Stan Van Gundy Defends 3 Offense, Is Both Right And Wrong

Photo by Kyota on Flickr

Jump shooting teams don’t win basketball games.  Never mind that the Dallas Mavericks just won that exact way. Don’t confuse me with the facts, just let me stick to machismo stereotypes. Real men don’t fade away and make swish noises to score points, they fight in the paint.

It’s an adage that is almost as old as it is blind – the only way teams win basketball games is by scoring more points than the other team, because that’s how basketball is decided. It may be harder to win with jump shots than it is to win with other weapons, but saying that it’s impossible to win a certain way is almost as stupid as saying that the Miami Heat are failures because they didn’t win a championship in their first season after locking down an all-world roster for more than one season.

Since 3 point shots are jump shots (unless you’re Andre Miller), it is assumed that you can’t win a championship just by shooting 3s. I don’t know why 3 pointers are frowned upon – my guess is that it’s nostalgia-based ignorance, an irrational lust for the good old days in which basketball was a bunch of missed layups and didn’t include 3 pointers at all. Even in the NBA’s golden era, the 3 pointer wasn’t a marquee weapon - Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan never truly mastered it, and while Larry Bird was probably the best 3 point shooter of all time, he also played in an era where they were scarcely attempted.

You know who don’t scarcely attempt 3 pointers? The Orlando Magic. And Stan Van Gundy – in his very Stan Van Gundy way – wants you to know that he doesn’t care what you think about that.

“We think it helps our center and we think it helps our point guard in penetrating if we can spread the floor out,” Van Gundy said at the Coaching U Live event at UCF on Thursday. “The numbers think that’s a better shot than the mid-range. And the other reason is, that’s who we have.”

Van Gundy went on to say, in general terms, that the Magic haven’t possessed perimeter players adept at penetrating and scoring at the rim. More than 80 percent of the shots taken by Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu are classified as jump-shots.

“Especially from an offensive standpoint, this is a personnel driven league,” Van Gundy continued. “You do with what you have. We get it from our media all the time and our fans. We’ll have those nights, 2-for-23 from three. They say you gotta drive the ball more. Who? Who? That’s my question. Who? Who’s going to drive the ball? That’s not who we have. If I had a different team, there are a lot of guys in the league that I wouldn’t shoot threes with. We have who we have and we’re going to build our system around it.”

via Stan Van Gundy defends Orlando Magic’s style of play – Orlando Magic BasketBlog – Orlando Sentinel.

Criticizing Orlando for playing a perimeter heavy game is problematic on many levels.

First of all, it’s not as if the offense hasn’t been successful. Orlando has ranked as a top 10 offense for 4 straight years, peaking at 2nd in the entire league in 2009-2010. Also, lest we forget, the Dwight and 4 gunners approach carried the Magic all the way to the 2009 Finals, where despite being defeated in 5 games, Orlando held it’s own, losing two very close matches in games 2 and 4. Orlando didn’t lose the 2009 Finals because they were a jump-shooting team – they lost it because they were the second best team in the Finals that year.

The other problem with criticizing Stan’s offensive playbook is one that he mentions himself – what choice does he have? Do you want to see an offense based on Gilbert Arenas circa 2011 trying to take the ball to the rack, or Hedo Turkoglu doing anything? Look at the Orlando roster beyond Dwight Howard. Two solid power forwards with glaring weaknesses (this coming from a huge Ryan Anderson guy), a point guard who shows flashes of being elite but never quite gets it in Jameer Nelson, a nice role player in J.J. Redick, and a bunch of washed-up has-beens.

Of course, this brings me to where Van Gundy is mistaken. Pointing to your team’s inability to drive is all good, but the truth is that this is no longer an elite good shooting team anymore, either. Hedo Turkoglu had a mini-revival of sorts in Orlando, boosting his 3 point shooting up to 40.4% while remaining fairly awful all-around. Jameer Nelson crossed the 40% threshold as well. Redick and Anderson were close. Jason Richardson can still stroke it, though losing Steve Nash clearly hurt him.

But then again, the whole ordeal came crashing down in the playoffs, not in a single fluke game, but for an entire series. Atlanta’s defense – built around Jason Collins preventing Dwight from drawing double teams – played a huge part, of course, but these players just couldn’t hit anything. Richarsdon looked like a shell of his former self, Turkoglu just plain looked like himself, Gilbert was always more of a volume shooter than an accurate one. Orlando, as a team, regressed from 38.1% behind the arc in 2008-2009, to 37.5% in 2009-2010, to 36.6% in 2010-2011, to 26.2% in the 2011 playoffs.

It’s easy to blame the coach when an eccentric offense goes wrong. It’s much harder to give him credit when it goes right. In this case, I have no idea which one of the two is the right course of action. Stan Van Gundy ran this Orlando team to its absolute peak, with beautiful basketball at every turn, as the criticism just kept on coming. But finally, it may be justified. The Dwight and 4 shooters offense may not be the right thing for Orlando any more. But if this is the case, it’s because that certain brand of offense involves 4 players who aren’t Dwight. 4 players that Stan Van Gundy just doesn’t have any more.

Noam Schiller

Noam Schiller lives in Jerusalem, where he sifts through League Pass Broadband delay and insomnia in a misguided effort to watch as much basketball as possible. He usually fails miserably, but is entertained nonetheless. He prefers passing big men to rebounding guards but sees no reason why he should have to compromise on any of them.