Was Trevor Ariza’s performance last year an aberration?


May 5, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Washington Wizards forward Trevor Ariza (1) points after scoring against the Indiana Pacers in game one of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Washington defeats Indiana 102-96. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

23%, 33%, 33%, 32%, 33%, 30%, 33%, 36%, 41%. Those percentages are the season by season averages in chronological order for Ariza’s makes from downtown. A brief look at that stat line itself raises some interesting questions.

Was Trevor Ariza a really poor three point shooter for several years who simply improved astronomically in little time, or did John Wall allow Ariza to show the NBA that he has had this shooting touch all along?

Good questions.

Ariza nailed over 40% of his treys last year with the Washington Wizards on over five attempts from deep a game. Ariza was especially deadly from the top of the key, where he shot an incredible 48% from three land. He was also lethally efficient from other spots on the floor, shooting over 45% from both corners respectively.

Because Ariza’s shooting performance last season was in such contrast to his cumulative averages in the past, an in depth examination is required to fully understand this improvement, let’s break down the reasons for Ariza’s career best form (40.7%) from behind the arc last season.

Sep 29, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) poses for a photo during media day at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Shot Mechanics:

In 2013/2014, Ariza attempted 5.7 three pointers a game, the majority of those attempts coming from the right corner. Ariza shot the three poorly from the right wing, stroking it from that spot on the floor at just 33%. Despite this, Ariza converted on at least 40% of his treys from every other spot on the floor.

One of the reason’s for this? His shot mechanics.

Ariza’s jumpshot is fluid and smooth, and it always has been. Whilst other players such as Chandler Parsons, Carlos Boozer and Shawn Marion incorporate sweeping motions, hitches or jerks into their releases, Ariza’s jumper is as simplistic as possible.

Whilst this may seem like an obvious and cliched statement, Ariza’s smooth jumpshot allows him to get his shot off on the smallest of looks. His uncomplicated approach to shooting the basketball means there is little that can go wrong with his approach.

Despite his silky smooth jumper, Ariza did not post a shooting performance from downtown over 37% until last season. The reason for this statistic once analyzed is quite simple, shot selection and play making skills of surrounding teammates.

Spot Up Shooting:

Shot selection when discussing Ariza has always been an interesting topic. However last season Ariza was one of the league’s premier spot up shooters. Ariza bucked his statistical trends and enjoyed a career best season from behind the arc. This was because Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman acknowledged that Ariza’s strength was not handling the basketball.

In his last tenure with the Houston Rockets, Ariza was forced into being the first option on a team lacking in pure talent, as a result Ariza posted a field goal percentage below 40% during that season (2009-10) and shot a mediocre 33% from downtown.

Wittman created and devised an offensive structure in Washington that allowed Ariza to do what he is most comfortable with, catch and shoot. It is no coincidence that once Ariza turned away from creating offense, his shooting touch improved.

Wittman’s offensive game plan would have been ineffectual without the team’s play making guard John Wall. Which brings us to the major reason in Ariza’s rapid improvement.

Apr 27, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards forward Trevor Ariza (1) shoots the ball as Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich (12) looks on in the third quarter in game four of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 98-89. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The John Wall Factor:

Despite Ariza’s silky jumper and above average ability to hit down open shots, these reasons on their own and in tandem did not equate to the small forward becoming a legitimate threat from deep.

Enter John Wall.

Wall was the most influential piece of Ariza’s success. The mercurial guard’s skill in traffic and court vision allowed Ariza to sit in the right corner and receive wide open looks. Wall’s perfect execution of the drive and kick cannot be underestimated when discussing Ariza’s jump in three point shooting.

Ariza’s continued production from downtown will be heavily reliant on James Harden this coming season. If Harden can duplicate Wall’s slashes to the rim and find Ariza in the corners, expect his three point clip to hover around the 40% mark. Without above average play making from Harden and a structured offense, it is hard to see Ariza replicating his hot form from last season.

To dismiss Ariza’s conversion from three last season as a mere aberration however would be incorrect. The jumper is there, and after coming off last season Ariza’s confidence will be high.

Yet if Ariza finds himself trying to create off the dribble and force the issue, a return to mediocrity from behind the arc will be the end result.