Playbook: The Corner Three-Pointer | Magic Basketball

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Aug 30

Playbook: The Corner Three-Pointer

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Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Over the last three years, the three-point shot has been used by the Orlando Magic as one of the primary weapons of choice in their offensive attack. There are many critics that bemoan head coach Stan Van Gundy‘s dependence of the three-pointer in the Magic’s philosophy on offense, yet they ignore the fact that threes are one of the most efficient shots in basketball — to be more specific, the corner three.

Why take a long two?

It’s no coincidence, then, that Orlando led the NBA in three-pointers made and attempted, while also putting up less shots from 16-23 feet than any other team. It should be noted that the Houston Rockets, noted for their basketball analytics, were second in the latter category. The Magic, too, dedicate themselves to the numbers, so there’s a method to the madness when it comes to their three-point happy ways.

A lot of people assume that the method primarily surrounds just chucking up threes and seeing what happens, but that’s not the case. Orlando makes an effort to seek out the corner three-pointer when executing some of their sets offensively. It’s why the Boston Celtics, in the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, made sure to not allow the Magic to get those shots.

It’s an easy thing to overlook because nearly everyone remembers the end result when it comes to certain plays. But like Bret “Hitman” Hart, Orlando takes pride in the excellence of execution. There is a grand design taking place when the Magic go through the motions on each possession on offense, trying to find the optimum shot to take as the situation presents itself.

How does Orlando maneuver the offense to create corner three-point shots?

Usually either from kick-outs in 4-out/1-in offensive sets or drive-and-kicks in pick and rolls.

The key for the Magic in manufacturing corner threes is the ball movement. When reversing the basketball from side to side on the perimeter, the passing must be crisp or else the shooters for Orlando are going to be hoisting a lot of contested three-pointers, which are low percentage shots.

The Celtics’ strategy of staying home on players like Rashard Lewis allowed them to win the series, but it’s easier said than done. If there’s one team in the 2010 NBA Playoffs that learned the hard way, it was the Atlanta Hawks. Head coach Mike Woodson’s switching defense got, dare I say, flat-out butchered.

Click here for the video.

Example 1:

Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard execute a 1/5 pick and roll. The penetration by Nelson is enough for Lewis to get an open look at a corner three, even though Al Horford is running at him with his hands in the air.

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Example 2:

On this possession, J.J. Redick runs a 2/5 pick and roll with Howard. This is a prime example of the Magic’s ability to reverse the basketball in the blink of an eye. Two passes and Mickael Pietrus does the rest, swishing the three-pointer.

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Click here for the video.

Example 3:

Same as Example 1.

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Example 4:

Same as Examples 2 and 3.

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Example 5:

This is a 4-out/1-in offensive set for Howard. It’s concert in motion. Josh Smith double-teams Howard … sort of. As that is happening, Matt Barnes cuts to the basket and forces Joe Johnson to rotate on him. Howard kicks the ball out to Lewis and Vince Carter sets himself up for a three-point shot. Johnson tries to recover and put a hand in Carter’s face, but it’s not good enough.

In games, this is a common result for the Magic.

6 comments
Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

I don't understand everyone's insistence on people shooting mid-range jump shots. Shooting 40% from 3 is the equivalent of shooting 60% from 2. If people have been watching some of the FIBA Championships this week, you'd see that a lot of international teams shoot... get ready for it... mostly 3's and shots in the paint. Which is exactly what the Magic do. It's a smarter way of playing basketball.

The Magic didn't "die by the 3" when they lost to the Lakers two years ago in the playoffs. Game 1: They shoot 35% from 3, but 27.7% from 2. Game 2: 20 TO's to LA's 12, 74% FT to LA's 86%. Game 4: Same thing, 17 TO's to LA's 7, 59.5% FT to LA's 75%. Game 5: LA dominated each of the "Four Factors", pretty much beating us across the board.

Against Boston, it was as Eddy said. Boston just didn't let the Magic take 3's where they wanted to. Games 1 and 6 were the only ones where the Magic shot a poor percentage, and honestly in Game 6 a lot of those looks were open, they just didn't go down. In the embarrassment that was Game 3, Boston limited the Magic to taking only 11 3's. Even though they hit 6 of those for a great percentage, closing out and causing the Magic to take so few is what did them in.

For everyone who always criticizes the Magic's style of play and taking so many 3's when they're open to them, I ask you one thing: Why is it that great defensive coaches playing against the Magic would rather let the Magic do anything else other than shoot open 3's??? It's the Magic's greatest offensive weapon and the thing smart defensive coaches like Larry Brown, Thibodeau, and Popovich fear the most when playing them.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@rstramondo

Actually, your suggestion is worse because of Howard's inability to shoot a jumper with any sort of accuracy. That fact is exacerbated when taking into account that a mid-range jumper is a more inefficient shot than a three-pointer.

Howard doesn't need a jumpshot, in any case. And the Magic don't live or die by the three -- their fate is decided on defense. It always has been since Van Gundy has been head coach.

rstramondo
rstramondo

Nice article. But when you live by the 3, you die by it. We need one more move if the corner 3 is contested. Howard should learn a top '0 the key J, and he could rotate up the blocks, and bank a nice jumper, when the 3 is low percentile...

Swami
Swami

Not to be annoying or anything but in example in the description in example 2 it should read "Mickael Pietrus ""swishes"" the three".

Ryan
Ryan

The corner 3 is the best shot (hardest) you have to shot in a completely straight line. I have no know how pietrus is so good shooting these. Remember in the Playoffs when he made over jackson on bobcats from the corner (he guarded really tight too).