Unreasonable Ideas To Reduce NBA Three-Pointers
Some creative proposals to increase shot profile diversity
Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t believe there is a problem with the number of three-pointers in basketball right now. The game is as beautiful as it has ever been before, and the huge amount of space for driving lanes that comes from the threat of the three-pointer is a big part of that.
That said, we know that the last twenty years have seen a precipitous increase in the number of three-point attempts, from ~15 per game to ~35 per game (stats per NBA.com):
The numbers say that the entirety of the three-point increase comes at the expense of mid-ranges. However, the death of the mid-range is wildly overstated; it’s simply been the death of the mid-range from bad shooters, as detailed in this lovely article from The Athletic. The Kevin Durants and Chris Pauls still have the green light to shoot as many mid-ranges as they want!
So what’s the problem? As three-pointers continue to rise, there’s a risk of homogeneity in offensive approaches where every team looks the same as every other team. Thankfully, the resurgence of dominant big men recently has somewhat abated this trend. If I watch the Denver Nuggets, for example, I know they’ll look nothing like watching the Portland Trail Blazers thanks to the presence of Nikola Jokic. However, people are constantly worrying about the rise of threes and what it means for the league, so it’s worth taking a moment to discuss possible solutions.
Many ideas have been suggested over the years and discussed ad nauseam. Things like eliminating the corner three-pointer entirely or moving the three-point line back have been adequately examined. Frankly, I don’t love either of those ideas for different reasons. The corner three helps space the floor effectively, which allows for more dynamic driving lanes, while pushing the line back would eventually result in a new equilibrium that looks a lot like the current one.
The best reasonable idea for improving stylistic diversity is to simply shrink the paint. It was widened twice to limit the effectiveness of legendary post players George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain, but today’s titans generally do their damage from the perimeter, not the post. Why not shrink the paint again? Not only would it allow for post-ups closer to the basket, resulting in more efficient shots, but it would also allow for more offensive rebounding, which has been trending sharply downhill for years, as well. The giants could roam once more!
Kirk Goldsberry, in his excellent book Sprawlball, ran through a laundry list of these and other proposals, including two of my favorite wacky ideas: allowing goaltending on threes, and allowing home teams to paint the three-point line wherever they want.
Allowing goaltending on threes would be a fun twist that would make someone like Rudy Gobert even more valuable and create a whole new battlefront for position in the paint, since offensive players would need to box out defenders from blocking shots. A last-second three-point attempt to win the game could be stonewalled at the rim, creating a whole new brand of highlights. The increased difficulty of threes would cause a shift towards “safer” shots in the mid-range and post.
It’s harder to predict exactly what would happen if teams could paint their own lines. It would be delightful chaos. Got a bunch of bricklayers? Eliminate the line entirely. Have a gaggle of snipers? Push the line back a few feet. It would open up whole new strategic possibilities. More importantly, it would give each court a sense of uniqueness. Arenas could become like baseball stadiums with their own quirks and legends. Boston could have a line that suddenly careens away from the basket on the left side, simulating Fenway’s Green Monster!
We are here for the unreasonable ideas, like the two above. I’d like to present a few other thoughts that are exceedingly unlikely to ever be implemented but help illustrate the creativity that the league has at its disposal. After all, at one point even the three-point line itself was considered a gimmick.
Set a limit on the # of teamwide threes allowed
What if the league set a rule that a team could only shoot 25 threes, total (any others made would just count as 2 points)? If Steph Curry catches fire from beyond the arc, do you tell your other players they aren’t allowed to shoot anymore? Do you use all your threes in the first quarter to try and put a lot of pressure on a more conservative foe, or do you save them for the end to leverage their threat and keep opponents off-balance?
By limiting the # of 3’s allowed, this rule would put much more emphasis on mid-range skill, particularly since teams would be able to pack the paint defensively (making layups/dunks harder) as their opponent started running out of allotted 3’s. I’m not convinced increasing mid-range attempts is really a desirable outcome, but if that’s what you want, hard-capping threes would be a very effective way to do it.
Only allow “designated shooters” the ability to shoot threes
Imagine if a team was only allowed to pick four guys from their roster of twelve to shoot threes (designated by a special headband). For everyone else, it would simply count for two. Would a team waste a headband on a high-minutes but low-accuracy shooter like Jimmy Butler? Or do you save it for a bench guy just in case you need another shooter at the end of a game? I can already hear the hot-take guys screaming about which dude on the Brooklyn Nets deserves the final shooter spot.
Creativity is enhanced by limitations, and forcing offenses to pick only four guys who could shoot could result in some very cool strategic choices and bizarre plays. Even more importantly, it would allow me to create future content like “The 10 Best Players Who Deserve a Headband But Don’t Have One Yet.”
Make mid-ranges worth 2.5 points
What if we actually made mid-ranges worth more? Yes, looking at half-point scores makes my skin crawl, but it would make distance from the hoop more linearly related to points. Suddenly, the most efficient play in basketball might become the fabled Richaun Holmes push shot, and not, like, a Duncan Robinson spot-up 3!
What I love most about this is it allows every team to play to their strengths. The problem with the current 2/3 point binary is that the math is so overwhelmingly in favor of taking threes for all but the best mid-range shooters, so even teams that don’t have great shooters have to force square pegs into round holes.
But if the mid-range becomes worth more, suddenly we’d have significantly more variety in offense. A team like the Chicago Bulls, who project to be near the top of the league in mid-range scoring this year, has the potential to become a true offensive juggernaut. I love this idea and think that (besides the brutal aesthetic of having scores like 110.5 to 106.5) this is an absolutely flawless solution the league should implement yesterday. An ideal world would pair this idea with the shrinking of the paint mentioned above to allow for efficient post play; all three scoring levels could be viable for the first time in ages.
So there we have it! These are some of the ideas I and others have come up with. Do you have any other interesting rule change ideas? What do you like or not like about them? Please comment, like, share, and subscribe below:
If you couple eliminating goaltending with another "bad idea" of raising the rim, suddenly it's more interesting. If you tied rim height to avg. player height, it would have jumped up 5 inches since 1950 and who knows how much since Ole' Jimmy N. (5'10") set the rim anew in 1892.