On Saturday afternoon I asked Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse if he thought the team was taking too many 3-pointers. To that point — prior to Saturday night’s game — the Raptors were leading the NBA in 3-point attempts per game with 46, five more than the Milwaukee Bucks who were averaging the second most at the time.
“I think it’s a little high,” he said. “I think that we need to attack the rim a little bit more, attack the paint a little bit more, limit our dribble-up transition ones a little bit.”
And then the Raptors went out Saturday night and took 48 3-pointers.
It made sense that the Raptors would take plenty of 3s against the New Orleans Pelicans who lead the NBA in 3-pointers surrendered. Frankly, a lot of Toronto’s 3-pointers have been good looks. They’re averaging a league-leading 26.4 “Wide Open” 3-pointers per game in which the nearest defender is at least six feet away, according to NBA Stats. On Saturday, 30 of their 48 3-point attempts were classified as “Wide Open.”
“There is a lot of good ones that we’re taking, not a whole lot of horrible ones, but I think you can trim some off that and get to the rim a little bit more,” Nurse said prior to Saturday’s game. “It sure seems like we’re generating a lot of them, too, and part of wanting to be a good shooting team is to get people confident to step into those when they’re there. We play a little bit on the probably overly aggressive side of if you’re open and your feet are set and it’s a rhythm shot, we want you to take ’em. But I just think again, a few more rim attacks, especially in transition, I think, is where we need to put a little focus.”
The problem for the Raptors is two-fold. For one, they’re shooting just 36.4% on “Wide Open” 3s, per NBA Stats, a pretty pedestrian number. Secondly, they rank 29th in the league in free throw attempts per game with 17.8. For as much as analytics have done to make the 3-point shot more appetizing these days, the free throw is still the best shot in basketball.
While the Raptors got to the line a little more against the Pelicans, shooting 27 free throws, it was nothing compared to the 47 free throws New Orleans attempted.
“I thought we did a better job of attacking the rim,” Nurse said after the game. “Probably deserved to go to the line a lot more than that considering how tightly it was being reffed tonight. But we’ve gotta play through the hits if we’re not getting calls, and we’ve gotta finish those. And as far as the number of threes, there’s always, in that many attempts, there’s always four or five that you probably say were a little too quick or a little too guarded or went up late in the shot clock or something that aren’t the best.”
In terms of those early 3-pointers, the Raptors currently lead the league in 3-point attempts taken with 15 to 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock. They’re averaging 10.2 so-called “Early” shot clock 3-pointers per game, according to NBA Stats, but they’re only shooting 31.4% on those shots. Considering you should only be taking the best shots that early in the shot clock, that 31% is pretty unsettling. It ranks 27th in the NBA in that category.
The Raptors appear to be a team that’s willing to live and die by the 3-point shot this season and right now it’s killing them. Some more calls from the refs would certainly be nice, but whining about calls isn’t going to help you win games. Go attack the rim if you want calls and attack with force. Nurse knows it, he said it himself. Now it’s time to make it happen.