogs about the NBA and related topics at WhereOffenseHappens.com. His work can also be found at Hickory-High.com and ESPN’s ClipperBlog.com, where he is a regular contributor. Seth can be reached on twitter @WhrOffnsHppns.