How the 3-point line is breaking basketball

The game is at a turning point. Should the rules be changed?

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The NBA introduced the 3-point line in 1979, and not much changed right away. Players weren’t used to shooting from far out, so for the first few years, they mostly didn’t. It wasn’t until the 1986-1987 season that the league as a whole scored over 100 3s in one season.

The arc of the line was shortened for a few years in the ’90s, but besides that, it hasn’t changed much — and that’s given players and coaches an opportunity to strategize around it. In 2014, statistic-obsessed sports executive Daryl Morey led what many people call the 3-point revolution. He used the D-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers as a testing ground to see if volume shooting from the 3-point line netted better results than shooting 2s — and it worked.

The math states that scoring one-third of your shots from behind the 3-point line is as good as scoring half your shots from inside the line. In other words: Shooting as many 3s as possible will likely lead to a higher score.

The league took notice, and teams and players followed suit. 3s have become so prevalent in recent years that fans are criticizing the league for being oversaturated with them. Critics worry that the game is on the verge of becoming boring because everyone is trying to do the same thing. And that’s led some to wonder if the NBA should move the 3-point line back.

Additional reading:
Zak Geis compiled data of all the NBA shots since 1999 by scraping the NBA API. His work greatly informed our reporting, and you can find his original data here: https://data.world/sportsvizsunday/june-2020-nba-shots-1997-2019

We were able to turn data into graph-able charts using this tutorial: https://datavizardry.com/2020/02/03/nba-shot-charts-part-2/

James Dator is a senior staff writer at SB Nation where he covers the 3-point line, plus lots of other sports — like baseball, soccer, and the NFL. For more of James’s reporting, check out his author page: https://www.sbnation.com/authors/james-dator/

And here’s his article on the 3-point line: https://www.sbnation.com/nba/2021/3/10/22323023/nba-three-point-shooting-breaking-point

Grantland: The Amazing Pace (about how Daryl Morey transformed the Vipers) https://grantland.com/features/nba-dleague-rgv-vipers-houston-rockets-future-of-basketball/

Grantland: Is it time to move the NBA 3-point line back? https://grantland.com/the-triangle/is-it-time-to-move-the-nba-3-point-line-back/

Basketball Reference’s detailed stats: https://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_stats_per_game.html

FiveThirtyEight: Did Moving The Arc Bring The 3-Pointer To A Breaking Point? https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/did-moving-the-arc-bring-the-3-pointer-to-a-breaking-point/

CBS Sports: What the shortened NBA 3-point line of the mid-1990s says about the future of long-range shooting https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-top-100-player-rankings-for-2021-22-kevin-durant-edges-lebron-james-for-no-1-any-rookies-make-the-cut/

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