Unleashing the power of the 3-pointers From Andy Hamilton, former women's head coach, Grinnell College, Iowa

The saying, “live by the 3, die by the 3,” rings true every time our team steps on to the floor.

Three years ago, based on being out-sized by nearly every opponent, we determined that our greatest hopes to be competitive came in the form of the 3-point shot. True, there are nights when the shots don’t fall, but utilizing the 3-pointer has been the single most significant tactic that has allowed our team to be competitive each time we have a game.

Simply put, if you’re scoring 3-pointers you don’t have to make as many baskets or have a tremendous shooting percentage to score. To score 12 points with regular field goals, for example, you need to make six shots; to score 12 points with 3-point field goals you must make four shots. Essentially you have to make one-third less 3-pointers compared to 2-pointers.

Perhaps the best way to realize the advantage is to understand that shooting 33% from behind the arc is like shooting 50% from inside the arc, and most teams that shoot 50% from the floor are satisfied with their production.

In the example used above, a team could make 6-of-12 two-point field goals, shoot 50% and score 12 points; or a team could make 4-of-12 3-pointers, shoot 33% and score 12 points.

Judging the numbers

The following chart shows a shooting percentage equivalence between 2-point and 3-point field goals. The chart assumes a scoring output of 24 points.

3-Point Chart

Typically, a good field-goal shooting percentage for a team would be around 45%, or in the case of the 24-point illustration, making 12 out of 26 shots (46%). If the same two-shot adjustment is made with 3-pointers (hitting 8 of 26), the percentage falls to just under 31%. So when we take the floor for a game, our players must have a goal of netting around 30% of their treys — which equates to about 45%. Every made 3-pointer over the 30% mark is a bonus because it pushes the overall field-goal percentage up significantly.

Increasing your treys

If a coach wants to utilize the numbers gain, a commitment to shooting more three pointers has to be made. Some coaches may be uncomfortable finding ways to get 3-point shots off. As we began to expand the number of 3-point shots taken, we realized there are three easy ways to accomplish the task.

1. Work A Double-Screen Into Your Regular Offense.

The following are some examples of various traditional offenses that can utilize a double-screen.

Flex offense

In the flex offense, for example, a coach can get a double-screen away every time the ball is thrown to the wing. Diagrams 1 to 3 demonstrates a double-screen to help a shooter get off a 3-point shot.

Hamilton 1DIAGRAM 1: Flex Double (A). 1 passes to 4, who swings the ball over to 3. 1 and 4 set a double-screen for 2, who breaks to the ball side.



Hamilton 2DIAGRAM 2: Flex Double (B). 4 breaks wide to the weak-side wing and then cuts to the ball side off a cross-screen set by 5. 1 curls to the top. 3 passes to 2 for a 3-point shot.



Hamilton 3DIAGRAM 3: Flex Double (C). If 2 doesn’t have a good look at the 3-pointer, then he or she passes to 1, who swings the ball to 5 on the opposite side. 1 and 2 set a double-screen for 3, who cuts to the ball side on top. 5 passes to 3 for a 3-point shot.


4-out motion

In a 4-out motion offense, the double-screen away is even easier to free up (see Diagrams 4 to 6).

Hamilton 4DIAGRAM 4: 4-Out Double (A). 1 passes to 2. After making the pass, 1 and 4 sets a double-screen for 3, who curls around the screen and cuts to the top of the key.



Hamilton 5DIAGRAM 5: 4-Out Double (B). 2 passes to 3 for a 3-point shot on top. 1 curls to the top.




Hamilton 6DIAGRAM 6: 4-Out Double (C). If 3 doesn’t have an open look for a 3-pointer, he or she passes to 1, who quickly swings the ball to 4. 1 and 3 set a double-screen for 2, who makes a V-cut and breaks toward the ball on top. 4 passes to 2 for a 3-point shot.


3-out, 2-in motion

In a 3-out-2 in motion, a simple double-screen can be set by swinging a guard through (see Diagrams 7 to 9).

Hamilton 7DIAGRAM 7: 3-Out, 2-In Double (A). While 1 has the ball on top, 4, 5 and 3 set staggered screens along the baseline. 2 runs the baseline, comes off the three screens and curls to the top. 1 passes to 2.


Hamilton 8DIAGRAM 8: 3-Out, 2-In Double (B). 3 runs the baseline off staggered screens by 5 and 4 and pops to the weak side. 2 shoots a 3-point shot.



Hamilton 9DIAGRAM 9: 3-Out, 2-In Double (C). If 2 does not have an open look at a 3-pointer, he or she passes to 1, who quickly swings the ball to 3 on the opposite side. 3 shoots a 3-pointer.

Whatever the offensive continuity, a double-screen can be worked into the regular flow.

2. Enter The Ball Into The Post.

When the ball is entered to the post, the original passer can make a small cut to the open area and get the ball kicked back out for a trey (see Diagrams 10 & 11).

Kick-in, Kick-out

Hamilton 10DIAGRAM 10: Kick In — Kick Out (A). 1 passes to 3, who makes an entry into 5 in the post.




Hamilton 11DIAGRAM 11: Kick In — Kick Out (B). 3, 1 and 2 all shift toward the ball side on the perimeter. As the defense is collapsed on 5, he or she looks to kick the ball out to the open perimeter player for a 3-point shot.


Kick in, post re-position and kick-out

Another way to use the post is to pass the ball in and have the post kick it to the opposite side of the floor. If the post-player can draw the defense’s attention by re-positioning, this method becomes more effective (see Diagrams 12 & 13).

Hamilton 12DIAGRAM 12: Kick In, Post Re-Position And Kick Out (A). 1 passes to 3 on the left side and 3 makes a post-entry pass in to 4 on the low block.



Hamilton 13DIAGRAM 13: Kick In, Post Re-Position And Kick Out (C). 4 pivots into the lane and squares up to the basket, while 3, 1 and 2 float on the perimeter. As the defense sags in on 4, he or she looks to hit the open perimeter player for a 3-point shot.


3. Run a set play for a shooter.

If a coach senses the importance of shooting a trey in a certain possession, a special play can be called and executed. One of our best sets, “America’s Play, for example, gives a good inside look and then a double-screen for a shooter (see Diagram 14 and 15).

Hamilton 14DIAGRAM 14: “America’s Play” (Option 1). From a box set, 1 enters the ball by dribbling to the right, coming off a screen set by 4. 2 comes across the lane and sets a cross-screen for 5, who rolls to the ball side. Using “screen-the-screener action, 3 and 4 set a double-screen for 2, who curls around the double screen and pops to the top. 1 passes to 2 for a 3-pointer.

Hamilton 15DIAGRAM 15: “America’s Play” (Option 2). As another option, 1 dribbles to the left side of the floor off a screen set by 3. 3 and 4 set a double-downscreen for 2, who uses the screen and breaks to the top of the key. 1 hits 2 for a quick-hitting 3-point shot at the top of the key.


Proof in numbers

While taking more 3-pointers and using the percentage advantage, is not for every coach, it has greatly benefited our program. By emphasizing the trey, we have carved out the second-most wins during a 3-year period in 28 years of varsity women’s basketball at Grinnell. Moreover, we have challenged and beaten some of the top teams in our league — especially when we’ve been hot and “living by the three.”