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November 15, 2010
Trend Watch
Beasley, Magic Threes, League-Wide Scoring

by Kevin Pelton

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Trending Player: Michael Beasley, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

Beasley just enjoyed his best week as a pro. The No. 2 overall pick in 2008 averaged 29.8 points as Minnesota split four games and played tough in road losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Atlanta Hawks. The highlight of Beasley's coming-out party was a 42-point outburst Wednesday in Sacramento, making him one of four players this season to score 40 or more. But despite the gaudy numbers and efficient shooting, it is not yet clear that Beasley has found a sustainable formula for big-time scoring success.

After struggling to find a role in Miami, Beasley has settled in as a small forward with the Timberwolves and adapted his game accordingly, becoming more of a perimeter player. According to Hoopdata.com, Beasley has attempted 5.8 shots per game from 16 to 23 feet, putting him 11th in the league.

It was those perimeter shots that Beasley relied upon to beat the Kings. Fifteen out of his 31 field-goal attempts came on long two-pointers. Beasley knocked down 10 of them, accounting for almost half his 42 points. While Beasley did get to the free throw line 10 times, the most amazing statistic from Beasley's big game was that he did not make a single shot at the rim. Beasley had more of a presence in the paint against New York on Friday, when he scored 10 of his 35 points at the rim. Yet Beasley also was a red-hot 7-of-9 from 16 to 23 feet.

That kind of accurate shooting on long twos will be difficult for Beasley to sustain. Before Wednesday, he was shooting 42.9 percent from 16 to 23 feet. The league average from that distance is even worse (39.9 percent). While players like Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki show that it is possible to make a living with long twos as a staple, Beasley has not yet proven to be at their level. But, his 25-point game Sunday at Atlanta might have been more encouraging for the long term. Beasley made all six of his attempts in the paint and added just enough longer shots to finish 10-of-16 from the field.

Trending Team: Orlando Magic

The Magic just can't seem to wrest attention away from its Florida rivals. Even when Orlando slumped last week, it was overshadowed by the Miami Heat losing two games in a row. While the Magic snapped the streak Saturday, beating the New Jersey Nets to improve to 6-3, it took a last-second score by Jameer Nelson to secure the victory.

Orlando's biggest problem has been a simple one. The Magic's offense is designed around the three-point shot--more than a third of Orlando's attempts this season have been behind the arc, by far the league's highest percentage--and so far that has meant dying by the 3 rather than living by it. The Magic shot 37.5 percent from downtown in 2009-10, en route to setting a league record for threes made. So far this season, that mark is down to 34.7 percent. With similar personnel on hand, Basketball Prospectus' SCHOENE projection system predicted that Orlando would shoot ... 37.5 percent. If that had been the case thus far, the Magic would have scored an additional 2.3 points per game.

Three-point shooting hasn't always meant the difference between winning and losing--Orlando won despite 4-of-22 accuracy beyond the arc against Atlanta, and lost while making 12 threes in 24 attempts against Toronto. Still, the extra points would be enough to take the Orlando offense from a below-average 17th in the league in Offensive Rating all the way into the top 10 (ninth).

The biggest culprit thus far has been J.J. Redick, who has made just three triples in 25 attempts. Over the same number of attempts, Redick would have hit 10 based on his 2009-10 3-point shooting. (See chart for how many threes each Magic shooter would be different by 2009-10 numbers.) Quentin Richardson and Rashard Lewis have also been below expectations, while Mickael Pietrus' hot shooting cannot entirely make up the difference.

Player              10-11  09-10   Diff
---------------------------------------
J.J. Redick          .120   .405   -7.1
Quentin Richardson   .256   .397   -5.5
Rashard Lewis        .318   .397   -3.5
Ryan Anderson        .316   .370   -1.0
Chris Duhon          .273   .349   -0.8
Jameer Nelson        .400   .381    0.6
Jason Williams       .500   .380    0.7
Vince Carter         .424   .367    1.9
MickaŽl Pietrus      .576   .379    6.5

League Trend: Little change from 2009-10

There is an annual trend that is worth noting this time each season. Some writer will compare league-wide offensive statistics to the previous season and note they are down across the board. There is an easy explanation--offense tends to improve over the course of the season, as teams get more familiar with their sets, improve their shooting rhythm and have less energy to expend at the other end of the floor.

The only way to account for league-wide trends on offense, then, is to compare stats through the same period of the season. Doing so for 2009-10 and 2010-11 (through Saturday) shows little difference at the league level.

Year        ORtg    2P%    3P%    FT%
-------------------------------------
2009-10    107.7   .483   .357   .762
2010-11    108.0   .485   .352   .750

The differences in three-point and free throw shooting are tiny at this point in the season (in fact, Phoenix's barrage from beyond the arc against the Lakers on Sunday made up the entire difference in that category). Offenses have been slightly more efficient in large part because they are doing a better job of taking care of the basketball. Turnover rates around the league have declined from 14.3 percent of teams' possessions this time a year ago to 13.5 percent so far this season.

The league-wide offensive rating has remained between 109.1 and 109.8 points per 100 possessions during the last three full seasons. Based on the early results, we can expect something similar this season. It would take a stronger offensive effort the rest of the way for the NBA to crack 110 points per 100 possessions for the first time in modern league history.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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