Volume Isn’t A Game Plan for the San Antonio Spurs


The NBA is becoming a league that is revered just as much for the three-point shot as it is for the dunk.  A vital role on each team is that of the three-point specialist and we have seen a movement to prefer the outside threat to the post player.  To personify; Stephen Curry is a bigger star in this league than LaMarcus Aldridge, and it is still unknown if Curry can consistently dunk.

Nov 25, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots past Miami Heat guard Norris Cole (30) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

But, much like Curry, the three-point specialist rarely leads his team to an NBA title.  That is not to say that they don’t play pivotal roles in really key moments.

Spurs fans have been on both sides of this coin.  Robert Horry was perhaps the most effective opportunistic shooter in NBA history and was a critical component of two San Antonio titles.  Conversely, Ray Allen effectively ended the Spurs 2013 Finals run in the now infamous Game 6 in Miami.

What is truly interesting is the volume of which a team shoots the three-pointer appears to have a negative correlation to success in the playoffs.

NBA pundits chastised Lakers’ coach Byron Scott when he set a limit on the number of three-point attempts his team would have this year, yet we don’t put a ceiling on the shot league-wide.  Why?

This year, Houston leads the NBA in three-point attempts per game with an incredible 34.4.  San Antonio is 14th on the list with just over 22 per contest.

In fact, Houston is regularly found in the top spot.  In the past five years, Houston is in the top-five in three-point attempts four times, and has led the league in three of them (2014-2014 to-date).

3-point attempts


First placeSecond placeThird placeFourth placeFifth place


HoustonDallasLA ClippersPhoenixPortland


HoustonAtlantaPheonixPortlandGolden State


HoustonNew YorkLA LakersPortlandAtlanta


OrlandoNew YorkBrooklynDallasMinnesota


OrlandoNew YorkPheonixHoustonDallas

During this same window, the Spurs never ranked higher than its 6th position during the lock-out season of 2011-2012.  The teams that have been truly vying for a championship have not routinely made their way into these rankings.

Take a look at the team’s competing in their respective Conference Finals during the past five years.  You will find: San Antonio, Miami, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Memphis, and Indiana.

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Only one of these teams was in the top-five in three-point attempts in a year they earned a title (2011 Dallas Mavericks in fifth-place). The average rank for the NBA’s most successful teams during this stretch is 17.63.  The most routinely dominate franchises are in the back-half of the Association in three-point attempts.

The two most successful teams during this time are Miami and San Antonio, and have a combined-average ranking of 11.62.

But three-point attempts aren’t the same thing as three-point makes.  Exactly right.  Most of these teams are shooting the three, because they are making a lot of them.  The total points earned from the three-pointer provide a team ranking that looks very similar to the above.  So, that statistic is less important than judging how efficiently the team shoots.  Adding that piece of data, the rankings of highest three-point percentage look like this:

3-Point %


First placeSecond placeThird placeFourth placeFifth place


Golden StateLA ClippersWashingtonAtlantaToronto


San AntonioDallasLA LakersGolden StateWashington


Golden StateMiamiSan AntonioOklahoma CityNew York


San AntonioGolden StateOrlandoChicagoAtlanta


Golden StateSan AntonioDenverPheonix


It is not about volume, it is about timing.  Great ball-movement to find the open shooter is critical , so it is no surprise to see San Antonio on this list in four of the five years identified.

So, if these metrics are known, why do NBA general manager’s insist on evangelizing the number of three’s-attempted?  Is it perhaps the dichotomy of ticket sales and team wins?  The flash that a volume team provides is incredible to watch, see Houston.  But the teams that thrive on timing, and timely shooting, are the only ones to watch in June.

The Spurs look comfortable with the pace of their game, and rate of three-point shooting.  As San Antonio continues its push for a sixth franchise title you can bet the offense will still start with Tim Duncan, and he won’t be shooting a three.

Next: Spurs Three Keys to Beating Grizzlies