Defending the Three-Pointer

The Lakers have been among the NBA’s best in three-point defense over the past few seasons, as Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated delves into on SI.com’s Point Forward blog:

You can see the impact of (the Lakers’) size in something that is unusual among the league’s best defenses: They allow opponents to shoot a ton of three-pointers. As the three has become more accepted as a crucial scoring weapon, limiting three-point attempts has turned into one of the bedrock principles of top-level defenses in Boston, Chicago, Orlando and San Antonio — and to a lesser extent in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Not so with the Lakers. Only the Timberwolves have allowed more three-point attempts, but opponents just can’t knock them down against L.A.; the Lakers rank second, behind only Chicago, in three-point defense, and they also led the league in that category last season. This rare double comes from the fact that the Lakers smartly tilt their defense away from so-so perimeter shooters, and it suggests opponents take threes out of weakness — an inability to deal with L.A.’s interior defense — rather than opportunism.

After Tuesday’s practice, I asked Kobe Bryant for his explanation of what’s been so good about L.A.’s three-point D.

“We don’t allow guys to take rhythm shots, particularly at the three-point line,” he said. “We do a good job of running them off those shots or rushing them into those shots. We don’t want anybody just squatting and having a good look at it.

“We force them to take tough shots inside the paint with our bigs, Pau (Gasol) and ‘Drew (Bynum), and then when they take long two’s and contested threes, just make sure our hands are up in their face and they’re taking rushed opportunities.”

With Gasol and Bynum inside, plus Derek Fisher and Ron Artest (and usually Bryant) consistently closing down on shooters on the outside, this technique can work particularly well against teams like San Antonio and Dallas that shoot the three both often and well.

The Spurs rank first in the league at 39.9 percent from distance, while the Mavs come in seventh at 37.0 percent. Only the Knicks, Rockets, Suns and Magic take more threes than Dallas (21.35), while San Antonio’s 20.99 attempts ranks seventh after the Warriors and aforementioned squads. Meanwhile, the Lakers hold opponents to the second lowest three-point percentage in the league (33.6 percent), behind only Chicago (32.7 percent).

In three games against L.A., the Spurs have hit 31.7 percent of their triples. The Mavs and Lakers have played twice, with Dallas nailing 12-of-26 threes in a 109-100 win in January in what was a major differentiating factor in the game, L.A. uncharacteristically failing to close out on shooters. But L.A. made the adjustment in their March 12 game, holding the Mavs to 4-of-16 triples in a 96-91 win.

We’ll see how Dirk and Co. shoot the triple on Thursday in the third and final meeting between the two squads.