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MCGILL: What made D'Antoni devoted to analytics and the 3-pointer?

Coach Dan D'Antoni and junior guard Jon Elmore.
Jan. 4, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HerdZone.com

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - In the wake of Marshall's 112-106 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 28, third-year Thundering Herd men's basketball coach Dan D'Antoni made national headlines with a lengthy post-game discussion on hoops analytics.

"The Analytics Crowd Has Its Biggest Cheerleader" read one headline. Another called D'Antoni a "college basketball coaching hero." Video of the press conference circulated heavily on social media websites like Twitter. NBCSports.com and Yahoo Sports were among the national outlets giving D'Antoni's words attention, as well as the Pittsburgh sports media contingent.

"It's been good," D'Antoni said Wednesday of the attention the Marshall program has received from his answer to a sportswriter's question. "I didn't do it in a demeaning way toward (the reporter) or anything, so I think it has been a positive."

Among his post-game remarks last week, the 69-year-old D'Antoni said he "changed a long time ago. I coached for 15 years like a dummy, running down there real hard so I can get it in there for the worst shot in basketball."

D'Antoni focused the discussion on why he values the 3-pointer so much.

"The best shot in basketball is that corner 3," D'Antoni said. "The next-best shot is any other 3."


 

 

But what transformed D'Antoni from dummy to devoted to the 3? When were #Danalytics born?

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The 3-point line was first used at the collegiate level in a 1945 game between Columbia and Fordham, but the single-game experiment didn't sway people in power to alter the rules of the game. The 3-pointer debuted professionally in 1961 in the American Basketball League.

Other leagues followed, but at a deliberate pace. The American Basketball Association, a rival league of the National Basketball Association, used the 3-pointer from its inception in 1967. When the ABA and NBA merged in 1976, the new league didn't initially adopt the 3-pointer. It wasn't until the 1979-80 season that the NBA added the 3-point shot, and college basketball (1986) and high school basketball (1987) didn't universally and permanently add the shot until years later. The Southern Conference, of which Marshall was a member, was the first NCAA league to add the 3-pointer for conference games only in 1980-81.

Dan D'Antoni was coaching at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when the 3-pointer was added to the high school game. Dan's younger brother, Mike, had been coaching and playing in the European Basketball League when the 3-pointer was implemented there. Mike D'Antoni saw the immediate benefits, and he relayed the findings to his older brother in the United States that the most successful teams were launching the most long-range shots.

"Mike called me from Europe," Dan said. "Now, Mike and I have always played kind of like this because it's like we had always played. We took a ton of outside shots. I remember playing Villanova in the NIT (in 1967) and they played this zone (defense) and they would move their defense out and we'd step back and we'd make `em.

"We ended up winning (70-68) because they should've stepped out to half court, but they never took us out of our range."

Dan's point: Long-distance shooting has always been his style, but it wasn't until decades later his teams were rewarded an additional point for making those shots.

"It's like playing poker and they've got a deuce and I've got a 3," Dan D'Antoni said. "Guess what? I win."

It was that phone call from his brother that made him re-evaluate the way he saw his offenses could exploit a defense and the game of basketball.

"He didn't want to tell me what to do, but he said we should probably take advantage of that 3-point line," D'Antoni said of the phone call. "It fit in because we were already spreading the floor and taking long shots."

Mike D'Antoni, a veteran NBA coach, is in his first season as the head coach of the Houston Rockets. His team is first in the league in 3-pointers made (540) and attempted (1,427), and earlier this season set a trio of NBA records for 3-pointers: single-game made 3s (24); single-game attempted 3s (61); and single-half attempted 3s (31).

The Rockets, a .500 team a season ago, are 27-9 with the third-best record in the Western Conference.

***

Dan D'Antoni is in his third season coaching at Marshall. His first Herd team - in 2014-15 - attempted 788 shots from 3-point range, a school record at the time. Last season's team then launched 985 shots from beyond the arc, shattering the record from D'Antoni's inaugural season.

"When you can shoot out there it helps even up the athleticism because it forces the defense to come a step closer," D'Antoni said. "The closer they come to you it gives you a better chance of creating angles to get to the basket.

"We've always been known to spread the floor and take quick shots. If you get a shot, you better take it. We've never turned down a good first shot, and I say good shot. We are still working on that because we shoot some bad 3s."

This season Marshall (9-6, 2-0 Conference USA) is 157 of 406 on 3-pointers, ranking 10th and 16th among Division I teams, respectively. The Herd is shooting 38.7 percent from 3-point range, which currently ties for seventh-best in school history for a single season.

D'Antoni's first Marshall team shot 31.4 percent on 3-pointers, and last year's team improved to 33.7 percent.

"Manufacturing 3s are the best," D'Antoni said. "That's when you get in the lane and kick it out and hit a 3. Coming down and shooting off the dribble, that's a little different."

In D'Antoni's post-game press conference at Pitt, the conversation started when a reporter asked if Marshall should have worked the ball into the paint more often. D'Antoni rattled off numbers - which he admits might have changed over the years - explaining how a variety of shots yield drastically different averages for points per attempt.

A clean layup, he said, averages 1.8 points. A corner 3 averages 1.3 points per shot. A post-up shot on the interior, he claimed, averages .78 points per attempt.

"If you look at the analytics part of it the best shot is the 3-point shot," D'Antoni said. "The floor opens up and you're running pick-and-rolls and getting the ball to the basket. But to set up an offense that consistently is designed to get a 2-point shot? Probably not a good idea."

That doesn't mean, however, that D'Antoni will not add a big man to the mix. In fact, Iran Bennett, a 6-foot-10, 325-pound center, signed with Marshall in November. D'Antoni calls Bennett "Shaq-like" and finds it exciting to think about adding the quick-footed and big-bodied Bennett to the offense.

"We're going to get a kid in here that will change our offense a little bit because I think he could make over 65 percent of everything he shoots inside," D'Antoni said. "Obviously, if he can do that, I'm going to go in there. We might manufacture the inside post up a little bit; we're not going to come down and look straight into him. But when you have someone that big, it changes your offense a little bit.

"We can get close to the basket in a different way. It will add to our offense. You always have to tweak it."

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