The NBA introduced the 3-point line in 1979, and not much changed right away. Players weren’t used to shooting from far out, so for the first few years, they mostly didn’t. It wasn’t until the 1986–’87 season that the league as a whole scored more than 100 3-pointers in one season.
The arc of the line was shortened for a few years in the ’90s, but besides that, it hasn’t changed much — and that’s given players and coaches an opportunity to strategize around it. In 2014, statistic-obsessed sports executive Daryl Morey led what many people call the 3-point revolution. He used the D-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers as a testing ground to see whether volume shooting from the 3-point line netted better results than shooting 2s — and it worked.
The math states that scoring one-third of your shots from behind the 3-point line is as good as scoring half your shots from inside the line. In other words: Shooting as many 3s as possible will likely lead to a higher score.
The league took notice, and teams and players followed suit. Now, 3-point plays are so prevalent, fans have begun criticizing the league for being oversaturated with them. Critics worry the game is on the verge of becoming boring because everyone is trying to do the same thing. And that’s led some to wonder whether the NBA should move the 3-point line back.
- Zak Geis compiled data of all NBA shots since 1999 by scraping the NBA API. His work greatly informed our reporting.
- James Dator is a senior staff writer at SB Nation, where he covers the 3-point line as well as lots of other sports, including baseball, soccer, and the NFL. Here’s an article he wrote on the 3-point line. (For more of Dator’s reporting, check out his author page.)
- The Amazing Pace by Jason Schwartz (about how Daryl Morey transformed the Rio Grande Valley Vipers).
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