Everyone thinks they’re the next Steph Curry from deep. That being said, Mike D’Antoni should get more credit — or blame, depending on your perspective — for the 3-point crazy in today’s NBA and lower leagues.
Steph gets the most credit for making the NBA a deep-shooting league, it actually started with a different 6’3 point guard who didn’t make a single three pointer in his entire career. Here’s a hint, his Italian name literally means “the mustache.”
To be fair, he’s not the reason kids are shooting pull up and fade-away threes against double teams.
And this isn’t only at your local park. Just watch an NBA game, and you’ll often see the same thing.
NBA traditionalists shake their heads at the new league, complaining about the near disappearance of post play and mid range jumpers.
“That Steph Curry,” they say. “He ruined the entire league.”
But that’s not exactly what happened.
Sure, Curry weaponized the three pointer into a near unstoppable weapon.
He’s universally regarded as the greatest shooter to ever live. But he’s not the one who started the whole three-point revolution that took the league by storm. He’s just the ideal person you’d like to shoot 8 three-pointers a game.
To find out when the league really began to shift to three-point obsession, we have to go back to 1979, and travel all the way to Milan, Italy, where a young man was beginning his basketball career.
The Mike D’Antoni revolution began almost as soon as his playing career ended.
He had just finished up a brief and forgettable NBA career, and made the transition to coaching. He got a head coaching job for a team he briefly played for… Olimpia Milano.
Immediately, D’Antoni noticed an interesting stat.
If a team shot more three-pointers, they would finish higher in the standings. His team shot the most threes, finished first in the league, and went on to win two league titles and four cup championships.
Mike D’Antoni had created a basketball earthquake, and the waves would soon reach every court in the world – including the NBA.
In 1997, he joined the Denver Nuggets as an assistant, and was promoted to head coach the following year. However, his offensive philosophy didn’t work immediately. The Mustache was fired, went back to being an assistant for a few years, and finally made his comeback as head coach of the Suns in 2004.
The 03-04 season was an absolute disaster for the Suns. They finished 29-53, and missed the playoffs. D’Antoni had replaced Frank Johnson midway through the season.
In an attempt to bring the team back to relevancy, the front office brought back pick and roll aficionado and dead eye shooter, Steve Nash. Nash had been drafted by the Suns and spent his first 2 year there, before being traded to Dallas where spent the next 5 years. Additionally, they signed Quentin Richardson, also a known threat from deep.
These would be the only significant additions to a team that had just lost 53 games. They would prove to be all D’Antoni needed to go from joke to championship contender.
In 03-04, the Suns attempted 1,202 three-pointers. With a full year of D’Antoni at the helm, they attempted 2,026 the very next season.
The Suns were shocking to watch. They were taking deeper and more difficult shots than shots than Joel Embiid at a Rihanna concert.
With such a dramatic increase in attempts of the most difficult shot to make in basketball, you’d expect the teams shooting percentage to drop. Instead, it rose. The team went from shooting 34.5% from three to 39.3%.
And you know what a 5% increase gets you? A nickname.
D’Antoni’s offense became known as the “7 Seconds or Less” offense, because the Suns were coached the ball to shoot that early in the shot clock, resulting in an rapid pace of play.
For the first time in his NBA coaching career, Mike D’Antoni had a roster perfectly suited for his offensive strategy. A small-ball center in Amar’e Stoudemire, sharpshooting wings in Richardson and Joe Johnson, and a point guard who could find all of them in Nash.
By the end of the season, the Suns were shooting a league leading 24.7 threes a game, and Nash went from someone the Mavs were willing to part ways with to MVP. They secured the best record in the entire league.
Although the team flamed out in the Western Conference Finals, D’Antoni’s revolutionary offense put the league on high alert: The three-point shot, once thought of as slightly gimmicky, was destined to become a key piece of NBA offenses everywhere.
From 2010 to 2019, half of the NBA champions finished as top five 3-point shooting teams in the league. Only two finished outside of the top ten.
And Mike D’Antoni isn’t done yet. He has upped the ante in Houston, creating a juggernaut Rockets squad that shot the most threes in the league. In 2018-19, the team launched a whopping 3,721 three pointers.
So, D’Antoni might not have been in the same universe as Stephen Curry when it came to shooting the ball, but he certainly had just as much of an impact on the three-pointer.