Maybe It’s Time We Corrected the Value of NBA Shots

On last Monday’s edition of The Bill Simmons Podcast, Simmons and Kirk Goldsberry tossed out some theories on how to reconcile the 3-point problem. In the modern NBA, teams have realized that even below average 3 point shooters can provide more value than a decent inside shooter. Two point shots just aren’t valuable enough to justify shooting in many cases. One of the suggestions they toss out is changing the 2-pointer to a 2.5-pointer — which would come with its own set of problems, likely a longer list than what the current structure has.

Here’s the very simple mathematical explanation for the lament of the languishing of the 2-pointer. As of last Tuesday, the league’s total shooting percentage inside the arc is 45.1%, or .902 pps (points per shot), per www.basketball-reference.com. League average for shots outside the arc is 35.2%, or 1.056 pps.

For those who like to watch balanced offense in the association, this disparity is too high. We’ve reached a point in basketball where the average 2-pointer taken in the NBA is only 85.42% as efficient as the average 3-pointer.

Simply put, if shots inside the arc were closer in efficiency to shots outside the arc, players wouldn’t be so afraid to take shots from inside the arc.

I don’t have to tell you that the way the game is played is vastly different than it was even a decade ago. Entire NBA offenses are now predicated on a shot selection of 3-pointers and drives to the basket — and most importantly, total and udder anxiety of wasting possessions by taking mid-range jumpers and big man jump hooks. We’ve seen a surge in the league’s ability to make outside shots, and because of that, the justification for taking shots inside the arc that count for less points is dissolving.

Goldsberry suggested changing the worth of an inside shot to 2.5 points. But why not keep the numbers round, and fix the devaluation of the 2-pointer by making 3-pointers worth 4 points and 2-pointers worth 3 points? This makes the inside shot nearly as valuable of a shot as the outside shot in many cases, and would encourage non-sharpshooters and big men to keep their mid-range and inside games alive.

I know this isn’t earth-shattering math here, but here is the breakdown of how this would affect the shot efficiencies for NBA players. As you can see, semi-competent to great outside shooters wouldn’t be discouraged from shooting threes due to the point changes, but many players would be encouraged to take more shots from the inside the arc.

As you can see, the proposed changes would narrow the efficiency gap of shots on the court. By making outside shots worth 4 points and inside shots worth 3, shots inside the arc would now be 96.09% as valuable as shots outside the arc.

Just like that, we’d encourage players to revitalize their inside games. The K-Loves, Tony Parkers, Dwyane Wades and Al Jeffersons will no longer be discouraged from taking what used to be perfectly good shots and will now get reasonable value for those shots. And the sharpshooters can continue their outside dominance, as outside shots would still be highly valuable if you can make them at an average clip or better.

Here’s how some of the players around the league would fare with the change. Most of these players were mentioned in the podcast with Simmons and Goldsberry. Their games are key to understanding how the NBA is played now; they would be the types of players one would have to consider if the league ever decided to take a look at this possible rule change.

Stephen Curry

46.8 3pt%, 57.1 2pt% this season

With the modern rules, Curry averages an incredible 1.404 points per shot on shots behind the arc, calculated by taking his 3 point percentage (46.8%) and the amount of points a made shot is worth (3 points). He averages 1.142 points per shot on shots inside the arc (57.1% shooting times 2 points).

But if we changed those 3-pointers to 4-pointers, and 2-pointers to 3-pointers, Curry has more of a reason to shoot a couple more inside shots per game if he gets the looks.

Curry would probably still be the MVP of the league with a league switch, but his inside shots would be more similarly valued to his outside shots than before.

I include the best player in the league here for a reason. Changing the scoring distribution isn’t about limiting Steph’s magic on the court. It’s about realizing that the skill required to make shots inside the arc is devalued in today’s game. Realistically, It shouldn’t more valuable to be a high volume, league average 3-point shooter than it is to be a really good inside scorer. Take a look at Kevin Love’s efficiency if we changed the point totals.

Kevin Love

35.7 3pt% , 46.1 2pt% this season

His outside shooting is essentially league average this year, but Love’s been reduced to a spot-up outside shooter for the Cleveland Cavaliers most nights. With the point changes, it would make sense for elite power forwards to utilize the post more often. Love would be encouraged to score inside.

Klay Thompson

41.3 3pt%, 52.1 2pt% this season

Klay would still get huge value from his outside shooting here. Like Curry, Klay is deadly from any spot on the court, and would continue to be even with a change in scoring rules.

Jared Sullinger

25.3 3pt%, 46.5 2pt% this season

Coach Stevens knows that in this era of basketball, the easiest way to make his big man more efficient is to get him to shoot threes just a little better. But with the proposed rules, Sully wouldn’t have to experiment with launching threes Morey-style and would get value by shooting where he’s most gifted, bruising down low for points.

Anthony Davis

31.8 3pt%, 51.9 2pt% this season

On the Bill Simmons Podcast last Monday, Kirk Goldsberry said it best: (Paraphrasing) ‘I don’t wanna see Anthony shoot THREES!’ — The guy is absolute money from anywhere inside the arc. Let’s not punish the ‘Brow for being an awesome inside scorer.

Jimmy Butler

33.1 3pt%, 49.1 2pt% this season

Likewise, it’s pretty dumb that Butler’s crappy 3-point shooting is more valuable than his impressive inside game on a points per shot basis.

This proposal is based fundamentally on the belief that basketball is more interesting when players with diverse games can flourish. This includes 3-shooters, old-man-mid-range-gamers, slashers, back-to-the-basket giants, you name it. This can be accomplished when good shots inside the arc are close to as valuable as good shots outside the arc in terms of points per shot.

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