Why you should care
The three-point shot has become too easy. Forget moving the line back; here’s how the NBA should improve its product.
A funny thing happens inside Oracle Arena, the Oakland home of the Golden State Warriors, when point guard Steph Curry drains a deep three-pointer: nothing. Having enjoyed nearly a decade of two of the best shooters in basketball history on the same team, Warriors fans are accustomed to this. Until Curry, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant really heats up, the crowd is on autopilot.
That’s not a criticism. Golden State has revolutionized the NBA, dominating the league with ball movement and long-range marksmanship. Unfortunately, this copycat league is now hoisting three-pointers at an unprecedented rate. Basketball is at its best when tension is high, when clashing skill sets and adverse strategies create unique matchups. What fans don’t want to see is 30 teams relying solely on the three-point shot. Not every NBA guard is Curry. When Reggie Jackson chucks seven threes per game, that’s just bad for basketball.
It’s time for the NBA to make a change — to stand up for what’s right for the game. It’s time to alter the arc of the three-point line and eliminate the game’s most valuable easy shot: the corner three.
Basketball continues to evolve, almost always for the better. As the game has spread globally, increased value is placed on athleticism and skill rather than brute force. In-game strategy and player freedom continue to progress. But the three-point crisis consuming the modern generation must be snuffed out before the sport becomes one homologous organism that surrenders its intricacies. Put simply, the NBA is addicted to the three.
“Open three [point shots], layups and dunks. Those are the shots you want to get, they’re the most efficient,” says New Orleans Pelicans associate head coach Chris Finch. “And three is more than two, so we’re seeing a lot of teams live on the perimeter.”
Even four years ago, that wasn’t the case. No NBA team attempted more than 26 three-pointers per game in 2013–14. This season, the Houston Rockets attempt 42.2 per game, and 26 of the league’s 30 teams are trying 26-plus per game. What’s more, Houston averaged more than 50 such shots during the preseason — the NBA’s annual test kitchen. That onslaught is a clear sign the trend is far from over.
Even the Boston Celtics — a tough team full of rim attackers, midrange shooters and guards more equipped to penetrate and kick than rain from deep — have jumped onboard. After advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals with a young team and two star players on injured reserve last season, Boston has, thus far, been a disappointment. At 15–10, the Celtics are fifth in the East, but they rank 24th in scoring and offensive efficiency. Why? Some critics point to their rotation of young players still finding a groove. It’s even simpler than that: The Celtics are not a good three-point shooting team, yet they rank third in the NBA with 36.4 such attempts per game. They shoot just 36 percent from deep, yet they attempt eight more threes per game than Golden State. Boston is simply not playing to its strengths.
We’re witnessing an amazing evolution of the game, and eventually there will be a response.
Now, I’m not advocating the three-point line be moved back. That might convince a team like Boston to give up on the three, but it would exacerbate the problem long term. Rather, the NBA should change the arc of the line so as to eliminate the corner three. By extending the three-point line in a natural arc straight into the sideline, players will be forced into more midrange shots and rim attacks. Teams would properly monitor which of their shooting specialists has an eternal “green light” from deep, and more physicality will return to the league.
Still, this won’t be the death of the three-pointer. With the corners worth two points, the court will be balanced differently. Shooters will gravitate higher up, near the three-point line, with slashers, midrange players and big men attacking the paint. Defenses will collapse, and more open three-point shots — behind the “new” line — will be created. Yes, there may be fewer three-point attempts, but those open shots will lead to higher shooting percentages. And what will fans be left with? A better product, and more diverse basketball strategy.
Before implementing the new arc in the NBA, the league can study it in the minor leagues. Two rule changes are currently being tested in the G League: a 14-second reset of the shot clock following offensive rebounds and a new foul call.
Still, some critics say pump the brakes on changing the structure of the game. “I think we all get a little too carried away trying to change things,” says Basketball Hall of Famer and Turner analyst Reggie Miller. “We’re witnessing an amazing evolution of the game, and eventually there will be a response.”
Setting aside Miller’s bias as one of the greatest three-point shooters in history, he’s right. The NBA is cyclical. The Curry phenomenon and subsequent three-point obsession were made possible because, 20 years prior, Shaquille O’Neal’s dominance in the paint forced every team to focus on rim protection. With the outside shot open, a baby-faced Curry came along and rained hell upon the league. It’s easy to envision a similar response to the current three-point renaissance happening. Maybe the next Shaq arrives, tearing down backboards as defenses revert to the paint.
Are we willing to wait? I’m tired of watching bad teams throw up bad shots in an effort to remain relevant. General managers refuse to admit Golden State can’t be beaten in a shooting contest, and the NBA is worse off for it. Fans deserve a variety of playing styles and “instant classics” where anything can happen. That will never be the case in the era of three-point overload. It’s time to adjust the controls.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the NBA banned dunking from 1967 to 1976. That was the NCAA, not the NBA.