Correcting Bill Simmons, Part 1

Bill Simmons, also known as “The Sports Guy,” writes a column for ESPN. He regularly blends his wide interest in sports with pop-culture references, and on the whole, I enjoy reading his stuff.

But every once in a while, he goes off the reservation and says something absurd – like his whole campaign to become the Milwaukee Bucks’ new GM. It might have started out as a joke, but as he was reading that fifth or sixth email from a Bucks fan that supported his campaign, I think he actually started to think that he was qualified for the job.

It was at that point that reality stood in the way of his fantasy world. A world where you could get a job running a NBA franchise just by writing a NBA column and owning Clippers season tickets. Simmons seems to know a lot about basketball, but every once in a while he’ll say something that tells me that he’s never played the game at a competitive level.

For example, in the second part of his recent MVP column, he talks about T-Mac:

Speaking of T-Mac, here’s my No. 1 NBA pet peeve this season: When a lousy long-range shooter has no qualms about jacking up 3-pointers every game. For instance, T-Mac shot 34, 33, 31, 33 and 30 percent on 3s the past five seasons, but that didn’t stop him from jacking up 4.5 per game this season. Really, T-Mac? If you can’t shoot 3s, why shoot them?

Granted, McGrady had his worst season shooting the ball from long range since the 1999-2000 season when he made just 28% of his threes. But that doesn’t make it a good idea to stop shooting them completely. First, there’s the extra point to consider. Shooting 28% from three-point land is the same as shooting 42% from inside the arc. McGrady shot just 46% from two-point range this season, so it’s not like the discrepancy is so big that it’s a no-brainer for him to completely shelve the long ball.

Besides, McGrady is a career 34% three-point shooter. Not great, but that translates to 51% from two-point range. I doubt T-Mac headed into the season knowing that his accuracy was going to take a dive and consciously decided to keep jacking threes. In fact, his 4.5 three-point attempts were his fewest since the ’01-02 season when he shot 3.7. Throw in the fact that McGrady took 0.3 fewer threes a game after the All-Star break and I’d say that he managed his shots pretty well.

Lastly – and this is the thing that really bugs me about Simmons’ comments – the three-point shot is so important to an offensive player with T-Mac’s physical ability. McGrady is quick, but not super-quick, so he needs the threat of the long ball to force his defender to close out aggressively, or else there won’t be any room to drive. If he reduces his three-point attempts even further, his defender will know that he can close on him with caution, looking for the drive. This will make McGrady’s penetration less effective.

This isn’t to say that every player who is chucking up threes is doing the right thing. Taking the ball inside is generally the better idea, because the shots are easier to make and there’s a much better chance of getting to the line. But for a guy like McGrady, who relies on deception and position more than quickness to get to the hole, the threat of the long ball is crucial.

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