New shot chart graphic illustrates just how much NBA game has changed

Basketball is a beautiful sport that was first played over 130 years ago. It took off in popularity in the 1980's first with the additions of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to the NBA and then Michael Jordan. If you could freeze the evolution of the game to a point in the mid to late 80's you'd have the perfect sport.

The NBA had instituted the 3-point shot into its game to begin the decade, but as Bob Ryan recently recollected it was more of a gimmick shot. Elite 3-point shooters like Bird only attempted 1 to 3 shots from beyond the arc a game. There was room for the shot to be used more as anyone with any semblance of math realized that if you made just two out of six 3-pointers that was the same as making three out of six 2-pointers.

A couple years into the 1990's the video game NBA Jam hit arcades (and later home systems). It was a big headed arcade version of basketball with NBA licensing. Dunks and 3-point shots on offense and blocks, steals, and shoves on defense.

You could choose a team like the Chicago Bulls with Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant and try to run and dunk as much as you could. Or you could try and see if you could win with the undersized Golden State Warriors by bombing 3's with Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway. Or maybe you wanted a more balanced team like the Seattle Supersonics with Shawn Kemp for the dunks and Detlef Schrempf for the 3's.

NBA Jam was fun quick pace arcade basketball. No fouls or free throws and you played to the final buzzer with the added bonus of trying to the one to break the backboard in the final seconds. The game wasn't basketball like what was played in the NBA, but it wasn't trying to be.

As the NBA years went on through the 1990's and the first decade of the 2000's, teams upped their 3-point attempts, but having a dominant big man and a post game still reigned supreme. The closest a team got to a championship relying heavily on 3's was Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns, but they never even made it to the NBA Finals.

Then the Warriors won a title bombing 3's and the flood gates opened for good. And in the years since then the game has stopped resembling what it once was and loved. Traditional big men types like Al Jefferson and Roy Hibbert got phazed out of the league. Low post scoring and rebounding double double bigs like Enes Kanter Freedom and Jahil Okafor no longer had a home in the league.

And as you can see by the shot location graphic from this past season, the game on offense has become essentially a version of the arcade game of NBA Jam. You either dunk the ball (or lay it in) or you shoot a 3. You never take a long 2 and even short non-dunk/lay-up 2's are frowned upon.

The thing is that worked for an arcade version of basketball with non-stop action. And for many I suppose it still works just fine as the new NBA game of basketball. But for fans who got to watch and grow up playing the original sport, the loss of many elements of the offensive game is sad to see.

Watching a McHale or an Olajuwon go to work in the post was fun. So was seeing a Reggie Lewis or Scottie Pippen hit one of their patented bank shot 2-pointers. There was more variance in different teams' offenses and made it game that much more enjoyable.

A player like Larry Bird would easily thrive in today's NBA because of his 3-point shooting, but other legends like Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson would have to alter their games to more 3's and less one on one breakdowns. Pass first point guards are a thing of the past and of course bigs grow up learning a different game.

Shaq was so huge and athletic (before he let himself go) that he would still have success in today's NBA, but he'd have less of it. Fact is any big man who can't hit 3's in today's NBA has a much more limited ceiling. Bigs of today who could have been dominant post players in the past like Joel Embiid spend much more time away from the hoop.

The tallest of the tall, who were always fun to watch dating back to Manute Bol, have no role in today's NBA. Case in point Tacko Fall. Back in the 1990's he'd be a Gheorghe Muresan double double in the league. Now he can't even stick at the very end of a team's roster.

Giant height players like Porzingis, Manute's son Bol Bol, and #1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama have been taught to prioritize 3's over a post game just like Embiid. NBA Jam had two players on your team of position less basketball. The modern NBA game is getting closer and closer to 5 positionless players.

Of course the modern NBA game has stoppages for fouls, foul shots, video replay delays, longer commercial breaks, etc, so less dunks (and highlight reel slams) aren't the only differences from the 90's NBA Jam game. It's a less exciting, softer, slower version of an arcade game.

NBA Jam shoves are flagrant 2 fouls with very lengthy video replay delays and ejections in the modern NBA. You can't make real life basketball players play an arcade version of the game because A. They aren't as athletic and B. their bodies wouldn't last with all that force.

Really the only way to get the game back on track to what it was even a decade ago would be to tinker with the scoring values to make the analytics not favor 3-pointers so much, but they aren't going to make a 3-pointer worth 2.7 points to fix that issue. Or they aren't going to make a 2-pointer worth 2.3 points.

As a math guy, I'd be cool with the decimals, but the general public would go crazy. And making 2's count as 3's and 3's count as 4's to lessen the advantage of shots beyond the arc would also cause an uproar since people love their comparing legends by stats debates and you'd change the whole system.

Moving the 3-point line back and eliminating the corner 3 would recalibrate things, but the league has shown no desire to do so. With no changes to the game expect the 2033 shot chart to look similar to the 2023 one in term of only two locations, but with even more dots beyond the arc and less at the hoop.

If you grew up playing ball in the 80's and 90's you had coaches discouraging you from shooting 3's and focusing on the post game. As we hit the new millenium it changed some and thus spawned the Curry generation.

And those Splash brother championship 2014-15 Warriors with their 3-point bomb barrage would have ranked dead last in 3-point attempts if they shot that amount just eight years later in the 2022-23 NBA teams.

As we advance deeper into the 2020's, you have kids being trained to focus primarily on the 3 point shot and the old school coaches and trainers are replaced by uber analytic ones. If there are no changes to the game, but more proficient 3-point shooters entering the league every year, attempts from beyond the arc will only go up.

When I see videos of Robert Williams working on his jumper, unlike a lot of fans and reporters on social media, I'm not thinking he's going to add some KG jumper to his offensive arsenal. Williams shooting long 2's is a very low percentage move in the modern analytics game. My guess he is working his way out to the 3-point line. Only then would it be a viable shot for the modern NBA.

KG of course had a very solid jumper, but would certainly be a 3-point shooter if he was coming into the NBA today. Williams has a long ways to go with his shot.

Eventually three out of every four NBA shot attempts will be 3-pointers. Sounds crazy? So did the idea that half a team's shot attempts would be 3-pointers and that day is already here. The 2022-23 Celtics themselves almost hit it with 48% of their shots coming from beyond the arc. For the 1985-86 champion Boston Celtics with noted 3-point marksmen Larry Bird and Danny Ainge, the team's 3-point attempts to total shots was 5% in comparison.

Even an arcade version of the game of basketball lik NBA Jam looks traditional compared to where the league is going. Teams settle for field goals in football and the 2-point shot in basketball is getting closer to becoming a settling score as well. Obviously the 7 to 3 versus 3 to 2 differentials would never make it as drastic as a settle, but the goal of an NBA possession now (and even more so in the future) is becoming 3 points. That's a different game.

Looking once again at Kirk Goldsberry's lower 2022-23 shot chart it kind of looks like it's giving the middle finger to the game that once was.