Peep this chart, bruh (via Kevin Pelton):
#1. The number of 3-point attempts per play in the NBA has skyrocketed over the past 36 years since the league implemented the 3-point line in the 1979-1980 season.
2#. While the number of free-throw attempts per play in The Association remained kinda-sorta leveled between 1980 and 1998, the rate has decreased by about 15% over the past 10 years.
2a#. Then the (1998)-1999 New York Knicks made it to the NBA Finals as an 8-seed led by the lethal shooting squadron of Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson, and Charlie Ward. Notice what happens to the the chart starting right around that year…
#3. The rate of 3-point attempts has spiked from 2012 to 2016 relative to the past 36 years. This is no surprise. However, it’s interesting how much of this phenomenon can be attributed to just a few players. Check out this list of the most 3’s made in a season all-time. As you can see, 4 of the top 5 best 3-point shooting seasons of all-time belong to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (but mostly Steph).
#4. Everyone knows how NBA players at the time felt about the 3-point line when it was initially implemented. Dudes were reluctant to shoot the 3, as they saw it as a lame gimmick that wasn’t actually part of “real basketball”. Hell, many players didn’t even practice 3-point shots until the late 1980’s / early 1990’s.
(Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game during the 1986-1987 NBA Season. MJ only took 66 3-point shots the entire season.)
However, the chart shows that 3-point shot attempts have surprisingly increased at almost the same rate for a majority of the past 36 years. That’s mainly due to the fact that dudes shot so freaking few 3s during the early 1980’s. Basically, the only place for the rate of 3-point attempts was “up”. (Can you imagine professional basketball teams not even addressing 3-point shots during PRACTICE?)
#5. This chart perfectly epitomizes the transformation of the NBA’s offensive game over the past 15 years. Forever, the NBA game was predicated on athleticism and above-the-rim play. With the outlaw of zone defenses, dudes had less open looks around the perimeter and were more inclined to break down a defense via and inside-out game. Additionally, hand-checking was NOT outlawed until 2004, which has made the current NBA game significantly less physical. With the absence of hand-checking and more physical contact in the game, players are able to create more space on the court and find much easier shots. The tag-team of these 2 main developments are the core roots of the insane increase in NBA players’ usage of the 3-point shot.
When you look the direction data on the chart, and you consider the changes in the NBA rulebook mentioned in #5, it’s clear there’s a negative correlation between the the rate of 3-point attempts and the rate of free-throw attempts. Guys are less inclined to drive to the rack when they have space to jack-up long-range shots. As the rate of perimeter shooting increases, the rate of interior shooting decreases. Where on the court do basketball players receive a majority of foul-calls that lead to free-throws? The Paint (interior). Along with that, the game has become less physical which leads to less aggressive defensive plays around the basket which leads to less free-throws.
I for one, feel 50/50 about these developments that the NBA’s offensive game have experienced. I love sharp-shooting from the outside. I love specialists that can shoot a leather ball into a ten-foot “basketball ring” (Ted Cruz is just so god damn lame, isn’t he?) from 25-feet away. It’s an incredible athletic feat. However, I do not fucking love watching shitty basketball players shooting from the outside. I hate watching mediocre-shooting power forwards chuck 3’s instead of post up on the block and go to work.
If everyone and their mother only wants to shoot 3-pointers while growing up, we’re going to have a shitty NBA product. The game of basketball was invented, and existed for a long time, without the 3-point line. Physical play around the basket and utilizing expertise footwork in the paint is a staple of the NBA game. If everyone and their mother wants to be Steph Curry, all players will blend into some weird Draymond Green-like player and we’ll basically just be watching a ball-game at the local park. There’s no positions. There’s no sophisticated substitutions and mismatches to be exploited by coaches when everyone is the same size and everyone plays the same. The NBA and game of basketball needs different types of players to keep the game interesting.
In my opinion, the perfect balance of interior play and outside shooting are the 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs and the 2012-2013 Miami Heat. Those teams moved the ball exquisitely while utilizing all areas of the court based on what the opposing defense shows them. Danny Green broke the motherfucking NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers made in a single series in 2014. Yet somehow we saw more premier plays downlow, courtesy of Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw, than we have in forever. I don’t know… maybe I’m just a looney nostalgic jabroni.
All I’m going to say is, I would much rather watch Russell Westbrook than Steph Curry. Based on everything I’ve said above, you do the math and figure out why that’s the case.
WE OUT HERE.