Outside of the Golden State Warriors, in the summer of 2017, most top NBA teams were in flux. The Cavaliers traded incumbent superstar Kyrie Irving, the Rockets traded James Harden’s longtime running mate Patrick Beverley, upgrading to the “Point God” Chris Paul. Disgruntled star’s left their own team’s, Nick Young left the Lakers to join the Warriors, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony both found their way onto the Thunder, joining Russell Westbrook. With the return the Clippers received in the Chris Paul trade, the seemingly one-sided trade between the Pacers and Thunder for Paul George, and the Jimmy Butler trade to the Timberwolves, there was a resounding sentiment that you can’t expect to get a lot for star players in a trade anymore.
In Chicago, it looks like they made a great choice with the pick they received in the Butler trade, picking Lauri Markkanen 7th overall, who’s shown tons of potential. Pairing him with a now healthy Zach Lavine has the Bulls looking fondly towards the future. In Indiana one man shifted the perception of the George trade, Victor Oladipo. The expected result of the George trade was that Indiana would now fall to the basement of the Eastern Conference and would reside there until they managed to draft a rising star. However, this isn’t what happened, and it’s largely because of Oladipo’s ability to improve his pull-up jump shot, especially from three.
Steph Curry, James Harden, and Damian Lillard have largely ushered in the NBA’s newest era, which is built on the back of the dominance of the 3-point shot. The 3-point shot has always been a facet of the NBA game since it was introduced, Steve Kerr played largely the same role as Steve Novak, Marco Belinelli, and Troy Daniels; they all thrive in catch and shoot situations and were played as such. The major difference in the NBA today is the propensity for pull-up threes. It’s completely unhinged most defenses, because there isn’t a proper way to defend a pull-up three. The shot has been transformative to say the least, even in the past 5 years, it’s been ratcheted up a significant degree.
For example, in 2013-14 Steph Curry led the league in pull-up 3 attempts by a wide margin with 5.1 attempts per game; this year, James Harden is taking 8.2 attempts per game. The pull-up three is used primarily in three situations: Transition, DHO’s (Dribble hand-offs), and by pick and roll ball handlers. It’s the most transformative play in the NBA right now, because it stretches the floor astronomically. When Steph Curry is running the pick and roll, you immediately have 2 options, go over or under the pick. Surely you can’t go under, because he’ll shoot it from downtown, and if you go over, you’re forfeiting the lane to a scorer. From there players are left to decide whether they want to rotate to defend the rim or stay home and guard the players in the corner (the corner three is the most efficient shot in basketball.)
This is reflected heavily in smaller players shooting percentages at the rim. You have players like Curry, and Kyle Lowry who prior to the league’s pull-up three trend, were shooting around 57 percent at the rim. Over the last three years, they’ve both shot roughly 67 percent from there.
This brings us full circle to Victor Oladipo’s come-up. Coming out of college (Indiana) Oladipo wasn’t seen as a shooter by any stretch and was lauded for his athleticism and defensive prowess. In Orlando he was given the keys to the offense with middling returns. It was clear that he was a capable tertiary option, but at that point in time, nowhere near capable of leading a young team to the playoffs, let alone a playoff run. So, he was shipped off to the Thunder to realize his potential as a tertiary option; next to the ‘Brodie’ Westbrook.
Next to a player as hell-bent on getting to the rim as Westbrook, it’s basically a pre-requisite to be an above-average shooter if you want to excel. Oladipo had his worst shooting year as a pro, and was unceremoniously traded to Indiana, where he went to college. Joining a rag-tag group of guys, and one future all-star at the center position (Myles Turner), the ball rolled to Oladipo’s feet and begged to be picked up.
The game of basketball isn’t overly complicated in some ways. Sometimes, if you make baskets, you’re good. What followed was exactly that for Oladipo. He always had the athleticism to get to the rim and defend at a high level. But he had to figure out a way to get to the rim with less resistance waiting for him.
Oladipo worked relentlessly in the offseason, recognizing that the ball would be in his hands in Indiana, and he worked on one thing, pull-up threes. He isn’t attempting free throws at his highest rate, he isn’t registering the highest assist percentage of his career, he’s not registering his highest defensive output, and his three-point attempt rate isn’t even as high as last year.
He is doing two things, and it’s unlocked everything. He’s attempting 3 times as many pull-up threes (3 attempts per game), and he’s shooting a career high on them (nearly 38 percent). The results; he’s shooting career high’s from literally every other place on the floor and shooting a robust 67 percent at the rim (10 percent higher than his career average). When Oladipo is attacking the pick and roll – now that he’s a pull-up threat – he’s attacking downhill towards the defense, finding himself wide open in the midrange area, and either attacking backpedaling big men at the rim, or he’s getting to the glass before the help-defense comes at all.
Not only is his jumper opening up space for him, but teams have begun defending it so aggressively that they leave Turner open (Oladipo’s most popular pick and roll partner) to fire away from downtown, and he’s hitting a remarkable 42 percent on passes from Oladipo.
Oladipo has been rewarded with his first (likely of many) all-star selection, and he’s gaining fan-fare from all corners of the league. The week he received Eastern Conference player of the week (Dec. 12th, 2017) he also registered as the NBA’s 6th hottest selling jersey.
It’s incredible what the pull-up three has done for the league, and players alike. Indiana no doubt loves what they’re seeing from Oladipo, and they feel like they’ve got a star they can hold onto. With George in the rearview mirror (no shade, George is awesome), and the ball in Oladipo’s hands, the Pacers are feeling significantly better about themselves than they were 4 months ago.
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Have a blessed day y’all.