SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – The Timberwolves were tied with Portland 105-105 with just over a minute to play in the fourth quarter Saturday and the ball came to Taj Gibson, who was open in the left corner beyond the three-point line. Gibson had taken only 92 three-pointers in his 10-season NBA career prior to that moment, but he decided to let it fly.
It missed, and eventually the Wolves lost to the Trail Blazers 113-105, but that shot can reveal a lot about where the NBA is in 2018 — a player who previously was never comfortable shooting threes was now taking them at a pivotal time in a game.
Coincidentally at shootaround that morning, Gibson discussed what it would be like for him to hit a shot just like that in a game.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully hitting one, an important three-pointer, to have the crowd just go jubilant and crazy,” Gibson said. “That’s one of my goals. There’s so many different games I’m watching where guys hit tough three-pointers. It’s an amazing shot.”
The rest of the NBA certainly thinks so. This season the NBA has continued the trend of more threes the better. Teams are taking 31.3 treys per game, up 2.3 attempts from a season ago and up nearly 10 from five seasons ago.
You can see the transformation in players like Gibson, who has made the corner three-pointer, which is shorter in distance than the “above the break” threes from the wings and top of the key, a part of his repertoire. These players aren’t traditional shooters but have tried to develop their shots beyond the three-point line, since analytics have said those are a higher value shot than a long two. Gibson is on pace to shatter his personal high in attempts and has already set a career high in made threes (he is 10-for-24, with all but three coming from the corners).
He said it took him “about three years” to expand his range to the point where he felt comfortable trying those shots in games.
“It’s night and day,” Gibson said of his shooting ability. “My teammates are mad when I don’t shoot it. … It was just [getting] the form down, then the consistency of having the same arc, the same shot every time. It’s a lot farther back.”
But is the NBA nearing a tipping point on the value of threes? The Warriors were once at the forefront of the three-point revolution. In 2015-16 they led the league in taking 31.6 threes per game. Now they take 30.6 per game and are 17th in the league in attempts. The Rockets lead the league with 42.2.
“It’s hard to tell where the game is going,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “It does seem like maybe we’re going a little overboard with the threes. … As a coach you have to play to your strengths. If you’re lucky enough to have a guy who’s a dominant low-post threat, then you should go in there. That’s how you can control a game.”
But Kerr added: “If you have a bunch of guys shooting threes, you should do that.”
The Wolves have tried to find the right balance this season. Coach Tom Thibodeau wanted the team to attempt more threes than a season ago — they are taking 28.8 per game, which ranks 24th and is up from a league-low 22.5.
“I also want us to be getting high-percentage shots, to take the right shots,” Thibodeau said.
But for players like Gibson, the right shots now include threes.
Chris Hine covers the Timberwolves for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @ChristopherHine. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org