Naz Long, Corner Gunner

Naz Long has made a killing off the corner three-poiner this season, his excellence propelling Iowa State to a big win Wednesday night. We go inside Long's game and find the more he shoots, the better he is — and the better the Cyclones are

How confident is Naz Long from the left corner?

If Long, Iowa State's sophomore shooting guard, had 15 unguarded tries from his sweet spot, he'd make …

"… 17 out of 15," Long said with a laugh Wednesday night after ISU's 83-66 win over West Virginia, in which he hit 5 of 7 three-pointers. "I'll knock down some. I's not just the left corner, but that's kind of my safe haven."

As advanced analytics surge in popularity in the NBA, the corner three-pointer has been classified as the most efficient of shots, as it's the shortest of treys, the way the arc is squared off near the sidelines. In college basketball, any three-point shot is the same distance from the center of the hoop (20 feet, six inches), but Fred Hoiberg, given his NBA chops, has in part designed an offense around the corner three-pointer.

"Even in college, for whatever reason, it's the highest-percentage shot," Hoiberg said Thursday, noting Long is shooting 46 percent from the corner. "We try to get him looks over there. We try to get our guys to the corner on the break in transition. Especially Naz. He's the guy right now that's hitting those shots not only with regularity but at a pretty high clip.

"When he's knocking down shots out there that really opens up our spread ball-screen offense to where we get a lot of looks at the rim … you've got Georges (Niang) and either DeAndre (Kane) or Monte Morris in a two-man game; it's gonna put stress on the defense. They're gonna have to shrink the floor and take away the first option, which is either DeAndre rolling to the rim or Georges rolling to the rim. And now you've got shooters spread out on that backside … if [defenders] sink in there to help, the [ballhandlers] are very good at locating the right play."

The exploitation of that two-man game works in two ways. The more Long and Matt Thomas make their three-pointers, the less freedom defenders will have to help against Niang, Kane or Melvin Ejim. And the more Niang, Kane and Ejim are killing teams down low, the more space Long and Thomas will have to make their shots.

In wins, Long is shooting 43 percent from three-point range. In losses, the number's at 22.7. Same goes for Thomas — 36.5 percent in wins, 23.8 in losses.

"It's big-time," Ejim said. "When Naz and Matt come out and do what they can do it spreads the floor for us … we need those guys to come out and make shots."

Long came out with a bang in the season opener against UNC-Wilmington, draining 8 of 11 three-pointers. Since then, there have been ups and downs — Up: a clutch three to force more overtime at Oklahoma State; Down: 2-for-8 in a loss to Texas — but the Cyclones are definitely better when Long is getting up shots.

Eleven times this season Long has attempted five or more three-pointers. Just five times has his three-point percentage in those games been worse than 50 percent. Including those five, only two times has Long's percentage in such games dipped below 40 percent (2-for-8 vs. Texas, 1-for-5 vs. TCU).

Conversely, 16 times Long has attempted four or fewer three-pointers. Interestingly enough, just ONCE has his three-point percentage in those games been better than 40 percent (1-for-1 vs. UMKC).

Not even accounting makes, Iowa State is 9-2 when Long attempts five or more three-pointers in a game.

(Below is a graph I made. I am not great at these — I was mentally checked-out by fourth grade, feels like — but I'm trying to visually illustrate the stats I mined above. It doesn't include percentage, which would have been nice, but I have a Bachelor of Journalism, so you can excuse me for the math problems).

Wednesday, Long went 3-for-3 from either corner. Check out Long's shooting geo for his first 32 three-point attempts of the season (below), and it's easy to see why he said last night the net "opens up" when he's hanging around in the left corner.

When Long's taking shot, after shot, after shot, the results, more often than not, are excellent. As they enter the March stretch run, the Cyclones would like Long to fire away, especially from the corner.

"No matter what, I'm just gonna keep shooting," Long said Wednesday. "Some are gonna fall and some won't."

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