WALTHAM, Mass. -- Brandon Bass used to figure that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but here he is, at age 29, wrapping up his pre-practice shooting routine with a new wrinkle: chucking corner 3-pointers.
The shot looks awkward -- Bass launches himself forward with each attempt, landing a few feet inside the arc -- and feels awkward -- he shakes his head even as consecutive attempts rip through the net. Across the practice floor, a horde of reporters are watching Bass, and he chuckles knowing that -- after making a corner 3-pointer the day before in Brooklyn -- everyone wants to talk to him about his newfound range.
"I had a conversation with Coach [Brad Stevens] about it, and the last couple years I saw the game moving in that direction, and I still wanted to be stubborn about it," Bass said. "I think now it's my time to adjust."
The NBA is head over heels for the 3-point shot (well, everyone except Byron Scott and the Los Angeles Lakers, evidently) as attempts soared to a record high again last season.
And the way the Celtics launched triples this preseason, you get the feeling Antoine Walker is growing itchy for a comeback.
Stevens swears the Celtics did not make the 3-point shot a point of emphasis this offseason, but the team is shooting more regardless. Boston ranked third among all NBA teams while averaging 28.8 3-point attempts per game during the preseason -- an increase of nearly eight attempts per game from last season, when the team ranked 18th overall during regular-season play at 21.1 attempts per contest.
Asked if he's concerned about all the triples his team is shooting, Stevens downplays the spike. "No concern at all, because we're not emphasizing it, we're just shooting them," he said.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge -- with 2,651 3-point attempts to his name over 14 NBA seasons and someone who earned his lone All-Star appearance when his own 3-point attempts exploded in 1987 -- still had to be sold on the increased value of the shot. But even he recognizes its importance to this year's team.
"I'm not as big of a fan of the 3 as you might think," Ainge said. "I had to evolve into that. I had to learn about the 3-point line when I got to the NBA. I think it fits our personality. If you're open from 3 and you can make them, you should shoot them."
And that is what Stevens has stressed to his team. The whiteboard doesn't scream "SHOOT MORE THREES!!!" but Boston's coaching staff often reminds young players to fire away when they have quality looks (but not before also reminding them that an extra pass or two might create an even better look).
Recognizing the efficiency of the 3-point shot, particularly from the shorter corner distance, Boston has encouraged players who might have previously leaned on midrange shots to consider shuffling back a few feet. Both Jared Sullinger and Rajon Rondo increased their 3-point attempts last season, while Avery Bradley re-established himself as a threat from distance. Jeff Green and Kelly Olynyk both have the ability to hit the 3-point shot, giving Boston five starters who can all stretch a defense.
What's more, Boston drafted Marcus Smart, who attempted a league-high 44 3-point attempts this preseason (the same number of attempts as Golden State's Klay Thompson), and James Young, who has a pretty lefty stroke from the perimeter. The Celtics also acquired Marcus Thornton, who will not hesitate with even an average 3-point look.
So maybe Boston's uptick in triples this preseason shouldn't surprise us. The Celtics were not a particularly crisp offense last season, and Stevens likely sees the 3-point shot as a way to infuse a little efficiency, particularly on a team devoid of pure size up front.
Which brings us back to Bass. Before last season, he had never made a 3-pointer and had only 15 attempts over the first eight seasons of his career. When he made a couple of triples last season, it was more of a humorous note than progress. But it might have gotten the wheels turning on expanding his range.
"He's a really good shooter, as we all know, right?" Stevens said. "All of us feel great with him shooting just inside that arc off a high pick-and-pop. ... Now you get in the corner, it's not that much deeper than that. He's worked on it hard this summer. The reason why it's so important is not because it necessarily expands [his scoring] -- hey, that's worth an extra point once every three games -- it's because now you space the floor. Now you're in the right spots and you're a threat to make that shot.
"It's interesting because we haven't said to the team -- we've had discussions with individuals about being spaced appropriately and, hey, what's a really good shot and what's not as a good of a shot -- but we haven't once said to the team, 'We want 3s!' Not one time. But it's who we have on the floor. We're going to try to play our strengths when we are on the floor. It's great that [Bass is] expanding because it helps the spacing the more guys that can shoot it."
Three of Boston's starters shot 45 percent or better beyond the 3-point arc this preseason -- Olynyk (9-of-20), Bradley (15-of-32) and Sullinger (15-of-30). Bench guys like Thornton and Evan Turner posted strong marks, too.
And, heck, Bass finished the preseason 2-of-4 shooting from distance.
"Most of these 3-point shooters, they've been shooting 3-pointers since they were kids; I wasn't," Bass said. "When I first started shooting it, it felt overwhelming because it was so far from what I'm used to. But it's getting better."
The challenge for Boston this season is to keep making the 3-pointer at a high rate. It's maybe the only way to loosen up the inside for a team that doesn't have an experienced pure center to create around the basket.
The Celtics are trying to maximize the talent they have on the floor, and, emphasis or not, that will mean more 3-point attempts.