Some fans frustrated by the most consequential, controversial offseason in Trail Blazers history were left in an uproar on Wednesday when Chauncey Billups explained the role three-pointers play in his offensive philosophy.
How could a coach possibly look at Portland's roster and not make producing threes the offense's top priority?
No NBA team has come close to launching 50 threes per game over a full season. The 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, helmed by Daryl Morey, coached by Mike D'Antoni and led by James Harden, are the only teams ever to average more than 45 attempts from beyond the arc.
Considering Neil Olshey brought the band back together despite Damian Lillard's calls for change, it's essentially assured Portland will finish in at least the league's top third of three-point attempts next season, Billups remarks above notwithstanding. Their 40.8 long-range tries per game last season ranked second, and the departures of Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter mean even more shots will be going to their high-usage guards.
Maybe Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell and Anfernee Simons all get a bit less aggressive hunting threes off the dribble. Billups will probably make Robert Covington's green light a shade or two darker, discouraging extra deep three-point attempts that aren't wide open and come early in the shot clock.
But the increased pace Billups keeps preaching is bound to keep the Blazers' number of triples high even if their three-point rate dips, and two of Olshey's signings for the minimum—Tony Snell and Ben McLemore—are basically shooting specialists. Most of Cody Zeller's function offensively is rolling to the rim hard and giving his teammates space to operate via screens and dribble hand-offs, not exactly actions that naturally curb long-range volume.
The best indication that Portland won't suddenly abandon emphasizing the three-point line, though? Billups obviously understands the value of the long ball.
Everything he says about the Blazers playing with more pace, movement and flow offensively can be traced right back to the arc.
Trust that Billups won't be encouraging McCollum to regularly dribble, dribble, dribble his way into contested twos, or Norman Powell to put his head down and take on multiple defenders at the rim. The former doesn't exactly promote the ball and player movement Billups continues to harp on, and the latter certainly isn't an example of going from "good to great" shot selection—an ever-popular offensive tenet he mentioned during his introductory presser.
Billups even circled back to shooting in the context of discussing a larger role for Jusuf Nurkic, one that takes more frequent advantage of his playmaking ability.
During Summer League action on Tuesday, Billups also pinpointed the need for the Blazers to seek out more corner triples specifically.
"Like we were on the worst teams in the league at creating corner three point shots," he told ESPN's Mark Jones and Doris Burke. "I mean that's the best three-point shot in the game, and the only way to do that is to play with great pace, space and drive and kick and get paint touches. So that's gonna be something that's gonna be very important for how iIwant our team to play. That's the only way you break down defenses, is getting into the paint."
What did Billups' headline-grabbing comment about "50 threes" really mean? Definitely not that the Blazers would de-emphasize the three-point line entirely, or necessarily at all.
Billups has made clear again and again he knows exactly what type of shots Portland should be striving to create. His team's shot chart may not be beholden to analytics like expected shot quality (qSQ, as explained here by The Athletic's Seth Partnow), but it will definitely reflect the principles of modern-day offense.
Portland, remember, can only get so much better on offense. The Blazers' 118.8 offensive rating after the trade deadline was best in the league, comfortably higher than the Brooklyn Nets' top-ranked, record-breaking mark over the full season.
Elite offenses can get away with lacking variety and diversity in the regular season, but as Portland knows all too well, the playoffs are a different environment. All Billups wants to do is provide the Blazers a more sustainable means of offense when the postseason arrives, and single-game outcomes loom too large to rely on the inevitable randomness of three-point shooting.