Dennis Scott has closely observed as the NBA continues its three-point paradigm shift.
A former fourth overall selection in the 1990 NBA Draft, which followed an outstanding Final Four run at Georgia Tech as the ACC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, Scott set records in the NBA for single season three-point field goals and most threes made in a game. Those records have since been broken, but his affinity for the three-pointer has never wavered. As a 6’8” small forward, part of Scott’s legacy is he helped introduce a different way for big men to thrive in the NBA.
Now a Turner Sports NBA analyst, Scott shares his vision for the art of the shot through his Shooter’s Paradise video series. A big part of the allure of his NBA coverage is the joy he brings to the game.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Scott discussed the evolution of the three-point shot, explained why the Denver Nuggets are still on pace to upset the Los Angeles Clippers, and offered analysis on the upcoming Eastern Conference Finals pitting the Boston Celtics against the Miami Heat.
Justin Barrasso: NBA playoff success has never before been this dependent on three-point shooting like it has inside the bubble. It’s a significant shift for the game, as three-pointers have the potential to account for more points in the 2020 playoffs than points in the paint, which is drastically different from the game we witnessed even as recently as 2012. You were always ahead of your time in terms of your vision for the three-pointer. Is the evolution of the three a positive for the game?
Dennis Scott: My only problem with this movement is trying to develop someone that cannot shoot the three. But it is a positive for the game, as it’s an effective weapon to have.
Look at what the Miami Heat have done. They drafted players and found free agents that people slept on, like Duncan Robinson, who started at a Division-III three school before going to Michigan. Miami taught him toughness and effort on the defensive end, knowing they could give him all the freedom he needed on the offensive end to shoot the basketball. If a guy can shoot the basketball, and he gives the effort—and that’s the key word, effort—on the defensive end, then he can fill a role on offense to stretch the defense and create that spacing so many coaches crave.
The three-point shot has opened up the game so much. It allows guys to drive the lane and dunk. Look at the season Derrick Rose won the MVP [in 2011]. Rose was able to do that because the lane was open because of the three-point shooting. There is so much good shooting in the bubble. That’s why Houston had been so effective until they ran into the Lakers.
Barrasso: Who is the best three-point shooter still active in the bubble?
Scott: I’m biased. Back in October, I picked Denver. I thought Denver could be the next Golden State Warriors, that’s how highly I thought of their talent. So Jamal Murray is my pick as the best shooter in the bubble, and I’ll add Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro as the best pure shooters left, too.
Barrasso: The Clippers were too much for the Nuggets in three out of the first four games of the Western Conference semis, but the momentum, at least temporarily, shifted in Game 5. As a franchise, the Clippers are now winless in six attempts at close-out games to reach their first-ever conference final.
Scott: If Denver wins Game 6, it’s a one-game show. Anything could happen.
Barrasso: And Denver doesn’t win Game 5 without the stellar play of Michael Porter Jr., who drained a clutch three down the stretch and then had a critical block on Clippers’ center Ivica Zubac. Porter has been a major part of the storyline since making comments after the Nuggets’ loss in Game 4 that he needs more touches. Is this just a very visible learning experience for the 22-year-old Porter?
Scott: I know he took a lot of criticism, but expressing himself the way he did was his way of showing that he cares. I know [Nuggets coach] Michael Malone probably didn’t want those comments public, but the reason he trusts Porter is because of his unwavering confidence. Malone knows he has to grow with Porter through the good and the bad. He’s that talented, and he really wants to get better. Denver needs Porter if they ever want to win the West.
Barrasso: Was the manner in which Porter’s comments were handled internally by the Nuggets a credit to Malone?
Scott: If this were the Michael Malone earlier in his career, when he was coaching Sacramento, he may not have even played Porter following those comments. But Malone has learned a lot. Look back at his time with the Kings coaching DeMarcus Cousins, getting him to play the right kind of basketball, that’s allowed him to coach his Denver team hard and also give them the freedom to prove they are young men of their word.
Barrasso: Can either the Clippers or Nuggets knock off the Lakers?
Scott: I think the basketball gods want to see the Clippers against the Lakers. That would be a payoff to see those two teams in the conference finals, awaiting a date in the Finals with either Boston or Miami, and each of those teams has their own unique history, too.
People still give me grief that I didn’t even have Toronto making the playoffs at the beginning of the season. Nobody said nothing about it back when I made the comment, but I’ve heard a lot about it recently. I also picked Denver coming out of the West. If they can come back and beat the Clippers, they’re a really tough matchup for the Lakers.
Barrasso: On the subject of the East, this Celtics-Heat matchup isn’t what we expected to see, but it should be an entertaining series between two well-coached teams. Kemba Walker struggled in the final two games of that series against Toronto, seemingly playing underwater at times in Game 7, while Jayson Tatum is playing the best basketball of his life. The Heat have powered their way through the playoffs, coming off eliminating top-seeded Milwaukee in five, and the Celtics will have their share of problems containing Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. How do you see this series playing out?
Scott: It’s going to come down which team shoots the three-ball better. That’s who will win the series. Both teams have great guard play and great wing play. Adebayo is better than Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Enes Kanter and Grant Williams, so that’s an advantage for Miami. But the shooters are all comparable. They can all catch and shoot the three, so it all comes down to which team is more effective with their three-pointers. I think it’s the Celtics in seven.
Barrasso: Your basketball story isn’t complete without a mention of the NCAA Tournament. Looking back, your 1990 Georgia Tech team positioned itself for national title after knocking off Duke in the ACC semis, and that was after Duke had already beat you twice in the regular season. You defeated Virginia in the ACC finals then had a phenomenal run in the tournament until running into a buzz saw in UNLV in the Final Four. Reflecting back, can you believe how good Kenny Anderson was as a college freshman? And when you think back on that tourney run from 30 years ago, what memories still stick out in your mind?
Scott: I teach my 15-year-old that you need to understand how to live in the moment. That’s what I learned that season. Looking back, no one had us going to the Final Four. We didn’t have that high of a preseason ranking, and we were only ranked top-five in the conference.
Before the year started, I’d heard we had this new player named Kenny Anderson. I started hearing he was the best player since Lew Alcindor. I thought that was impossible. How could it be that a 6’1” kid, who weighed a buck-fifty soaking wet, was as good as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? I didn’t believe it until about our third practice. I started to see how special this Anderson kid was, and we all started to believe it was going to be a special year.
I got into the best shape of my life before my junior year, and that’s when I lived in the moment. I averaged 30 points, won ACC Player of the Year, College Player of the Year, and I was the No. 4 pick in that NBA Draft. That Georgia Tech team, we had Kenny Anderson, we had Brian Oliver, and people forget how important Malcolm Mackey was to us at center.
In basketball, you have tradition, your system and what you’ve learned from all your coaches. If a player picks up his fourth foul with 14 minutes left in the second half, you normally take that player out of the game. But when that player is Kenny Anderson, and he’s that special, you need to leave him in the game. That’s where we ran into problems in the UNLV game. We were up by 11, rolling. I’m kicking Stacey Augmon’s ass, Malcolm Mackey was controlling Larry Johnson, but then [UNLV guard] Anderson Hunt caught fire and knocked down six threes in the second half on Brian Oliver. That changed the complexion of the game. Kenny came back in, but by that point, the Runnin’ Rebels had got their flow and we couldn’t catch up. And we would have beat Duke in the national title game—by that point, we owned Duke.
Barrasso: Your entire life, from childhood to fatherhood, has been connected to basketball. What does it mean to add to the game with your creation of Shooter’s Paradise?
Scott: Every kid, male or female, can shoot the basketball. Most, however, cannot dunk. So being able to shoot the basketball gives a person to create a platform where you never have a real job, ever, in your life. That means you can get a free education, which can take you wherever you want to go. You just need to put in the work. And it doesn’t need to just take you to the NBA or overseas. What if it takes you to a high school, where you can coach and help shape young adults in the local community? What if you become like Lethal Shooter, who NBA players seek out for advice? He puts up thousands of shots a day, and he trains over 50 guys in the NBA. Now he’s making money and people want to be associated with him all because he can shoot the basketball. That’s what Shooter’s Paradise is all about, and it’s all about who’s willing to put in the work.
Barrasso: Who do you see advancing to the NBA Finals?
Scott: Boston beats Miami, and I still think Denver comes back and shocks the Clippers. I’ve been saying it since October, Denver is going to be the team that shocks everyone in the bubble with a trip to the NBA Finals.