Like anything in life, basketball is ever-changing. Over the course of time the ball has been changed, the players have changed, but most importantly the style of the game has constantly changed. Before the late 70’s, there was no three-point line. Most great players could finish around the rim. When the NBA introduced the three-point line it was not widely accepted by everyone. Now, the response would be much different.
The three-point line has brought multiple aspects to the game. With just a single 23 foot jump shot, the momentum of a game can completely flip. The feeling that comes with hitting that 23 footer is almost indescribable, and that feeling is what has made the three-point shot so enticing. Everybody wants to make a three-pointer. From the streets all the way up to the NBA, the game has started to build around the three-point basket.
If there is one thing that has not changed it is the demand for great defenders. Teams in the NBA have always been looking for long, athletic, defenders that are quick on their feet. A true ball stopper is always accepted and praised by teams. With the three-point shot becoming such a popular option, a whole new type of player emerged. These guys now known as “3 and D” players. Players that can guard the best guy on the floor and shoot the three at a high percentage.
Players like Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala have made All-Star rosters by building their games strictly around three pointers and defense. Last year, Leonard won the NBA Finals MVP by only averaging 17.8 points per game and just over 6 rebounds. Leonard’s wonderful defense on LeBron James and his 58% mark from three-point range is what made him stand far above the rest of his teammates as the best player in the series. Over the last two years the Hawks have brought in three of these “3 and D” specialists and in turn they have consistently limited the offensive game of any superstar wing they face. Demarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha, and Kent Bazemore have been a part of a three headed monster that has been an absolute nightmare for opposing teams.
Demarre Carroll, also known as the “Junkyard Dog”, is often the forgotten man of the Atlanta Hawks starting five. He does not have the best numbers, but his contributions on both sides of the ball do not get noticed enough. On defense, Demarre is an absolute dog. He is tenacious, scrappy and fights for every possession. When watching a Hawks game, there are plenty of opportunities to see Demarre fly into the stands or into the camera men on the floor. He just recently was given the task to defend LeBron James and did it about as successful as possible, holding James to just 1-7 shooting in the time he was guarding him. However, the key to being a great 3 and D player is being efficient on offense. The defense is almost assumed, but when the ball comes Carroll on offense, he is a serious threat. Even though he only averages 11.8 points per game, Carroll can spread the floor and shoot the rock. Carroll shoots an extremely efficient 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point arc. Carroll is such a luxury to have and is becoming one of the top true 3 and D players in the NBA.
Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore were the only two significant additions to the 2014-2015 team this past offseason. In both of these guys, the Hawks acquired long, quick, athletic defenders that can defend anybody at any point in the game. They also happen to shoot the three very well. Thabo Sefolosha has battled injuries and been mired in a shooting slump for most of the season. However, when healthy his presence on the floor is undeniable and he shoots the three with confidence as he is a career 35 percent shooter from behind the arc. Bazemore was brought in as an afterthought to Sefolosha, but there was no doubt that their games were similar. Over the course of this season, especially during Sefolosha’s absence, Bazemore has made a name for himself in Atlanta. Bazemore is a spark plug off the bench and a ferocious defender. In 2011 at Old Dominion, Bazemore won the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year Award, which is given to the player that is deemed best defender in Division 1 NCAA basketball. The fans love him for his high flying antics and wild dunks, but he offers much more than that. Due to his hard work as well as being a part of a highly efficient offense, Bazemore is shooting almost 41 percent from the three-point line, which is up 6 percentage points from his career average. When Sefolosha returns from his injury expect these two guys to split minutes in backing up Carroll. It took a while for both of these guys to get used to playing in Coach Bud’s system, but now both players are flourishing.
In Carroll, Sefolosha, and Bazemore the Hawks have a special group. At no point in time is the opponent’s best player going to get easy baskets. There is always a true ball stopper on the floor that can also help efficiently spread the floor in the Hawks offense. Defensively, the system that these three guys have been plugged into could not be better. The Hawks pride themselves in help defense in the paint. If one opponent gets loose from his man it is the responsibility for the other four Hawks to defend him. These guys are free to do whatever they want defensively much like Stephen Curry is free to take a transition 30 footer because they know if their man gets by them there are four other Hawks waiting to protect the basket. They break shooters rhythms and are constant pests. There is not a better 3 and D trio in the NBA, and on the backs of these three ball stoppers the Hawks defense has become a terror for opposing teams. Coach Budenholzer is not just a wizard when drawing up the plays, he knows which players will flourish in his coaching scheme.