Brooklyn Nets: Evaluating Kenny Atkinson’s 3-point strategy

Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images
Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images /

Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson has built an offense around the 3-point shot. How has it worked out?

The 3-point shot is the great equalizer in the NBA and the analytics certainly favor it.

So when Kenny Atkinson took over as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets three seasons ago, it made sense that he emphasized the long ball as part of the rebuilding process.

After being 28th in 3-point attempt rate during the 2015-16 season, Atkinson got his wish from the get-go. Brooklyn attempted 3s at the fourth-highest rate in his first season at the helm (37.1 percent of shots).

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The Nets have improved their offensive efficiency a bit under Atkinson, rising from 27th/28th in the 2015-16/2016-17 seasons to 20th over each of the last two seasons.

There are plenty of areas worth examining for potential improvement, but considering how many 3s the Nets have been taking, the team’s 3-point percentage is probably a good place to start.

After being in the bottom half of the league in 3-point percentage in Atkinson’s first two seasons, Brooklyn got to the middle of the pack in this regard in 2018-19 (despite actually having a slight decline in 3-point percentage). This definitely played a role in the team’s earning the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference and a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2014-15.

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Brooklyn has clearly committed to taking a lot of 3s, so their success in this regard will likely be a barometer for the team’s offensive success. A difficult but possible goal for next season would be for the Nets to be both top 10 in 3-point attempt rate AND 3-point percentage.

If Brooklyn had bumped up its long range efficiency just a little bit this past season to 36 percent, it would’ve been eighth in the NBA and joined the “elite club.”

Looking back a few seasons, only a few teams have managed to be in the top 10 in both categories. Of the four teams that did it this past season (the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors), all were considered legitimate contenders to reach the NBA Finals.

Now Brooklyn won’t become a contender by simply making a few more 3s, but this certainly bodes well for the team’s offensive philosophy.

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So how can the Nets improve their 3-point percentage a bit? Among the team’s highest volume long range shooters, D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris shot 36.9 percent, 37.8 percent and 47.4 percent, respectively. If they can maintain their solid shooting next season, that would be a great start.

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In terms of players that have room for improvement, perhaps Spencer Dinwiddie can get his percentage up to around 35 percent and Caris LeVert can get closer to 33 percent. It’s easier said than done, but there’s a plausible route for Brooklyn to get in the “10-10” club.

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Overall, 3-point shooting is just one facet of the game, but it’s one the Nets have definitely committed to. It will be interesting to see if Brooklyn uses any of its draft picks in the upcoming draft to bolster its shooting.