On this day in ’94, the NBA agreed to shorten the three-point line to twenty-two feet in a move to make offensive players score more. Air Jordan was one of the main beneficiaries, setting new career-highs in three pointers made and attempted, nearly doubling his prior stats. When you look at the L today, the three-point shot has become an integral part of most teams’ systems. Twenty-five years ago, this was not the case. During that season, Magic swingman Dennis Scott set the single-season record for most trifecta conversions. This would stand until Ray Allen shattered it ten editions later.
The three-ball is not as glamorised as the dunk. B-ball fans have been spoiled by facials, posters, reverse slams, alley-oops, transition jams, and and-ones. If the three is Larry Bird, the dunk is MJ and the Mamba. However, you can’t argue with the facts: made three-point baskets are worth 1.5 times more than dunks, layups, and other field goals. In recent years, the Dubs have turned the three into an artform; they have made the 3 into their biggest offensive weapon. Nowadays, pulling up for threes during the break is not uncommon. Personally, I agree with the commentators: this is not a wise move. Rather, opt for the sure deuce than pull up for an ill-advised dagger. In this day of the 3, I’ve noticed that players have consistently gone for the home run rather than earn the two the old-fashioned way. This is my view: any open shot is a good one. If you turn down an open three, shame on you. Problem is, NBAers have been jacking up bad shots with increasing level of difficulty. We know that playing hero ball would cost you.
Though the line was diminished in 94, it wasn’t until 04 that the three became a staple in a team’s offence. D’Antoni’s Suns were among the first outfits to rain threes. Four of their starters lived beyond the arc, including Shawn Marion and his unorthodox release. They became known for their ‘seven seconds or less’ mantra, winning a lot of meaningless games along the way. A banged-up Steve Nash was deemed the most unselfish player in the L. However, during the playoffs (when every game counts), they did not fare as well. This led observers at the time to conclude that the run-and-gun approach will not win you championships. Before the Suns, there were the Boston Celtics of Jim O’Brien. While similar in style, Obie’s success was much more fleeting. After squandering a 2-1 lead against the Nets in 02, they capitulated and never reached the same heights. They employed a similar brand, with floor spacing, high-volume threes, and ball movement.
D’Antoni has since resurfaced with the Houston Rockets (after stints with LA and NY). Harden’s offensive brilliance earned him the MVP, but the Warriors have become their bogey team. So far, they have been unable to unseat the Dubs in the postseason. Shame, since theirs is an offense that is highly innovative. The brunt of their point production comes from three areas: the paint, the charity stripe, and from downtown. They rarely attempt perimeter shots. They put up a lot of threes and thus misfire a lot as well. They live by the three, and conversely, they die by the three. Meanwhile, Harden has been known for feasting at the line. He also has a killer step-back, and his euro step is a thing of beauty.
Divided by two
We can divide the NBA three ball into two eras: pre-94 and post-94. The pre-94 era is rather unremarkable. I doubt that NBA teams put up ten attempts per game before then. The pre-94 period is notable for Larry Bird doing a hat trick at the All-Star Game, with Craig Hodges duplicating that feat. A lanky guy named Reggie Miller entered the L in 87, while the late Manute Bol once made 6 money balls. This was notable since Bol was 7-4 and big men were (supposed) to stay close to the basket. Meanwhile, a few years since the change, a young gun named Ray Allen entered the L. He would go on to have a long career, split between four stops. He made 2973 threes in an illustrious career, with 385 postseason long shots. Both were of historic merit. He was one of the greatest shooters in league annals, both because of his longevity and his accuracy. He was also a big-game player.
Over a decade later, another special assassin entered the L. His name is Steph Curry, son of Dell. Steph’s the real deal: not only can he drain buckets in bunches, he does it in style. From head fakes to step-backs, in transition or off the dribble, he can do it all. Plus, he has the swag to boot. To put it in perspective, Curry stands as the only player to have been unanimously adjudged as the regular season MVP. This was after his 50-40-90 spell while also ending up the leading scorer. During that magical year, Chef Curry likewise topped 400 3’s, the first (and so far only) cager to do so. This was all after he was written off as being too risky due to his injuries. He’s also proven that he can win a few chips along the way, and his splash brothers partnership represents the best shooting backcourt ever.
Over the years, the three pointer has evolved – in its use, in the players, and in the systems. The fact remains that triples are the great equaliser. For every three two-point shots, only two three pointers are needed. Great players have benefited from the shorter line: from Michael Jordan to Steve Nash, Ray Allen to Steph Curry. The three-ball has constituted an important part of coaches’ repertoire, including those of Obie and D’Antoni. There has been talk of extending the three point line, and going further, even appointing a four point line. The trifecta inspires more debate, posturing and reactions than perhaps any other shot in basketball. That three is the magic number in the L is no longer a question; it is a reality.