The Algebra of the Three-ball: Dagger, or self-inflicted wound?

Nowadays, the noun “floater” seems to permeate our hoops vernacular – like the phrase “high pick-and-roll.” Shot attempts dubbed floaters kinda descended en-masse upon the basketball world 15 or 20 years ago, Tony Parker’s distinctive Teardrop garnering the most acclaim.

I’ve never been certain if the “floating” is supposed to represent the shooter’s movement as he flips the ball towards the goal, or whether it describes the ball’s gentle, arcing path to a (friendly?) rim. Whatever the etymology, it’s safe to say that a missed floater is apt to be rebounded closer to the Restricted Area than the Top of the Key, right?

An errant three-point attempt, on the other hand, is prone to produce a longer carom – thus a different rebounding dynamic. Simple physics, equal and opposite reactions, etc. etc. The fear of getting burned in transition certainly fueled the Old School’s long-standing resistance to the “gimmick.”

Our young Celtics’ struggles heading into the All-Star Break have pundits and fans alike seeking solutions – from roster revision to strategic refinement. A common criticism of late has been an over-reliance on the long ball, “settling” for too many threes.

Has it been the C’s poor shot selection and too liberal use of the trey that’s behind these 120+-point opponent outbursts? They misfired 28 times from behind the stripe last week against the Cavs, shot just 19 for 50 from distance in a recent loss to the Pelicans.

Brad’s bombardiers currently rank No. 5 (.370) in 3PAr, (i.e. the ratio of 3FGA’s to all FGA’s). That usage rate is actually down slightly from last season’s .393, which was high enough to win the league’s bronze medal. [For the record, the 3PAr for Coach Stevens’s first three Green Teams was below .300, their ranking pretty much middle of the pack.]

In 59 games, Boston has missed 1,168 three-point shots. Are the other guys more likely to score on the possessions that immediately follow these misses?

While I don’t have this data for the entire season, I have investigated the matter for the past five games, during which the Celts amassed 94 errant three-pointers.

Four of those misses ended a quarter of play, and the C’s were able to extend their possession with an offensive rebound 15 times. That leaves 75 enemy scoring opportunities precipitated by an off-target long bomb.

But the opposition could cash in only 30 of those possessions – 24 deuces, 3 treys, 3 trips to the foul line – a conversion rate of exactly 40%. Overall in those five games, opponents converted 249 of 487 possessions, 51.1%.

For the season (by my count), opponents have converted 2,723 of 5,645 possessions, 48.2%.

Abacus Revelation for the Road

Back to the “floater” … this little piece of hoops terminology goes back at least to 1970. Pete Axthelm used it in his iconic The City Game, noting that veteran guard Dick Barnett contributed a “long floater” to a key Knick playoff rally.

Images: Mercury News, NBA Hoops Online