Dallas brought back the corner three-pointer last season — and although it might not exactly have been in a big way, it might have been a preview of what’s to come this year.
The Mavs improved from 24th (36.3%) to 4th (41.2%) in the NBA in three-point percentage from both corners combined last season. That’s a remarkable leap to achieve in a single season. Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon had a lot to do with the club’s resurgence, as the newcomers were the two best marksmen on the team from those areas on the floor. Aside from them, however, only one other steady rotation player shot above the team average from the corners: Jae Crowder.
What made the Mavs’ efficiency from the corners so interesting last season wasn’t that the team got so much better from that area, necessarily, but that the Dallas offense largely seemed to work more toward not shooting from the corner. Most offenses in the NBA now embrace the corner three, and many analytics-oriented fans would agree with that move: Aside from a layup, the corner three-pointer is considered the single spot on the floor most efficient to shoot from. This thought isn’t necessarily new, either. An 82games.com game charting study found long ago that the corner three is perhaps the single-most desirable shot on any given possession, so long as it’s a proper look.
But as the Mavs’ collective accuracy from the corner increased from one season to the next, the volume of attempts from said spot decreased rather significantly. In 2012-13, more than 23 percent of the Mavs’ three-point attempts came from the corner yet Dallas knocked down just 36 percent of them. Last season, the Mavs increased five points in accuracy but just 19.9 percent of their long-range attempts came from there, per Basketball-Reference.com. That was 28th in the league. Only the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks took a smaller volume of attempts from the corners.
It seems odd that last year’s Mavericks shied away so much from that area, but considering most of the team’s offense ran through the middle of the floor and toward the rim, it’s not particularly surprising. Before we get into that, let’s check where the Dallas offense excelled last season. To the right is the team’s shot chart from the 2013-14 campaign.
Dallas attempted nearly as many three-pointers from atop the arc (4.2 per game) as it did from both corners combined (4.7), which, mathematically speaking, seems weird. But the Mavericks hit those straight-away threes at a 39.4 percent clip, miles above league average. The team has Dirk Nowitzki to thank for that; the German hit 43.7 percent of his 135 attempts atop the arc last season, just an absurdly high rate. Many of those looks (as well as the shots from the right elbow, where Dallas hit a ridiculously good 45 percent of its shots last season) came off of pick-and-rolls featuring either Monta Ellis or Devin Harris as the ball-handler.
Quality three-point opportunities are created by quality ball movement, and while many teams — the Spurs and Heat, most prominently last season — create corner threes by drives to the rim and then kick-outs, Mavericks ball-handlers generally looked behind themselves en route to the hoop last season, and to great effect. Only two regular rotation players attempted an above-league-average volume of threes from the corner last season. The rest shot primarily above-the-break treys. Again, this is generally considered a bad thing, but Dallas was the second-best three-point shooting team in basketball last season. I don’t think you’ll hear anyone criticize the team’s approach. Below is a chart showing the volume of threes players attempted from the corner last season and their success on such shots.
|Player||3FG% from Corner||% of 3PA from Corner|
Only Crowder and Marion took a high volume of threes from the corner last season when compared to the rest of the league, but four players shot at or above league average from the spot. Dallas did not regularly venture there yet still found success beyond the arc. However, there are clues in that chart and behind the numbers of some new Mavs that suggest Dallas could go there more this upcoming season — and become an even deadlier long-range team than the one we saw in 2013-14. After all, the departures of Calderon via trade and Carter and Marion via free agency leaves a corner three void that must be filled.
Let’s start with Monta Ellis, who took just 23 percent of his three-pointers from the corner but hit a blistering 54 percent of them. As the main catalyst of the Dallas offense last season, Ellis couldn’t often afford to play off the ball and, when he did, he often had to remain available as a safety valve or “reset” option at the top of the key. For as great a shooter as Jose Caldeorn was, he does not possess the same downhill driving potential as players like Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris, in particular. Playing alongside Parsons, Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, and Harris might give Ellis the chance to float toward the corner more often. Having multiple options at ball-handler does two very important things for the Mavs: 1. Ellis is brilliant from the corner, which means defenses will either have to adjust their rotations to account for his shooting or risk being burned, and 2. Spotting up would give him the chance to “rest” on a possession every now and then, making a 35-minute night not as continuously physically taxing.
In that same respect, it’s possible we might see Nowitzki (whose ’13-’14 shot chart is to the right) drift to the corners more often this season as well. Dirk was most recently active in the corners during the years JJ Barea played backup point for the Mavericks. Now that the Mavs have half a dozen very dangerous players off the bounce, Dirk might be able to slide that way and take a “rest” as well. However, his influence on floor spacing is so invaluable that it almost makes more sense to keep him in the middle of the floor, where he played last season at an All-Star level. The corners were the only two spots on the floor from which he shot at a below-average clip. Putting Dirk in the corner might be one of those cases of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
So, if Ellis could perhaps see a rise in attempts and Dirk might or might not attempt more, who’s going to shoot from the corner? Having a body there during many plays is vital, especially if the player is a threat to shoot. Defenses nowadays are so geared toward eliminating three-pointers that for a team like Dallas, which takes and makes more mid-range shots more than most every other team in the league, freeing up more space between the arc and the rim is paramount to the offense’s success. You’re definitely not going to see Tyson Chandler, Brandan Wright, Greg Smith, or any other big man Dallas might sign between now and October venture away from the rim toward the corner, especially with how much the Mavs big men excel at rolling, catching, and finishing at the rim.
The answers, fortunately, are already on the roster. Dallas signed a bevy of perimeter players this offseason capable of knocking down the corner Js made famous by the analytics revolution. Below is a chart showing the team’s new perimeter additions and how they fared from the spots last season.
|Player||3FG% from Corner||% of 3PA from Corner|
It should be noted that Nelson’s performance and volume from the corner have both dipped since the Dwight Howard trade after the 2011-12 season. But before D12 moved to the Lakers and while Nelson played off his All-Star big man similar to the way he’ll play alongside Nowitzki this season, Nelson took 20.5 percent of his attempts from the corner and hit them at a 44 percent rate, including a whopping 54.7 percent during the ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 seasons combined.
That’s the type of production Nelson will hope to replicate this season with the Mavs, and it’s up to Rick Carlisle and the players in the locker room to make it happen. The good thing about filling a team with weapons off the bounce is it gives the coach a million different ways to deploy them. Dallas has been one of the most forward-thinking organizations in terms of stats and analytics for years, so it’s safe to assume the team will find ways to both get and hit shots from the corners this upcoming season. Watching those experiments play out is what makes this game so interesting.