On Sunday afternoon, Timberwolves Coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders took to Twitter to address the common perception that he does not like the three-point shot as a strategy. The truth or falsity of the claim aside, well not totally aside.

Saunders’s teams have shot threes at a greater rate than league average rate just once over a full season since the NBA moved the arc back to the current distance in 1997. Oddly, the one exception was his first season in Detroit when he became one of the few coaches other than Steve Kerr to help an already good team improve in the first year of a new coach with largely the same players. That Pistons team skyrocketed on offense from the previous season largely as a result of Saunders allowing Rasheed Wallace, among others, to dramatically ramp up their three-point activity.

The refrain heard from those not enamored of the triple is that long shots lead to long rebounds, and thus more transition attempts for the opponent.

On its face, this argument makes sense. Longer shots DO lead to longer rebounds:

However, those longer rebounds do not appear to systematically turn into transition opportunities. “Ensuing possession” data is hard to come by at this level of detail, but by matching up play-by-play information with SportVU-based shot and rebound logs, it is possible to capture how offensive possessions differ by the outcome of preceding play in terms of efficiency. Steals and missed shots correlate with easier opportunities to score going the other way than do made shots, free throws or dead balls.

Plays immediately following steals and defensive rebounds are higher percentage largely because of the advantage in early offense. In both situations, the new offensive team takes a greater proportion of their shots in during the most fruitful portion of the shot clock, the first eight seconds. Additionally, teams shoot more effectively than normal during those first eight seconds following steals or defensive rebounds, even compared to early offense in generated in other situations. All that is a slightly long-winded way of saying that without directly tracking the data, shots taken in the first eight ticks of a new shot clock are a reasonable proxy for playing in transition off an opponent miss.

Now, were the “missed threes lead to fast breaks” theory to hold water, we would expect to see a greater propensity for early shots to follow missed threes recovered by the defense. In the chart below, “Early Offense %” is the proportion of field goal attempts following a missed shot from a given area of the floor which were taken within those first eight seconds of the shot clock, while “Early Offense eFG%” is the efficiency observed on those shots:

So not only do missed threes, especially the above-the-break threes which low attempt teams such as the Wolves and Wizards often eschew, lead to the proportionally fewest transition attempts, those attempts which do occur are not especially damaging. Unlike those quick ripostes which tend to follow missed layups. While some factors serve to balance this gap out such as the higher rate of offensive rebounding on closer shots, not to mention the generally far higher shooting percentages, shooting threes certainly does not appear to spur great numbers of run outs going the other way.

After brief consideration of why this should be, consider what the floor looks like on a missed three from the top as opposed to a missed layup.

On Draymond Green’s miss (top), the Warriors have two players, already above the arc and ready to transition back on defense, with Steph Curry also in excellent position to recover back to defense. By comparison, on Courtney Lee’s missed layup, the Grizzlies have four players below the free throw line and none above the arc, a much more difficult spot for defensive transition. Now, those instances do not represent every play or permutation. The images do illustrate in part why shooting threes in many cases might put an offensive team in perfectly fine position to prevent transition opportunities the other way, even accounting for the probable longer rebound.