Hail the Three Pointer

Basketball has made some significant changes in the way it’s played since James Naismith invented the game.  Eliminating the center jump after every basket, widening the “key” and employing a shot clock are three that have immensely improved the continuity, beauty and fan appeal.  As for the one that has changed the manner in which it’s currently played, the three-point shot has made it a “whole new ball game.”

The goal of the defense had always been protecting the basket.  If the opponent couldn’t put the ball through the hoop, a team was guaranteed to win.  Many a coach felt the need to “pack it in” and force their opponent to hoist up shots from the perimeter.  It was always considered that the closer the ball got to the basket, the greater chance the offensive player had to score.  In addition, the closer to the bucket, the greater chance a team had to get to the free throw line.  Height was the major factor in winning.

When the three-point line was introduced, all bets were off.  Players became so proficient at making outside shots (the one area in the game that can be improved with a commitment to hard work and repetition) that coaches began designing offenses around getting shooters open looks.  In addition, fast break strategy was entirely revamped.  No longer was the “outlet, fill the lanes, stop at the free throw line, make the proper pass for a layup” philosophy in vogue.  Instead, players are now taught to “run to the line and spot up.”

Players are so good, only the absolute best defenders can “stay in front” of the ballhandler.  Coaches always preached their off-the-ball defenders help on penetration.  Otherwise, the offensive player would have a clear path to the hoop.  After the closest defender helped on the dribbler, the other defenders were to “sink and fill,” negating a short pass to a player for a layup or dunk.

Now, that philosophy is passe.  Not only do the penetrators look for teammates spotting up behind the line, but the made attempt is worth more!  The defense’s dilemma becomes why suck in to stop two when doing so gives up three!  

Players like Kyle Korver, James Jones, James Harden, Matt Bonner, Mike Bibby – all good players – yet infinitely more valuable because of their three point proficiency.  These guys are feared by opponents, due to the their ability to score in bunches, meaning no lead is safe and any game can be blown open in three or four possessions.

Great players penetrate – or simply wait for a double team – and find the open marksman, either immediately or with an additional pass (since so many coaches are quite adept at spacing the floor) and wait for the scoreboard to light up and the crowd to erupt – or deflate – which occasionally has even more significant impact on the game’s momentum.  So many people crow, “Basketball’s a beautiful game.”  The three-point shot is a major reason why.  It’s changed the game so much that coaches and fans from the pre-three era wouldn’t even recognize it.

Credit the mastermind group of the rules committee.  It appears they believe their charge is:

“If it ain’t broke, break it.”

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