The Three Point Shot Will Flip NBA Basketball
Prepare to change the way you think about positional basketball
We are in the midst of a three point revolution. Seemingly started by Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors two years ago, teams are taking more threes than ever before. Basketball analytics has contributed to this outburst of long range shooting, as coaches and players have realized that it is better to shoot more threes and layups than mid range jumpers.
This has allowed stretch bigs to become the dominant force in NBA front courts. Teams need as much shooting as possible, and it results in more space for layups. With the bigs out on the perimeter, and guards living in the paint, I believe that the three point shot will flip the way we think about how basketball is played. Bigs on the outside, and guards patrolling the paint.
The three point shot was first introduced in the NBA for the 1979–80 season. It was barely utilized at the start. The league average was under ten attempts per game for about 15 years, before teams started to notice the value of taking more threes.
In 1998, the league average for three point attempts was 12.7 per game. The game was dominated by bigs that played mostly with their back to the basket. Since hand checking was still allowed, guards couldn’t past their defenders as easily. That caused the most physically dominant players to take over.
Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson were the marquee players of the time. Michael Jordan was an exception. He could score on the perimeter like no one else. Guards would feed the post and sit outside for open looks from their bigs. Now, it’s the other way around.
The average of three pointers attempted increased every year from 1998, as teams now attempt more than 26 threes per game. While guards have been steady with their three point makes over the past couple of years, it’s the centers that have experienced the sharp increase.
Here are the amount of threes centers have made over the past three seasons:
2016–17: 951 and counting
NBA centers will double their three point makes from last season, which shows how much the game has shifted outside. Star scorers like Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker could be kept in check with relative ease if there was less space on the floor. Now, they blow by their defender only to face one helper before they get to the rim.
Take a look at how easy it is for Thomas to score:
Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket and gets the layup to go.www.nba.com
Notice that both Celtic bigs are at the three point line in this play, keeping shot blockers away from the drive attempt. Thomas scores with ease in the paint, and he’s the shortest player in the NBA. The more driving lanes there are, the more kick opportunities there are for threes.
The other aspect that stretch bigs offer is that guards can now post up more. Without shot blocking presence inside, the game flips. Teams like the Raptors post up DeMar DeRozan as a main part of their offense. Take a look:
Toronto has Patrick Patterson, a 36% three point shooter outside, while they only use their traditional big Valunciunas only in screen situations to hit him on the roll. Otherwise, he’s as far as possible from the ball. DeRozan can either take his man one on one with no help defense, or kick it to an open shooter.
Boston uses Marcus Smart in a similar way. They space the floor with two bigs, and allow him to punish smaller defenders. If he draws more than one player, he immediately kicks.
While we still see a good amount of bigs stay in the paint, the game is gearing towards the guards living down low while centers and power forwards are constantly behind the three point line.
There are always exceptions, but this is the way we are going. Is it good for the NBA? That is yet to be determined. Either way, the change that is occurring will alter the way we think basketball should be played. We may even need to scrap the whole “front court-back court” idea, because all of this would make that very confusing.