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Basketball Prospectus: Pelton: The Password Is...Three

Mr. Pelton, take it away:

Forty percent of the way through the schedule, I think I've come to a little bit better understanding of how the Hawks could take a dramatic step forward after a net loss of talent during the offseason. Explaining it starts with knowing that the difference is virtually all at the offensive end of the floor. Atlanta has improved just slightly in terms of Defensive Rating and continues to hover right around league average. On per-possession offense, however, the Hawks have gone from 16th in the NBA to sixth (not including Tuesday's game).

Let's take a look at the league's most improved offenses along with a mystery stat that has seemed to mirror their overall improvement.


                OFFENSIVE RATING         MYSTERY STAT
Team 0708 0809 Diff 0708 0809 Diff

Cleveland 107.5 115.1 +7.6 .190 .256 +.066
Portland 108.5 115.6 +7.1 .218 .258 +.040
Miami 102.2 107.7 +5.5 .217 .244 +.027
New Jersey 105.6 111.0 +5.4 .222 .253 +.031
Atlanta 108.3 111.2 +2.9 .165 .279 +.114
New York 105.6 107.6 +2.0 .215 .344 +.129

Any guesses as to what the mystery stat might be? Here's a hint--and what makes this so interesting. The mystery stat is not an "outcome" stat like a shooting percentage or offensive rebounding. Instead, it's a tendency stat, and one that in theory should not necessarily have anything to do with the performance of an offense. Got it? Maybe the enormous leap by the Knicks tipped you off that the mystery stat has to do with three-point shooting. It is, in fact, the percentage of the team's field-goal attempts that have come from beyond the arc.


The Hawks present an interesting case study in the value of the three. Their increased number of attempts can be traced to three factors: a full season of prolific bomber Mike Bibby, newfound three-point range for forward Marvin Williams and replacing reluctant outside shooter Childress with trigger-happy Evans and Murray.

How have the changes affected the holdover Atlanta starters?


                 2P%            3P%            TS%            TO%
Player 0708 0809 0708 0809 0708 0809 0708 0809

Bibby .438 .486 .373 .437 .515 .580 15.5 9.5
Johnson .453 .499 .381 .364 .534 .553 11.8 11.1
Williams .466 .509 .100 .382 .540 .583 10.4 8.0
Smith .477 .474 .253 .278 .520 .513 15.5 15.7
Horford .503 .511 - - .540 .559 15.3 13.5

With the notable exception of Smith, the other Hawks starters have improved virtually across the board. I suspect we are seeing the benefit of a well-spaced floor and the need for defenses to respect four of the five players beyond the arc. The improvement in turnover rates is especially striking, while Bibby is hitting a career-high percentage of his two-point shots and Williams too has made major strides inside the three-point line as well as outside it. Johnson's two-point improvement is not actually as impressive as it looks; he hit 50.4 percent of his twos in 2006-07 before suffering through a fluky 2007-08 campaign.

Add it up, and the starting five has improved by more than enough to offset swapping Childress' hyper-efficient 64.7 True Shooting Percentage for Murray's woeful 50.0 percent mark.