Washington Wizards suddenly finding their form from three-point range


John Wall made five three-pointers on Wednesday against the 76ers, two more than he made in the entire 2011-12 season. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
November 7, 2013

In earning their first win of the season in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Washington Wizards matched the franchise record with 33 three-point attempts and set the franchise record with 18 made three-pointers in a 116-102 victory. And based on the way the season is progressing after four games, the Wizards might not be done adjusting the team record book as it relates to three-point shooting proficiency.

“That’s definitely one of our strong points, shooting threes,” said Bradley Beal, who started the Wizards’ record-setting night after catching a pass from John Wall and burying a three-pointer.

Through Wednesday’s games, the Wizards led the NBA in three-point attempts per game (28.5) and made three-pointers (12.3). They also ranked fourth in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 43 percent. At their current pace, the Wizards would finish the season with 2,337 three-point attempts and 1,009 three-pointers made, which would obliterate the old franchise records of 1,614 (2006-07, 2007-08) and 575 (2007-08).

Last season, the Wizards were 20th in attempts (18.2) and 18th in makes (6.6), ranking 10th in three-point percentage (36.5). This season, the Wizards haven’t attempted fewer than 25 or made fewer than nine in any game.

“That’s what we do,” Trevor Ariza said as the Wizards prepared to host Brooklyn on Friday at Verizon Center. “You’ve got to take open shots. Right now that’s the looks that we’ve been getting. We work on them every day, so we’re going to continue to take them.”

Despite offseason hype and the addition of Marcin Gortat, the Wizards opened the season 0-3. The Post Sports Live crew looks for a silver lining. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

The three-point shot has become the weapon of choice for teams around the league in recent seasons. Advanced analytics have encouraged its usage because they produce more bang per possession than any other shot outside the paint. The Knicks set the NBA record for three-point attempts last season with 2,371.

The Wizards have gotten on board, realizing that the best way to take advantage of a speedy point guard like Wall is to surround him with players capable of hitting open looks from beyond. In the past two seasons, the Wizards have added Beal in the draft, traded for Ariza and signed Martell Webster and Al Harrington in free agency.

“They’ve got to make up their mind,” Coach Randy Wittman said of opposing defenses. “Am I going to shut John off from getting to the rim or give up threes? Or are we going to stay home with the threes and that gets John to the rim or dropping it to a big down low? We’ve just got to keep making the right decision on what the defense is doing when we get into that.”

For some perspective, when the NBA introduced the three-point shot on a trial basis in 1979-80, when many teams still considered it a catchy gimmick, the Bullets attempted 238 — an average of fewer than three per game — for the entire season.

After Wednesday’s games, Ariza trailed only Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard with 7.8 attempts per game. Beal was fifth with 7.0 attempts per game. Wall and Webster were both averaging 4.8 attempts.

Wall made a career-high five three-pointers against Philadelphia, which surpassed his total for the entire 2011-12 season, when he shot just 3 for 42 from long distance. After Thursday’s practice, Wall rotated around the three-point line, taking shots that he is gaining more confidence in taking. The 76ers chose to surrender the three-point shot rather than let Wall hurt them inside with his bulldozing drives to the basket.

“Just something I worked on this summer,” Wall said. “Some games they are going to fall; some games they’re not."

The Wizards aren’t expecting Wall to duplicate his performance from long distance often — if at all — but they do plan on having him put defenses on their heels and open up space for shooters. Six of Wall’s nine assists against the 76ers resulted in three-pointers.

“John makes that available for us,” Webster said after making a season-high four three-pointers against the 76ers. “His ability to attack the basket and guys crashing in on him allows him to find guys open on the perimeter. So it’s something that’s working. We know we can’t rely on that heavily, the three-point shot. It’s going to be nights that the shot doesn’t fall and that’s where our big guys come in.”

In addition to Wall’s penetration, the Wizards also unleashed a two-headed monster in the low block with Nene and Marcin Gortat starting alongside each other for the first time. Nene and Gortat both have the ability to command double teams in the post, opening up the floor even more for good looks from deep. In the fourth quarter in Philadelphia, Gortat found Eric Maynor for an open three-pointer, then Nene found Maynor, who swung a pass to Webster in the corner for a better look.

“I’m glad, first of all, we’ve got a lot of shooters,” said Gortat, who has played in systems that relied on three-pointers in Orlando and Phoenix. “I believe if we’re going to be scoring outside, the guys are going to be open outside and be able to hit open and knock down open shots. That should help us to win games.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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