Thirty-five seasons ago, the NBA instituted its 3-point arc. Much has changed regarding the details of this extra, ever-important stripe on the court, but the simple, essential truth of it has remained the same since then. One shot, much further from the rim, is worth three points instead of two.
Only more recently, however, has the value of the 3-point line been understood in exacting fashion. The dawn of analytics in the sport has given way to a re-imagination of court strategy across the league, with 2015 MVP Stephen Curry standing as the evolutionary zenith of how modern talent can fit into a new understanding of the parquet’s real estate. Teams are shooting more from beyond the arc than they ever have.
Lost in the discussion about the Year of the Three has been nuance. Old-school polemicists like Phil Jackson and Charles Barkley have very publicly bemoaned offensive styles that start at the perimeter and often end there, too; lane penetration and post play are still integral to the diet of a healthy contender, they say, and deep shooting should be little more than a peripheral benefit of a squad that looks to get to the rim first and foremost.
On the other side of the fence stands a pack of progress-obsessed analysts who readily laugh at Jackson and Barkley, insisting that they’re lost in the sands of time as the 3-point shot has become of singular, undeniable importance.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the more reasonable middle. Three-pointers are important: If you can’t shoot them at least at an average rate, you probably won’t be winning any NBA titles this century. But the fetish of the shot — particularly as it fills in as a metaphor of power for certain branches of thinking — often goes to extreme places in the wrong hands. The direction of play in this sport has been and always will be fluid, and while the upwardly trending nature of 3-point shooting teams is a powerful development, it is far from a permanent one.
— John Wilmes