Tuesday, February 2, 2021

the three

 I watched the last three quarters of the Nets Clippers game tonight. Then I saw the first few minutes of the second game of the double header with the Celtics playing the Warriors.

When the NBA first initiated the three point shot in 1979, most teams commented that the three was a shot that would be implemented only in situations when a team needed a three to tie a game--likely at the end of a game.  Teams identified players who could take the three--Chris Ford was such a player on the Celtics--and setting up for the shot was often a result of a set play.  The ABA had used the three previously, but when the NBA adopted it, many coaches and players thought of it as a gimmick.

The next time you are on a basketball court with your ball, go to the college three point line and attempt to hit a shot. If you are a shooter and you are warmed up, you can make an acceptable percentage.  But even if you are a skilled player, but not a shooter, it is a long shot. It was the type of shot my coaches would tell us not to take because it was low percentage. Of course my coaches told us not to take the shot when it was worth only two points.  My guess is that, if not immediately, my coaches would have been less discouraging when the goal was worth three--but only encouraging those who had a decent outside shot.  Before I became an old man, I could hit the three, but not automatically at all.  Even twenty years ago when I would play pick up, and the three in schoolyard games was worth two you did not take the three--often because the chances were that you would miss it, the opponents would get the rebound and--in a game when there was a group with winners (there was a team waiting to play and would play the victorious team) you did not want to lose and sit, so you discouraged a teammate from taking the three unless you had a shooting stud.

Now go back to the college three point line.  The court may also have the pro three point line, but if not take a few steps back and you will be in three point territory for professionals.  Unless you are a real stud or played some serious basketball, that shot is a heave.  A real heave.  I played in a league when I was in my late 30s, that used the pro three point line.  I was the guy who--when we were desperate at the end--they wanted to take the three.  If I was hot, maybe I could make one out of three, but typically it was more like one out of five or six or even eight. It is a heave from pro three point land. Excellent division 1 college players have trouble hitting the pro three. 

The Nets and Clippers players tonight were tossing up threes as if they were layups.  Not just the stud shooters, nearly everyone with a uniform was bombing up the threes. And in the Warriors/Celtics second game, Steph Curry hit three threes in a row without breaking much of a sweat.  If he was open it was automatic.

So, what is the point.

There are a number.

(1) When my dad was alive and we were watching a game he would often marvel and say, "these guys are so good." He was so right. Sure, they are the best of the best, but a three is a long long shot, and they are putting them up effortlessly and successfully. Gone are the early days when the shot was only used in an emergency. Now, it is used as if the game was more like warmups (and warmups during which players were not practicing good shots) than a competitive contest.  This leads me to the second point.

(2) The game, at least during the regular season, is losing some of what makes basketball great.  Perhaps the contests tonight are aberrations, but gee, we are talking run and gun--and little to no defense. There was a stretch about twenty-thirty years ago when it was difficult to break 100 points in a game. The three was in play then, but so was defense.  It is true that now players are taking threes off of fast breaks, eschewing high percentage shots for lower percentage shots which can gain the team an extra point. In these cases the players are earning their opportunity to take uncontested threes. But gee, it sure seemed to me that sometimes in a possession, very quickly into it, some player would bomb up a three and nobody was really giving the player a hard time.

(3) The most significant point is this. The game has changed because of the three such that the game of my childhood is a different game.  Not commenting with this comment that it is for the worse--point here is that it is different.  So different that some of the great players of the 50s and 60s would not be stars in the 21st century. Bill Russell was the greatest player in the earlier era. He was a shot blocker and great rebounder. He could not shoot a lick. Wilt Chamberlain was a force--once AVERAGED 50 points a game for a season.  He parked himself down low and was so strong that he could take the defender and the ball to the hoop. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had more of a touch than either Chamberlain or Russell, but his points were all around the basket. These three greats would not have been central to their teams' success in the 21st century. You don't really need a big guy, unless the big guy is like Kevin Durant who can shoot from the moon as if he is dropping a peach into a basket.  Look at the teams who are successful.  They are led by shooters--Steph Curry who scored nine points tonight in what seemed like less than a minute. James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard--sure they can drive and finish, but they can also hit the three.  LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Jayson Tatum.  All shooters. How many teams in the NBA have their games centered around a center?  Bill Russell would not be the most valuable player in today's NBA. Neither would Abdul-Jabbar.  When the Bucks drafted Jabbar in 1970 they immediately went from the worst team to a playoff contender.  Draft a big guy with a hook shot today, and you get a bounce but not a huge bounce.

All games evolve, but the implementation of the three point goal has not resulted in basketball's evolution as much as it has created a different game.

No comments:

Post a Comment