Thoughts on Bob Ryan's suggestion to abolish the 3-point shot

I've heard complaints about the 3-point line for many years now, but things took a more drastic turn following the Celtics win over the Nuggets yesterday when Bog Ryan suggested the NBA eliminate the shot all together. Prior to this, most suggestions revolved on extending the line further out, widening the court and subsequently making the corner 3 the same distance as the rest of the line, or bringing back hand checking.

Celtics Life was created in 2009 and one running theme/topic of discussion between myself and one of our earliest writers tb727 was They Just Don't Grow Them Like They Used To. TB accurately points out in 2009 that the center position was dying out. What we came to learn was that it wasn't really that tall players weren't available anymore, it was that their skill set was not desired as much anymore. NBA teams had finally caught on some 30 years later that a made 3-pointer provided 50% more points than a 2 pointer. That the worst shot in the NBA was the shot right in front of the 3-point line. That your traditional shooting percentage meant very little if you shot a decent amount of 3's. That 33% from behind the arc was equivalent to 50% from inside it.

Now there were still a lot of naysayers. You had the "Live by the 3, die by the 3 crowd." You had people arguing that missed 3's led to opposing fast breaks. But this was really just people hanging on to a losing argument. Missed 3's also provided more offensive rebounds (which often led to a kick-out to another open 3). Also around this time teams like Doc Rivers Celtics began prioritizing having their bigs get back on defense after a shot to prevent fast breaks. And if your bigs were out on the perimeter already that was an even easier task.

Once the Golden State Warriors Steph and Klay era achieved success the cat was out of the bag. Shooting a ton of 3's was no longer a Mike D'Antoni Phoenix Suns gimmick offense; it was taking over the league. The Warriors won titles with Draymond Green playing a ton of center. Players like Roy Hibbert and his skill set went from All-Star to out of the league almost overnight. After a couple failed experiments in New York and Los Angeles, Mike D'Antoni finally got another shot with a roster in Houston that suited his style. No more Kobe or Carmelo iso's, or feeding Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol in the post. Instead D'Antoni would get to play his preferred shoot 3's and ask questions later offense.

While D'Antoni and Harden's Rockets never reached the Finals, they kept on shattering 3-point attempts records while winning a ton of games until everyone was doing it. When the Grizzlies finally waived the white flag and decided to bring Zach Randolph off the bench instead of starting two bigs (with Marc Gasol), that was the final nail in the old NBA coffin. Soon traditional centers like Gasol and Brook Lopez started shooting 3's. Great post players like Al Jefferson were out of the league.

In the meantime while all of this has been evolving in the NBA, players growing up are practicing different fundamentals. I don't think you can fairly compare 3-pt shooting percentages from players who played in the 1980's and 90's to today's players. If players like Larry Bird, Danny Ainge, Reggie Miller, and Dale Ellis grew up practicing 3's in their teen years like prospects do now they would have shot a much higher percentage. And if players back in the 80's and 90's took the quantities of 3's they do now they'd have higher scoring numbers. That's why whenever I see some "NBA expert" trying to compare a current player's numbers to Bird I think its useless. When Bird played, Ainge shooting a 3-pointer was considered a worse shot selection than DJ shooting a 2 pointer one foot in from the arc.

It wasn't until the 1986-87 season when teams even crossed the 4 3-point attempts per game threshold. So one 3-pointer every quarter. And back then players took full court shots at quarters' end rather than dribbling out the clock to save their 3pt%. By the first year of Celtics Life 2009-10, teams were up to 18.1 3pt attempts per game. And now we are up to 34.6 per game. So more than 10 times higher than 1986. And as players keep practicing the 3 more and more their percentages will just continue to climb, and with that it will make sense for coaches to have players shoot even more 3's.

If 3-pt attempts continue to climb at the rate they have over the past 10 years, at some point this decade more than half a team's shots will be 3-point attempts. As always there were too many snarky jerk responses to Ryan's suggestion to "junk" the 3-point line. His suggestion has nothing to do with the the played out "old man yelling at a cloud" or "old man yelling get off my lawn" gifs or memes. It comes from a man who loves the game of basketball and is witnessing it transform into a whole other game. It's like if you played chess all your life and suddenly you made rooks have the same traits as queens. Or you changed baseball to 6 balls is a walk. Or Texas hold-em includes all even numbers being wilds. Or soccer goals past a certain point counting for 2. You get the points.

Personally I've been for extending the 3-point line further out and widening the court to extend the corner 3 as well. If there was ever a time to make plans to widen the court it would have been this past year when there were no fans in the arena. But at the end of the day the NBA is a business and dollars always rule the day. A thinner court means more high price seats closer to the action. Alternate jersey after alternate jersey means more jersey sales. Ads on jerseys, virtual ads on courts, extended time-outs in the playoffs for more commercials, Mike and Scal having to pitch another sponsor every minute... all those things are here to stay and will only get worse. I know some people like all the alternate jerseys and that's fine. I don't think any fan though clamors for more ads and more commercials.

While Ryan's idea is drastic, if you watch NBA games from the 70's or 80's when the 3-point line either didn't exist or was barely ever used, it was a much prettier diverse game with post up games, mid range shots, etc. So considering the NBA isn't going to just abolish the 3-point shot they should start being a bit more forward thinking on some rules changes to at least stem the tide. In reality, mathematically it would make more sense if the bonus of hitting a shot from further away was more like half a point as opposed to a whole point. But the NBA isn't going to deal with fractions. In football if field goals became too easy, you could make them worth 2 points or a touchdown worth 8, but the NBA doesn't have that luxury with smaller numbers.

I think the best course of action assuming you're not going to widen the court would be to extend the 3 point line considerably further out, which would also eliminate the corner 3. I say "considerably" since a foot or two won't do much. No you have to make the shot hard again. Not something everyone is proficient in. You'll still get a good amount of 3's. Probably something closer to the 18 or so a game from ten years ago than the 40 or so we are approaching. So we're not talking about some old man wanting the game to go back to how it was played in the 50's or 60's. We're talking about the game from ten years ago which had a solid balance. Maybe you haven't reached your limit yet, but trust me when teams hit that 50% mark where half of their shots are 3's you might start coming around as well. Or when 3 out of every 5 shots are 3's. Because that will come too as we raise a generation to perfect the 3-pointer. And then you might even want to junk the "gimmick" line at that point altogether as well. I'm not there yet. I actually still enjoy watching Celtics games in 2021. But the basketball is less basketball and more a 3-point contest which is a shame.