In comparison to other NBA teams, the San Antonio Spurs don’t shoot a ton of three-pointers. They average 24 long-ball attempts per 100 possessions—24th in the league. They hit them at a high clip (39.5) percent, but they emphasize an older-school style dedicated to dictating the pace and operating in the half-court.
And yet, Pau Gasol, in his first season with the Spurs, is shooting more triples than ever.
His two attempts per 36 minutes aren’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s by far the highest mark of his career. The 36-year-old is on pace to hit around 50 three-points this year. He drilled 74 combined through his first 15 seasons.
Why the shift?
Gasol’s just trying to remain relevant, per Project Spurs’ Paul Garcia:
"I'm trying to survive in this league," said Pau Gasol of taking the most 3s of his career this season.
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) March 20, 2017
Makes sense. Seven-footers are making more threes than ever, and Gasol has always sported long-two range. Stepping out behind the arc shouldn’t pose that much more of a challenge, particularly when teams are still inclined to leave him open from that far outside the basket. Seventy-one of his 75 downtown attempts have come with a defender four or more feet away from him, according to NBA.com—accounting for almost 95 percent of all his outside looks.
Hence why the Spurs are letting him shoot it. It definitely has something to do with creating space while deploying traditional frontcourts, but if Gasol isn’t so open, or if he isn’t hitting a ridiculous 52 percent of his threebies, there’s no way head coach Gregg Popovich is allowing him to let ‘er rip.
Gasol is just trying to survive, and he’s doing a damn good job of doing it.