HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — It took nearly 32 minutes for Mo Williams to splash his first triple Wednesday night in his return to the team that drafted him nine years ago.
It came from straightaway, and 23 seconds later he buried a second 3-pointer from the left wing. His night back where it all began would end with only those two treys going down on a rather tame, for Williams, four attempts from downtown Salt Lake.
Yet his rapid-fire 3s in the third quarter counted as the two biggest buckets in the Jazz’s runaway season-opening victory over the Dallas Mavericks. A 74-74 tie suddenly became an 80-74 Utah lead and then Williams’ third consecutive bucket for eight straight points ultimately led to an 18-2 burst to close the third quarter leading 92-76.
That two long balls ignited the decisive run in the Jazz’s 113-94 victory is drenched with significance. Only Washington, Sacramento and Charlotte shot a lower percentage than the Jazz from behind the arc last season. Only Charlotte and New Orleans made fewer 3s per game and only the Hornets averaged fewer attempts.
In today’s NBA, the 3-point threat is mandatory in a team’s arsenal.
It’s exactly why Utah was ready to part with point guard Devin Harris, a poor long-range shooter throughout his career, and grab Williams from the Los Angeles Clippers — freed so L.A. could acquire Lamar Odom from Dallas — and pay Williams the $8.5 million due on the final year of his contract.
|Lowest 3-point percentage, 2011-12|
The gunslinger on Wednesday finished with 21 points (7-for-16), six assists, plus two steals and a pair of blocks.
It’s the 3-pointers that deliver the most promise. Consider the other moves Utah made during the offseason, parting with Josh Howard (24.3 percent) and C.J. Miles (30.7). Maturing Gordon Hayward returns with the belief that the third-year shooting guard will improve upon on his 34.6 percent last season (he was 0-of-1 Wednesday).
Williams, who previewed the 3-point possibilities in the preseason by knocking down 7-for-12 (58.3 percent), is a career 38.7-percent 3-point shooter. He hit for 38.9 percent last season with the Clippers. The Jazz also brought over his Clippers teammate, Randy Foye, who hit 2-for-4 from long range Wednesday among his 13 points. Marvin Williams, another newcomer, transformed himself into a dangerous 3-point trigger man last season in Atlanta and dropped 2-for-3 on the Mavs and tied Williams for the team lead with 21 points.
If you’re scoring at home, Utah still only attempted 14 shots from 3-point range against Dallas, but made six of them for 42.9 percent. All six came from the three Jazz newcomers. Last season’s futility was remarkable: the Jazz made at least six 3-pointers in a game just 12 times, and more than seven just twice. In being swept out of the first round, they made nine 3-pointers to the Spurs’ 33 — a whopping 72-point discrepancy.
So, as much fanfare as the Jazz’s physical and talented frontcourt receives, and for good reason, it’s their re-tooled backcourt and its ability to drain the 3-pointer, and potentially to do so in bunches, that could propel Utah up the Western Conference standings.