Before you read any further, you should check out the article by GSoM's own Daniel, who provides a very well-researched fanpost on this subject.
Go ahead. We'll wait.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban raised an interesting point the other day regarding the current 23'9" three-point line (22' at the corners). Per the Dallas Star-Telegram, the goal is not to compensate for Stephen Curry (yeah, huh), but to restore the game of basketball to a previous time, where the mid-range jumper roamed free, and post-bigs ruled the earth.
Ideally, a longer three point line would improve the diversity of viable skill sets in the NBA, and prevent the league from becoming too specific. After all, with the way elite teams are hoarding 3-and-D wings, its reasonable to wonder how viable other kinds of players today, let alone 15 years from now when a new generation of players reach the Association.
Says Cuban, "It would open up play for more drives, guys with mid-range games will be rewarded and they would stay in the game, there would be more diversity of offensive action in the game. You'll see a little bit of a decline in the three. More importantly, it promotes kids learning how to shoot mid-range instead of just bombing the threes, just because the court would be wider and more open."
There is some truth to this statement, and even if it sounds like an overreaction to the Golden State Warriors in particular, it might not be. Adam Silver has been incredibly progressive in taking new suggestions that better the league. Adjusting the explosion of the three-point shot could come across his desk sooner rather than later.
But if the focus is on improving the quality of the game, we have to be very careful with our changes. No one ever dreamed that installing a half-circle 22" feet from the hoop would so drastically alter the sport at every level. We must consider the long term consequences of a rules change -- and more importantly, consider all available alternatives (and there are a lot of them).
Here are three additional alternatives to open up the NBA to more kinds of players, and potentially level the playing field. And it should go without saying that we're ignoring the very real option of 'do nothing,' because an article entitled 'do nothing' doesn't exactly drive web traffic.
Make the three-point line shorter
While it sounds crazy, moving the three-point arc closer to the hoop would be much more effective in restoring value to the mid-range shot. After all, the mid-range shot would suddenly be worth 50% more!
If the goal of making this significant rule change is really to make the mid-range shot popular again, the easy answer is to raise its point value. It has precedent (see: the three point line), and it carries a few additional advantages.
Firstly, a shorter line would reduce the value of extreme outliers like Stephen Curry: that would make roughly 29 teams in the Association happy. If Curry's titanic bombs from 38-feet are ruining the sport for you, or if your name is Oscar Robertson, artificially giving guys like Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston the same point-producing power will certainly cure what ails ya.
Secondly, that same shorter arc would improve the value of players that are quickly falling out of favor in the NBA. Guards who lack long range would be able to compete on a slightly more even playing field. A long bomb would still have value in that it will be open more often than not (and it should still stretch the defense a bit, depending on the shooter's ability). But the high level of difficulty compared to an 18 or 20-foot jumper will make it a less attractive proposition.
Finally, a shorter arc would compress the game a bit, as there's little reason for offensive players (and thus, defenders) to wander around 25-feet from the hoop. This means bigger players with the ability to get a good shot when covered, or high-fliers who can finish above the rim, could finally return to prominence.
Eliminate the 'short porch'
This is the flattened section of the three-point arc, in each corner, that extends just 22" feet from the hoop. Because it is nearly two feet closer than the curved section of the three-point arc, teams now focus their energy on finding open shots in that spot. After all, 22" in the corner is worth three points, and at the top of the key the same distance is worth two points. Given the shots are equally difficult, which would you rather take? That means the short porch three is currently the most valuable shot attempt in the league, and it makes sense to build an offense around the shot.
Smart NBA teams like the Hawks, Rockets and Warriors have taken this simple truth and run with it. Take the example of known three-point snipers like JJ Redick, James Harden and Stephen Curry, none of whom get many shots from the corners. For Harden and Curry, it's just tough to conduct an offense from there. For all three, their extended range makes them most valuable from farther away, as lesser shooters can remain a viable scoring threat closer to the hoop.
No one would argue that Wesley Johnson, Trevor Ariza or Andre Iguodala are better shooters than those first three. And yet by upping their corner-attempt rate to wacky levels, they've effectively become elite shooters by efficiency. Check out the chart (per basketball-reference.com)...
|Player||Corner-Attempt Rate||Corner 3FG%||Overall 3FG%|
Two things should stand out right away. One, Stephen Curry is absolutely bonkers. Two: for most people, it's much easier to shoot from the corner. And even if two feet doesn't sound like a lot, the numbers say it is. Johnson, Ariza and Iguodala are utterly elite from the corner with a minimum 43% three-point completion rate. Yet their percentage away from the corner is considerably lower.
Again, if the goal is to curtail the prevalence of three point field goals, eliminating the short porch will work. Elite bombers like Redick, Harden and Curry will still get their buckets from any range. But lesser shooters become much less viable outside of the arc the moment you remove this shot. This rule may make the elite players even bigger outliers, but it will reduce the total number of three pointers in games by reducing the number of players who are viable threats from range. And it will force teams to look to other kinds of players (not just corner specialists) to fill out their lineups.
Create an illegal offense rule
For years, the NBA required all defenders to guard a specific player. The penalty for guarding an area instead of a player was illegal defense (an automatic technical foul). Back in the illegal defense days, teams couldn't play zone like Rick Carlisle's Dallas Mavericks famously did while upsetting the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. And the Tony Allen defense that the Warriors employed last postseason? Also illegal.
Why not bring that idea to the offensive side?
By requiring certain offensive players, or a number of offensive players to essentially remain within the three-point arc, the NBA could accomplish a few goals at once.
As with the other rules changes, this would make alternative players more valuable just by preventing teams from playing so many 3-and-D guys. For example, if only two players could remain outside of the arc, teams may be hesitant to play more than two three-point specialists at one time (or else their signature skill would be wasted).
You could shape this one however you like to get the desired result. But a three-in and two-out seems like the classic formation (two guards and three bigs). But there's also three-out and two-in, if that's too claustrophobic.
The big advantage (relatively speaking) to this rule is the instant value that post players would receive. Solid post and interior scorers like Pau Gasol and Zach Randolph would have a spot in almost any lineup. And without the four-out lineups we see today, teams would have a harder time exploiting swing passes to create weak side corner threes (if they even exist -- see rule 2). However, this rule would greatly stifle the creativity that offensive coaches currently enjoy.
A diverse NBA is always best for everyone. But necessity is the mother of innovation. The same way Don Nelson relied on the gimmicky three-point goal to even the odds against teams with superior front court talent, teams will find a way to adjust to today's rules, and make a game of it. The best answer is to let the finest coaches and players in human history figure out a way to win. The hardest part? Accepting the result, which will mean a very different league than we're accustomed to seeing.