Dec 2, 2009 7:37 AM
By Scott Nadler
The Decline of the 3 Point Shot and What it Means for Basketball
Throughout the history of basketball, there have been many rule changes which have significantly altered the way the game is played. The use a shot clock, widening of the lane, and the addition of a 3 point line come to mind immediately. The NBA has instituted several rule changes as of late in order to open up the game, increase scoring, and limit the physicality in the league. For example, the elimination of hand checking and forearm use in the backcourt and imposing stricter penalties for flagrant fouls have greatly impacted the freedom of an offensive player. As a result of the rule changes, scoring has gone up 5 points a game over the past 10 years, shooting percentages by 1%, 3 point shooting by 2% and 100 fewer fouls are being committed in today’s game as opposed to the late 90’s.
Last season, the NCAA made a rather noteworthy rule change of its own, moving the 3 point line back one foot, from 19 feet 9 inches to 20 feet 9 inches. The reason for the change is similar to the NBA’s recent changes, which is to increase floor spacing. Its impact thus far (it’s very early mind you, but still fun to evaluate) has been fascinating and it’s going to be interesting to watch its long term effects.
So why is it fascinating you ask? Well, the 2007-08 season, the final season with the 3 point line placed 19 feet and 9 inches from the basket, marked the highest overall 3 point shooting percentage since the 1996-97 season at 35.02%. (1996-97 was the earliest season I could find these statistics for). The new rule was then enforced last season (2008-09) and the 3 point shooting percentage dropped almost 1% to 34.18%. And this year, 3 point shooting has dropped even further to 33.23%, it’s lowest in fourteen years. Teams are attempting roughly one more shot a game then last year (37.46 shots as opposed to 36.73 shots) and are making slightly less shots (12.45 as opposed to 12.56).
So what does all of this mean? And what is the main reason for the drop in the 3 point shooting efficiency? I think the first thing to look at is how teams are defending these days. Due to its impact on scoring and how effective teams were at making 3’s (35.02% 2 years ago), coaches have focused more on defending the 3. You hear coaches and commentators all the time talking about “running your man off the line” or showing a hard closeout. The emphasis here is to force your opponent to put the ball on the floor and make a play, as opposed to standing flat footed to shoot a 3. Now, since the line is moved further back, it takes an extra step to properly closeout, making it more difficult on the defense.
Therefore, coaches have altered their teams’ defensive positions on the court, decreasing the gap of a help defender from the lane to his man. As a result, driving lanes have opened up and dribble drive offenses are becoming more and more popular. Guards are getting into the lane with more frequency in today’s game as opposed to, say, ten years ago.
Furthermore, I think we will begin to see more and more teams playing zone, more specifically a match-up zone, especially if the 3 point numbers stay where they are. A zone will negate dribble penetration and matching up on the perimeter will allow the defense to get out on shooters. Man-to-man will always be the primary defense, but I think it’ll be customary for teams to switch up their defenses and implement zones from time to time.
Failing to understand one’s limitations is another major reason for the collegiate shooting woes and all other woes for that matter. You don’t see Tim Duncan leading fast breaks or Steve Nash crashing the offensive glass or LeBron James; well, LeBron can pretty much do everything so we’ll leave him out of this. But here’s my point. Taking a shot from 3 point range isn’t that difficult to do. Catch the ball and let it go, that’s it. Making the shot on the other hand has been the problem and we’re seeing more players, who can’t shoot, shooting. College players today feel a need to shoot long distance shots in order to appear more attractive to professional scouts both in the NBA and in Europe, where the 3 point shot is essential to the game.
It’s great for individuals to diversify their games. I love 7 footers who can step out to shoot 3’s and I love seeing guards post up - but only if those players possess those skills. Understanding what you can and cannot do and what your strengths and weaknesses are is essential to team success. “Play your game.” You hear it all the time and its one of my favorite axioms in basketball. Every team and player should live by that phrase.
The various rule changes over basketball’s history have always been put in place to better the sport. Can you imagine if there was no shot clock and teams could hold the ball out with a lead? What would defenses do if there was no 3 second violation and Shaq could just camp out all day under the hoop? The game of basketball today is changing drastically right before our eyes. From the European influence coupled with the success of the 2006 Phoenix Suns (who are back by the way if you haven’t been paying attention) the impact of the 3 point shot is more evident than ever. Teams are not only pulling and spotting up for 3’s on fast breaks, but they’re encouraged to, which would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Teams are hoisting up more 3’s than ever and it’s just a matter of time before all 5 guys on the court will be expected to shoot 3’s and that day will be here before we know it. I’ll be revisiting the topic of 3 point percentages as the season goes on, but evaluating the evolution and seeing the bigger picture will teach us a lot about where the game is going.
What do you think?
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