Analytics and 3’s are taking over and basketball as we knew it could be over
The stars gathered and ratings still stunk. The NBA All-Star Game gave us nothing new this year aside from New Orleans Pelicans star, Anthony Davis, scoring a record 52 points. I am shocked that the record previously was 42 by Wilt. With how horrible the defense has become in the All-Star Game (ASG), it boggles my mind that it took 55 years to break the record. The astronomically high 192–182 final score, in favor of the West, has become happen-place for the game.
The defense is abysmal. If you are not shooting a three, the game is all break away dunks or easy cut-to-the-basket dunks. FS1’s Chris Brousard said it best, dunks are only good dunks if there is resistance. Dunks have no flavor if LeBron just scoots down an open lane to the rim, even if he windmills it. The phantom defense from every player on the court should be a sign itself, but it is not as blaring of a sign as is the attempted three-point attempts in the ASG and during the season.
This mathematical favoritism toward the three-pointer has taken a game we loved and made it an equation.
The three has made the game about who can have the best percentage shot over who is the best team. The 2015–2016 NBA season was the glaring and encompassing example. The Golden State Warriors won a record 73 games in the regular season because they took advantage of the percentages within the basketball equation. The equation can be condensed down to something simple, if a team takes more threes, the more they will make. The more threes equates to 50% more scoring on what would roughly be a minimum of ten field goals. The Warriors took the percentages all the way to the Finals where they hit a brick wall in the Cleveland Cavilers. When a team is almost as efficient as the Warriors at three-point shooting, the game boils down to the old version of basketball that we all grew up loving. Therefore by the end of the 2016 season, the Cavs proved they were the better mid-range basketball team and won the championship (say all you want about Draymond getting suspended, it had no effect on the series, period).
Here is what the quintessential question with this evolving game that has reached its breaking point, would the fan rather see a competitive game or tons of scoring? On one hand, the casual fan wants scoring because it will be easy for them to watch the ball constantly going into the basket. The die-hard NBA fan, in the end, want the best game overall. This is where the 2017 All-Star game comes into play. The game shows the trend of the league towards scoring based on a math equation and it displays the boredom that has been created with players just jacking up three-pointers.
ASG Attempts: 3s vs FT
2017– 122 / 8
2016– 139 / 7
2015– 133 / 15
2014– 100 / 21
2013– 71 / 31
The ASG is a microcosm of the the league as a whole, less free-throw attempts and drastically higher three-point attempts. Frankly, it is boring.
There is a high school team in Minnesota that plays the percentages to the extreme every game they play. The coach only allows the players to attempt a three-point shot or a lay-up. THAT IS IT. No in between. In my opinion, that is unwatchable basketball. Where will the mid-range game of the likes of T-Mac, Barkley, Jordan, Kobe, LeBron and more go? What about Dwayne Wade or Carmelo Anthony’s high percentage mid-range scoring abilities? What about the baseline jumper made infamous most recently by Udonis Haslem of the Heat? Nothing is as deadly as a Kobe, Wade or Dirk turnaround jump shot from the wing 15–20 feet away from the bucket.
As a kid we worked on elbow jumpers and the mid-range shot because we were not strong enough to jack threes. We would be on the blacktop or our driveway counting down the seconds “five, four, three…” and emulate the final shot of a game, “two, one…BASKETS GOOD! [enter hometown team here] WIN!” That shot we took was not a twenty-five or twenty-eight foot heave. The mid-range shot was our wheelhouse on the court, and our deepest connection to the game (because we could not dunk nor heave long shots). Now, young kids are just setting up behind the three-point line and chucking it because it is the “cool thing” to do thanks to Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
The fascination of the three by analytic folks has allowed a new type of NBA player that would have never received the chance to play in the old NBA. I respect that, but the change has been too drastic. Every team wants to play the percentages and a majority of players are now being faced with a dilemma, learn to shoot the three or get fazed out of the league/be buried on the bench. The three-point “small ball” mentality has made this game we love look drastically different.
Why take a twenty foot jumper when you could take a twenty-five footer for 50% more points? Why cut to the basket or pop up for a mid-range during a fast break when you could easily flood the corner for a three?
Teams want to take advantage of the percentages but in doing so, they are losing the essence of the game that we grew up loving. I want to see a real poster dunk in traffic over a DeAndre Jordan slam with a Brandon Knight chalk outline meme. To me, the whole spread ‘em out and shoot a team to death is boring to watch and is a travesty. The mentality of players is now to stay away from getting physical with the defense to free up as many long shot opportunities as possible.
Now, I am all for teams taking their chances at increasing their win probability. This is not entirely a slam piece directed at the three-point line. I continue to watch the league I love because ‘ball is life’ and I enjoy the ins and outs of this league. The three-pointer has created more offense which brings more people to the arena or to the television screen and the more who watch the NBA, the better the games future could become. The ability to stretch the floor and open up space for the LeBrons, Carmelos and LaMarcus Aldridges of the world to operate efficiently around the key.
How could the NBA throw a wrench in all of this? Maybe they move the three-point line back or take away corner threes. The real reason for taking such action is so that only true shooters could make them. It brings the mid-range game back into focus, it brings cuts to the basket and post play back. It could work! (Maybe make it one of those trial rules for the D-League next year or something) In addition, maybe the league brings some sort of physical play back into play. A basic hand-check perhaps? Who knows. To use the cliche, the NBA player is bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. More physicality, even if it is a small amount, could benefit the league and make it a better product for the fans of the game.
All it took was a gathering of stars in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game for us to realize how ridiculous the game overall has become with the discrepancy of threes attempted vs the mid-range game. This is a trend that has hurt the league I have loved my entire life. Ratings are down, the regular season does not matter, and basketball as we knew it could be over.