If you spend a lot of time playing around with numbers, things invariably jump out at you. With the Orlando Magic the past few seasons, it's two very obvious things that have jumped out:
*The offense shoots a zillion treys
*The defense is excellent
Nothing earth shattering there. Except, it's a relatively rare combination. Typically:
*Teams who shoot a zillion treys have very bad defenses...with those teams needing to shoot treys to make up for what they're allowing on the othe side. Or, it's just part of a coach's preference to focus on offense rather than defense (variations of what you could call the Phoenix or Golden State model).
*Teams who have excellent defenses tend to focus more on inside the arc basketball, playing what you might call an "old school" game. The "defense and rebounding wins championships" model, with the big guys who defend then being the go-to guys in a halfcourt offense.
Orlando was the first team to break through with this approach to such an extreme degree. You can see when they committed to it:
Made Treys per Game
2010-11: 9.2 so far
Others teams are focusing on those two elements in tandem to some degree. Here's a full listing of teams from last season who finished in the top 13 in both made treys per game and defensive efficiency:
Last Season's Final Rankings
Orlando: 1st in treys, 1st on defense
Milwaukee: 5th in treys, 3rd on defense
Cleveland: 8th in treys, 7th on defense
Dallas: 10th in treys, 12th on defense
San Antonio: 10th in treys, 9th on defense (tied with Dallas)
LA Lakers: 13th in treys, 5th in defense
In case last year's playoff seedings aren't on the tip of your tongue, that list of six teams includes the top two seeds in the East (Cleveland with LeBron James and Orlando), the top two seeds in the West (LA Lakers and Dallas), the well-documented "Fear the Deer" rampage of Milwaukee, and the continuing Spurs dynasty.
So, this is a potent combo!
Quick digression...have you heard anyone talking about Milwaukee's loss of trey production this year? They've fallen from 7.9 per game to 5.5 per game. That's obviously a BIG deal in terms of scoreboard success. It's basically the only difference between this year's disappointment and last year's drama.
Milwaukee's Defensive Efficiency:
Last Year: 100.9
This Year: 100.1
Milwaukee's Offensive Efficiency:
Last Year: 102.0
This Year: 97.2
Milwaukee's Raw Scoring:
Last Year: 97.7 points per game
This Year: 91.3 points per game
Six fewer points per game, 2.4 fewer made treys per game. Not a perfect match...but you can see why they've gone from being a winner to a loser. They were +1.1 in efficiency differential last year, -2.9 in efficiency differential this year. I'm not sure how many pundits would answer "Well, they're just not making as many treys this year" if asked to explain what happened to the Bucks.
Anyway, saw that while playing around with the data and wanted to point it out. Trey production and great defense is a potent combo if you can pull it off. But, it's worth noting that the extremes of Orlando haven't lead to a championship. In fact, they led to a bitter disappointment last year once the Magic ran into a smart defense with guys who could defend the arc. Look at how made treys told the story of Orlando's sprint through the first two rounds before their demise vs. Boston.
Made Treys by Game
Orlando 13, Charlotte 3
Orlando 10, Charlotte 6
Orlando 9, Charlote 5
Orlando 13, Charlotte 5
That's a minimum of nine per game for the Magic in the first round. Charlotte was averaging near five per game. How are you going to make up that many points when you have to score inside against ORLANDO'S great defense! That's why this can be such a powerful combination against lesser teams. Few workable options for them.
Orlando 9, Atlanta 2
Orlando 9, Atlanta 6
Orlando 10, Atlanta 4
Orlando 16, Atlanta 3
Again, Orlando made nine or more in every game...and just stomped on a team that had no way to keep up with them. Through the first two rounds, the Magic were 8-0...and had many talking of a potential championship because they were on such a roll.
Then came Boston...
Orlando 5, Boston 6
Orlando 7, Boston 5
Orlando 8, Boston 6
Orlando 10, Boston 5 (a Magic win)
Orlando 13, Boston 7 (a Magic win)
Orlando 6, Boston 10
Orlando stopped hitting nine per night (though they did win the only two games where they crossed the threshold). They were virtually neutralized behind the arc in their losses, and were then defeated inside the arc by the Eastern champs.
So, we have key characteristics of important teams in play here. But, it takes more than just treys and great defense to win a championship. You're likely to run into somebody who can neutralize your treys eventually once the trophy is on the line.
Of last year's six qualifying teams, Orlando, San Antonio, Dallas, and the Lakers are still ranking well in those same categories. Cleveland fell off the map of course after losing LeBron. Milwaukee's long range shooters may have blinded by headlights...