CV: To Three Or Not To Three?

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Three for the road? (rotobob.com)

Ryne Nelson at Slam lists Charlie Villanueva among seven talented players who don't deserve big contracts.

The problem with Villanueva is his flaming inconsistency. Most nights he won’t be anything on the court. He’ll be a complete non-factor. Write him off. Forget about him. Pretend he’s from Milwaukee and never give him a second thought.

Then, there’s other nights when he literally doesn’t miss a shot. On these nights, Villanueva looks like Lamar Odom…with much less hair and a game that’s 10 times better.

VNuv's seeming inability to string together multiple big games is often lamented by Bucks fans, so we know where Ryne is coming from here. One of the issues is that the nights Nelson refers to when CV doesn't miss a shot are often characterized by deft three-point shooting. Yes, that is a problem.

In his only two 30+ point games this past season (March 5 and April 9) Villanueva made a combined 10-18 from downtown. Since his best games come when he pours in threes, it's a little easier to understand why the power forward hoisted 2.4 three-pointers per game last season. Even if that doesn't sound like a ton, it is.

To lend some perspective, he fired more often from outside last year than Jose Calderon (2.2), Jameer Nelson (2.1), Richard Hamilton (2.0), Steve Novak (2.0), Jason Kapono (1.5), and a couple hundred others. For a visual representation, I've devised a table with some of the above information, as well as the player's three-point accuracy:

Player 3PT A 3PT %
Villanueva 2.4 29.7
Calderon 2.2 42.9
Nelson 2.1 41.6
Hamilton 2.0 44.0
Novak 2.0 47.9
Kapono
1.5
48.3

Sure, I'm guilty of nitpicking some pretty extreme examples, but the chart also illustrates a worrisome fact: Villanueva shoots more from outside than many of the best long-range shooters in the world, including some straight-up three-point specialists. To compound the problem, he shot more three's (2.4) than free-throws (2.1) per game last year, and that trend holds true over his three-year career.

I'm not foolish enough to think that basketball is so simple that if Kapono shot 15 three-pointers per game he'd lead the league in scoring while retaining his lofty percentage. Or that all Andris Biedrins must do is attempt more shots to reach All-NBA status. But there is absolutely something wrong with a power forward with good mobility and skills to get to the basket continually missing three-pointers. Sadly, it's one of the more consistent parts of his game at this stage.

He has beautiful form on his jumper, and converted on a more respectable 33.7 % three-pointers just two seasons ago. And I'm not merely singling him out because he's 6'11" either. If Shaq could hit underhand halfcourt shots as often as he hits free-throws, I'd have getting the Big Aristotle the ball at midcourt down to a science.

Certainly, some who stand tall can also shoot when they ball. Think Rashard Lewis (6'10", 40.9 % last season), Peja Stojakovic (6'10", 44.1 %), Mehmet Okur (6'11", 38.8 %), and Troy Murphy (6'11", 39.8 %).

For others, not knowing the limitations of their games can only hurt their teams. You're never taught to give up in sports, but for some players, it's past time they begin to phase out the three-pointer from their repertoire. For instance, Jamaal Tinsley tossed 3.6 threes per game in the general direction of the basket last season, making only 28.4 %. Earlier in his career he was a formidable outside threat, but a three-year trend of bricks is long enough for me. I wouldn't advise Tinsley stop shooting from outside altogether, but he'd be wise to seriously cut down on the attempts.

Desmond Mason figured out he wasn't meant to fire threes in the NBA and hasn't attempted one the past two seasons, so there is a non-shooting precedent sitting right in the Bucks' locker room.

Should Villanueva be at that point? It's difficult to say, because his sweet shot is one of his defining characteristics, and one of just a couple attributes that distinguish him from the typical NBA power forward. Arguably, the threat of his shot can help spread the floor, and keep defenses honest. But CV hanging out on the perimeter is all too often just that: CV hanging out on the perimeter. 

And that mindset no doubt contributed to a poor shooting season overall for Villanueva, who shot just 43.5% from the field while ranking 47th out of 62 power forwards with a very subpar 50.2% true shooting percentage (TS% factors in the added value of three pointers as well as the ability of a player to get to the line and make his FTs).  And before you say that Villanueva just needs consistent starting minutes to get in a groove, consider that CV actually shot the ball worse as a starter last year: 43.7% off the bench and 43.3% as the starting PF.

The decision of whether Villanueva continues to shoot from outside at the same clip might not be entirely his own. Scott Skiles rules the Bucks' roost now, and if his comments at Andrew Bogut's press conference are any indication, Villanueva, among others, might be asked to cut down on the long range shots.

"However, I've got to tell you, in watching almost every minute of every game (on film), I got a little tired of seeing when Andrew did run the floor and seal his man under the basket, a three-point shot going up. It's not brain surgery. If you have big guys that run the floor and cover their man up right by the basket, they ought to get the ball. He's good in both spots, and he'll be used in both spots."

With the Bucks thin at power forward, Villanueva's role on the team is worthy of great focus. Should his role include shooting three-pointers anymore?

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