In the last four seasons, no NBA team has attempted more three-pointers than the Orlando Magic. Coach Stan Van Gundy's idea when he took over the club was to surround center Dwight Howard with four three-point shooters, giving the Magic five reasonably efficient scorers as well as creating space for them to operate. It's worked, to varying degrees, for a number of reasons, including what it takes away; the Magic attempt fewer long two-point jumpers, on a per-possession basis, than any team in basketball.
As a consequence of their volume three-point shooting, the Magic endure repeated criticism that they are doomed to fail. "Live by the three, die by the three," say the media and some fans. And indeed the team is just 6-18 under Van Gundy in the regular season when it makes five treys or fewer.
Orlando did not shoot the three-ball well in its regular-season games versus the Atlanta Hawks this year, which is, I believe, among the reasons some folks have picked fifth-seeded Atlanta to upset it when they kick off their playoff series Saturday night at Amway Center. In the four games, the Magic shot 19-of-84 (22.6 percent) beyond the arc. The prevailing wisdom is that Jason Collins' one-on-one defense on Howard in the paint frees his teammates to stay closer to their men, denying them open attempts from long range.
The Hawks' success in defending the three doesn't appear to be a fluke, as it ranked fourth in the league in three-point percentage allowed (33.8) in the regular season. Still, the Magic, who shot 36.6 percent on threes for the year, ought to have done better than 22.6 percent against Atlanta.
No one player is solely responsible for tanking the Magic's three-point mark against the Hawks in the regular season. The problem plagues the whole team, save for Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu, as the table shows:
Taking away the three forces Orlando to look elsewhere for offense. Howard can only do so much, and Brandon Bass is the only other player in the team's rotation who doesn't take threes at a high volume. The Hawks can live with Howard taking long hooks from outside the paint, and with Bass firing away from 18 feet. They can't live with Nelson unloading a bomb from the deep corner.
Orlando can't alter its strategy to suit Atlanta's whims. It must continue to follow the offensive gameplan which has contributed to its winning more than two-thirds of its games in the last four seasons. That means high pick-and-rolls for Nelson and Turkoglu, with both ballhandlers trying to hit the roll man and the open three-point shooter with roughly equal frequency. It means firing away from the outside against a team that features no reliable perimeter defenders apart from point guard Kirk Hinrich. And it also means not settling for threes if there's a better play available; getting to the foul line would be a good way to offset the three-point deficit the team will likely face, but Orlando doesn't have any perimeter guys who draw fouls with any regularity.
The Magic's chances in this series do not hinge entirely on their ability to make threes--they can advance on the strength of their defense alone--but they'd obviously do themselves a favor by making more than one-quarter of them.