TRILLSAP: Breaking Down Paul Millsap’s Three-Point Excellence

Friday, December 27, 2013
By Robby Kalland

Atlanta Hawks vs Miami Heat

In recent years, three-point shooting has taken on a much bigger part of the NBA game, and more and more players are being asked to make three-point shooting part of their repertoire. As analytics have become a more integral part of how teams view the game, efficiency has become increasingly valuable, and teams have begun to tailor their systems to creating more efficient shots.

The most efficient shots in basketball are layups and three-pointers, more specifically corner threes. The mid-range jumper, often called a lost art, is less a lost skill among basketball players than it is a less efficient shot, and therefore a less desired one. From the 2009-10 season to the 2012-13 season the average number of three-pointers taken in the NBA has risen from 1487.4 (18.1 per game) to 1635.6 (19.9 per game). Mid-range shots are trending in the opposite direction as teams have gone from averaging 2106 (25.7 per game) in 2009-10 to 1903.2 (23.2 per game) in 2012-13.

Due to this trend, more teams are asking their big men to step outside the three-point arc rather than take long two-pointers. Paul Millsap has been a prime example of this movement towards more three-point shooting from bigs, and he has excelled in his new role this season. Millsap’s three-point shooting has been great for the Hawks as he has shot 45.7% (32-of-70) from three-point range on the season.

Millsap Threes

This three-point explosion from Millsap comes as a surprise because in his seven-year career in Utah with the Jazz, he was 31-of-113 (27.4%) from the three-point line. When I asked Millsap what changed for him, he said it was a little bit of everything.

“It’s been a lot of all of it, actually. It’s been coming and playing in this system. The system puts me in a position to take them, but when I do take them, I have to make them. I’ve put in the work in the offseason and preseason, and confidence. Guys give me confidence to get out there and shoot it. It’s something I’ve been working on. My main focus is always get better. Always expand my game. Over the course of the years I’ve been able to work on it and hopefully I’ll continue to work on it and get better.”

Working in Coach Bud’s system, the majority of Millsap’s three-point attempts come as a spot-up shooter or in pick-and-pop situations. 46 of Millsap’s 70 three-point attempts have come off of spot-up looks and he is shooting 43.5% from three in those situations, while pick-and-pop accounts for 16 of his attempts, and he shoots 43.8% on those looks (per Synergy Sports). For Millsap, he doesn’t have much of a personal preference as to how his three-point attempts come.

“I don’t really think that it matters. It just depends. Maybe pick-and-pop. I’m able to get my feet set and step into the shot a little bit more, but that’s what I’m used to over the years, you know, pick-and-pop, so probably that one.”

The Hawks have started to look for Millsap’s three-point shot more in the recent weeks, as he’s become more confident and comfortable looking for long-range attempts. In his first 14 games with the Hawks Millsap took 17 three-point attempts and made only five (29.4%), but in the last 14 games he has taken 53 three-pointers and made 25 of them (47.2%) in that stretch.

Millsap becoming a more effective shooter on the perimeter has really helped space the floor even more and opened up the Hawks’ offense. In the last 14 games, the Hawks are averaging 106.4 points per game, compared to 100.2 points per game in the first 15 (Millsap missed one game in the first 15). The Hawks’ assists per game (24.9 to 27.1), effective field goal percentage (51.2% to 53.9%), and offensive rating (102.2 to 107.4) have all taken a generous increase during those splits. While that is not all on Millsap, the added dimension of having a fourth perimeter shooting threat on the court has definitely had a positive impact on the Hawks’ offense.

When spotting up, Millsap places an immense amount of pressure on the defense, particularly when he spots up on the strong-side of the play. Here, you see the Hawks set up with four out and Jeff Teague (who has assisted on 11 of Millsap’s three point attempts) at the top of the key for an isolation drive.

Millsap spot 1

Jordan Hill is defending Millsap, but is leaving him a lot of space on the perimeter so he can help on the Teague drive, who has gotten Pau Gasol on a switch. Teague takes Gasol off the dribble to the left where Millsap and Kyle Korver are, the two best three-point shooters on the court for the Hawks, while Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll are on the opposite side.

Millsap spot 2

Hill steps into the paint to protect against Teague’s drive, while Millsap steps out behind the three-point line in the corner, creating an easy pass for Teague.

Millsap spot 3

Millsap takes the pass in the shooting pocket, and has 8-10 feet of room between he and Hill on the late closeout, giving him plenty of room to get his shot off and knock down the three. Having Korver on the wing on the same side as Millsap is another wrinkle that helps the Hawks on this play because it keeps Korver’s defender from leaving Kyle open on the wing to help on Millsap in the corner, due to the threat of the quick swing pass to the best three-point shooter in the NBA.

In the pick-and-pop game, the Hawks take advantage of defenses that are committed to pushing pick-and-rolls (hedging the big out on the screener in high pick-and-roll) or playing Ice (forcing the ball-handler baseline on side pick-and-rolls). The Hawks do this by having Millsap slip the screen and pop out to the three-point line rather than a mid-range two, as Horford does so effectively.

In this instance against the Spurs, Millsap recognizes that Boris Diaw is hedging out on Shelvin Mack (who has assisted on eight of Millsap’s three-pointers) and Tony Parker is going under the screen to push Mack away from a dribble-drive and cut out a passing lane should Millsap roll to the basket.

Millsap slip 1

Millsap simply pops out to the top of the key, unimpeded, for a wide open three-point look as Diaw and Parker stay with Mack.

Millsap slip 2

Diaw is not in position to rotate back to Millsap, and Marco Belinelli is late rotating off of Carroll in the corner, once again leaving Millsap with acres of space to set his feet and get off an uncontested shot in rhythm.

Millsap has been a perfect fit in Coach Bud’s system, stretching the floor, drawing out defenders, and creating open opportunities for himself and others. Millsap showed off his three-point shooting prowess on Monday night in Miami as he went 7-of-10 from the three-point line in the Hawks’ narrow loss in overtime to the Heat. He followed that up by going 2-of-4 from three in the Hawks double-overtime win in Cleveland on Thursday.

The emergence of Trillsap as an extra perimeter weapon next to Korver has been one of the biggest reasons for the Hawks’ recent offensive success. The space he creates opens up driving lanes for Teague, Mack, and Lou Williams, and when defenders collapse into the paint to protect against drives, he has shown the ability to consistently knock down open three-point shots.

[Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and NBA.com/Stats]

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