CAMDEN, N.J. — No matter the sport, no matter the decade, there is one question that always remains the same.
How do you gain that edge?
And under normal circumstances, once you’ve felt like you were on to something, you’d prefer not to share it with the world. Because then, what would the advantage be, if your opponents could use it, too?
Such is the case when you’ve creatively painted advanced statistics onto your practice court, an area that also happens to be visible to us media folk.
You might’ve already heard about the four-point line added last season, a light grey semi-circle, measured exactly five feet behind the traditional three-point line. And no, it’s not to encourage four-point shots in practice. In it’s most simplistic form, it is there as a reminder (or requirement, rather) to spread the floor, to create additional room in the half-court, in a league where the three-point shot is king.
But before the season started there were two further innovations to the practice court.
The first being four 28x84 inch (or 2 1/3x7 feet) red rectangles, placed in each of the four corners of the court.
The second is an arc that spans a few feet beyond the width of the paint and a few feet short of the top of the key.
Let’s start with the rectangles.
Their purpose is two-fold. Defensively, they are a hint to close out on shooters. Offensively, they are a reminder that someone should be in both corners within the first 3-5 seconds of the shot clock to get the offense in motion.
“It’s one of those absolutes,” Brown said of his new practice court additions. “It’s not negotiable and because of that, it has a far greater chance to succeed over time. We can keep reinforcing it, keep talking about it, and because you come into the gym and it’s clearly delineated, the message, plus the visual, does not go away.”
Twenty-eight games in and the Sixers are already seeing improvements defensively. Sixers opponents are shooting just 31.3 percent from corner threes this season, the best mark in the NBA. Granted, there’s still a long way to go and Brown stressed something like this takes time.
“I can see that over the course of a year," Brown said, "you have a far greater chance, when you can find those things that aren’t anything but black and white and there's no vagueness or ambiguity, then you have a chance to fix it and get better at it.”
Brown seemed a bit more hesitant to reveal the reasoning behind the arc, which is driven out of the volume of threes that are taken in the NBA game and where a miss winds up after a perimeter shot.
“Where do the highest volume of three-point misses occur?" Brown said. "After we came up with that measurement, we painted the line. Within that arc, that's where the highest volume of misses occur (on three-point shots).
“It’s a stupid number, pick it, five million three-point shots studied. That (pointing to the space within the arc) is where misses occur.”
Again, the purpose is two-fold.
“We are trying to, offensively, get into this area," Brown said, "and defensively trying to keep people out of this area.”
By doing so, offensively, the Sixers are able to determine where most shots land after long misses, which in theory, should also produce more offensive rebounds. Defensively, you try to keep your opponents out of that area when a three-pointer goes up, which in theory, should produce more defensive rebounds.
But there was one more thing Brown had to say before walking away.
“We just spill our guts and share secrets to the world,” Brown said, shaking his head, seemingly disappointed in sharing something they’ve worked so hard for. “This is my court. This is 57 years, 35 worth of beliefs …
“Why would I go telling other people how to get better, why would I do that? Why?”
And with that, Brown turned away, stepped over his four-point line and marched back to the bench.
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