Preseason 3s And Coach Credit

3s For Thee But Not For Me

One thing I’ll be paying attention to early this season is the league-wide three point rate. For several years now the rate at which teams launched from beyond the arc has gone up and up with no real sign of tapering off.

However, this preseason teams are actually taking fewer 3s as a share of all their attempts compared to last preseason. That’s notable because the league-wide preseason three-point rate has been a reliable indicator of the league-wide three-point rate in the regular season. There was a similarly sharp dip in the three-point rate in last year’s playoffs.

This doesn’t mean the three-point revolution is reversing or anything like that. After all, there was a dip in the three-point rate during the 2019 preseason before rising again. One explanation is that the league is simply self-correcting after an explosion of 3s in the 2020 Bubble playoffs and the 2021 season when there were no fans in attendance.

Still, I think it’s worth wondering how close we are to the natural limit of how many 3s a game teams can take. Right now, teams are still finding places where they can swap obviously bad 2s with some less bad 3s. But eventually there will be fewer and fewer obviously bad 2s to replace and then the question is what will happen.

My guess is that we’re still a long way away from crossing that bridge. Last season, more than 40 percent of JaVale McGee’s buckets were unassisted. As long as that number is above zero percent there are probably still plenty of bad 2s to upgrade.

Team 3s

Looking at things from a league-wide perspective obscures the differences we can observe at the team level. It might not seem like we have a large sample to work with in the preseason, but as you can see in the chart below, a team’s three-point rate in the preseason roughly foreshadows their three-point rate in the regular season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the teams that are taking more (or fewer) 3s as a percent of all their shots this preseason compared to last year’s regular season.

It should go without saying that a high (or low) three-point rate by itself is not an inherently good (or bad) thing. But it does help illustrate some key differences in approaches to coaching in the NBA.

For example, the New York Knicks appear to be under a mandate to get up more shots from beyond the arc. This preseason, 48 percent of the team’s shots have been 3s, up from 35 percent in last year’s regular season. One source told the New York Post this week that head coach Tom Thibodeau wants the team taking around 40 treys a game. For reference, that number would have ranked the Knicks in the top five in 3s per game last season. With the additions of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, that goal doesn’t seem unrealistic.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum are the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks were one of the league leaders in generating 3s last season, but under new head coach Jason Kidd they rank nearly dead last this preseason. Just 34 percent of their tries have come from three-point land. That data point backs up Kidd’s recent quote about how he doesn’t want his team to rely on 3s this season like they have before.

I wonder if the Mavericks front office were aware of Kidd’s feelings on this topic before they went out and acquired Reggie Bullock and re-signed Tim Hardaway Jr. I thought the primary reason to have players like that on your roster is to out-shoot your opponent from beyond the arc.

Coaching Over/Under Expectations

When a team exceeds preseason expectations the coach often gets the credit. And when they fall below expectations the coach is usually the first one in the firing line. So I thought it’d be fun to look at a coach’s win/loss record relative to their team’s preseason Over/Under.

The table below details a coach’s record in seasons they completed (i.e., coached all 82 games or the equivalent of in a shortened season) versus the preseason win total set by Vegas. Note that I threw out the 2019-20 season unless the coach beat the Over in the abruptly abbreviated season or had no chance of beating the Over even if the season had been 82 games.

I’ve sorted the coaches in the table by their career wins above (or below) expected wins, or the total number of wins set by bookmakers before the season. San Antonio’s Greg Popovich sits at the top having generated 38.5 wins above preseason expectations since 2006.

To be clear, there’s some selection bias in this table. A coach that fails to meet or exceed expectations is going to be out of a job pretty quickly. Nevertheless, if you’re a Grizzlies or Hornets fan, you’ve got to be happy with the early results from head coaches Taylor Jenkins and James Borrego, respectively.

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