Culture of Hoops

The NBA four-pointer: To improve is not always to change

Image courtesy of Josh Hallett/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Josh Hallett/Flickr.

One of the most underrated aspects of All-Star Weekend is the great multitude of NBA players, executives, and media members all gathered in one city. While production crews are prepping for the spectacle that is NBA All-Star Saturday and Sunday night, the players and executives are being collected by the media for interviews.

More often than not, the interviews are rather uneventful. Players seem to sleepwalk through them with little care for creating good content. Who could blame them? Saying something interesting is often far more risky than being safe. But when sifting through the vast amount of subject matter, there are always a few interesting nuggets to be consumed.

One of those juicy nuggets came along when TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott interviewed NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn and vice president Kiki Vandeweghe. Abbott is a basketball progressive. He is always positing ideas to improve the game, so it came as no surprise when he asked the two men about possibly expanding the court and adding a four-point line. Rod Thorn who, with a name like that, belongs in an action movie and not the NBA front office, gave credence to the question. He suggested that it would probably be about 30-feet out, and he also said “that’s something that’s come up.”

If this sounds interesting to you, don’t get too excited. The conversation between the three men was taking place in a somewhat hypothetical realm, and it was clear by the tone that any kind of radical change was not currently in the works.

Typically, I’m a fan of change. It’s fun. Things that don’t change typically grow boring. However, in the case of the four-pointer, it’s great news that the proposal is nothing serious. The four-point line would be ultimately damaging to the NBA.

Looking back at the past decade or so in the NBA, there have been few things that have changed the way the game is consumed and evaluated as advanced analytical statistics. We’re able to see why some stats, say David Lee’s rebounding numbers, are largely hollow. We’re also now able to better recognize efficient players with stats like “true shooting percentage.”

One way these efficiency-finding stats have changed the game is that they’ve put greater value on the three-pointer. Last year, the team that shot the most threes was the New York Knicks at 2,371; the median was 1,593.5 three-pointers. In 1999-2000, the median was 1,069, and the Sacramento Kings, who shot the most threes, only totaled 1,656 attempts.

The reasoning here is simple. A three-pointer is worth 150 percent of a two-point shot. So an average three-point shooter (~37%) is more efficient at scoring than a guy with a good two-point percentage (~50%). While the discussion about creating an efficient offense is much more nuanced, this is the basic logic behind most of the good offenses in the league. It’s why the Houston Rockets want either a three-pointer or to score in the paint on every position, eliminating the mid-range game.

If a shot that is worth 150 percent of a two-pointer has changed the game this much, imagine what would happen if a shot that was worth twice as much as a two-pointer were introduced. Let me be clear, by no means am I advocating for the abolition of the three-pointer. The game as it stands now in terms of two- and three-point shots is near perfect. But introducing a more drastic difference in potential points per possession would be a problem.

The league would reward players with such tremendous range and marginalize guys with different skill sets. Athleticism and post play would be attributes that no longer carried as much value. Despite more spacing, we’d likely see less spectacular plays as offenses would be so determined in hunting the ultra-efficient four-pointer.

It is good that the NBA is looking for ways to improve the game, but this is not the way to do it. I have an idea: how about getting rid of the clear path foul reviews that nobody enjoys, or maybe even fix the “hack-a-whoever” problem.

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