PHOENIX — Live by the three, die by the three.
That familiar refrain around the NBA may be in need of an update.
It’s become more like reach the playoffs by the three, return to the lottery by the absence of the three.
Of the 16 teams to play in the postseason in 2014-15, 13 ranked among the top 14 in 3-point shooting percentage, with the first- and fifth-rated teams advancing all the way to the NBA Finals.
“Golden State won a championship with a lot of shooting,” Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said Friday.
It’s why the Suns, in the words of GM Ryan McDonough, “targeted shooting and shooters” with the 13th-overall selection of Kentucky guard Devin Booker and the acquisition of veteran forward Jon Leuer on draft night.
Historically a good 3-point shooting team, that skill deserted the Suns last season, especially late in the year.
“That was obviously a weakness of ours last year,” McDonough said. “After the trade deadline, we struggled to space the floor and shoot the ball from three. It was something we wanted to address, our 3-point shooting in particular, either in the draft or free agency or both. Obviously, we kind of took the first step, I think, toward doing that.”
Regarded as the best pure shooter in the draft, Booker made 41.1 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman last season at Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Leuer is two seasons removed from knocking down 46.9 percent of his 3-point attempts.
“It’s certainly getting more expensive, if that makes sense,” McDonough said, explaining the difficulty of finding shooters. “Either in the draft, I think you have to pick them higher if you want them, they tend to go pretty quickly. In free agency, they tend to cost a lot more money. If you go look at the trends, you look at the teams that have had success in the playoffs, just in terms of 3-pointers attempted, they’re toward the top. If you look league-wide, just average number of threes per game or total threes shot on the year, you look at the chart and it’s trending up pretty quickly. It’s something every team is looking for and I think, not this past season but the year before, it’s something we did pretty well. We got off to a decent start shooting the three this past year and then, for whatever reason, it fell off. It’s certainly something that we focused on but obviously other teams have as well.”
Despite being the only non-playoff team to rank in the top 10 in both 3-point makes and attempts last season, the Suns found themselves in the bottom 10 in 3-point accuracy, ranking 21st at 34.1 percent.
They were the worst 3-point shooting team after the All-Star break.
Enter Booker and Leuer.
Not that the two are the answers to the Suns’ problems, but they can be part of the solution, particularly Booker, whose shooting stroke produced 47.0 percent from the field and 82.8 percent from the foul line.
“Shooters thrive in a situation like this,” he said, referring to the Suns’ system. “Having point guards like Eric (Bledsoe) and Brandon (Knight) around, it kind of reminds me of playing with Tyler (Ulis). They push the ball. It’s a fast-paced offense, so I feel like there will be a lot of shots.”
Booker made his first Phoenix appearance Friday, introduced at an afternoon press conference inside US Airways Center. It was a mere hour after arriving from New York, where the night before the Suns had made him a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Booker’s parents as well as his brother and sister joined him on the cross-country flight and at the presser.
“I think I can surprise a lot of people,” he said. “I think a lot of people are realizing I’m more athletic than they were saying I was. I can create better for others and for myself, but at the end of the day, I want to do what the team needs me to do to win.”
Though only 18 — his birthday is Oct. 30 — Booker’s shooting and 3-point ability should be something that gets him on the court sooner rather than later.
“That threat is huge,” McDonough said. “Obviously he’s a terrific shooter, but even if he doesn’t have the ball as much as he did at Kentucky or doesn’t get as many shots as he did at Kentucky, the threat of him, I think, will really open up the court for Eric and Brandon and some of the other guys to do some things.
“The playoffs especially showed the value of 3-point shooting, and we think that’s something (Booker) can potentially do at an elite level.”