Newspaper article International New York Times

3-Point Shot Grabs a Place in Playbook ; Called a Gimmick at First, It Now Is a Vital Part in Every Team's Offense

Newspaper article International New York Times

3-Point Shot Grabs a Place in Playbook ; Called a Gimmick at First, It Now Is a Vital Part in Every Team's Offense

Article excerpt

In the 3-point shot's first year, 1979-80, N.B.A. teams averaged fewer than three attempts a game. Now they're averaging 24.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were rookies. Bill Walton's move to the Clippers -- the San Diego Clippers -- was making headlines. Some N.B.A. finals games were still being broadcast on tape delay. And the league tried something new: a 3-point shot.

Its debut, in the 1979-80 season, was inauspicious. The New York Times's season preview called the shot a "gimmick" in its headline and twice in the first two paragraphs. "It may change our game at the end of the quarters," Phoenix Suns Coach John MacLeod told The Times. "But I'm not going to set up plays for guys to bomb from 23 feet. I think that's very boring basketball."

The Boston Celtics' president, Red Auerbach, told The Times earlier that year: "We don't need it. I say leave our game alone." He theorized that the reason behind creating the shot was that "TV panicked over the bad ratings."

Oddly enough, a Celtic, Chris Ford, is credited with making the first official N.B.A. 3, on opening night against the Houston Rockets. Each team wound up with one in the game.

The shot soon settled in as a rarely used weapon. At the end of that first season, teams had averaged fewer than three 3-point attempts per game.

Thirty-six years later, the 3-point shot has gone from a gimmick to a vital part of every team's offense, and few would call it boring. This season, teams were averaging 8.3 3-pointers -- on 23.7 attempts -- each game entering Wednesday. Both of those figures would be records, breaking marks set last season.

It is not just desperate, long-shot teams that use the 3 as a weapon, as some early critics feared. The Golden State Warriors, one of the best teams of recent times, were averaging 30.1 attempts a game.

There are many reasons for the rise of the 3-point shot, but one may simply be math. It took a while, but coaches finally stopped listening to the traditionalist naysayers and realized that a shot that is worth 50 percent more pays off, even if that shot is a little harder to make.

"Teams have all caught on to the whole points-per-possession argument," Lawrence Frank, the Nets' coach at the time, said in 2009 as the 3 rate began to rapidly increase.

While the idea of a 3-point shot had been kicking around basketball for decades, it really took off with the founding of the American Basketball Association in 1967. But even in the run-and- gun A.B.A., teams shot from long range only occasionally, five or six times per game on average.

Three-point shots gradually increased in popularity through the 1980s and then jumped to 15 attempts per game, from 10, during a three-year experiment from 1994 to 1997 with a slightly shorter line. When the line reverted to its present distance, 23 feet 9 inches, the pace slowed only briefly. …

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