It isn’t as if the Los Angeles Lakers were completely averse to the three-point line last season. Byron Scott infamously blamed it for several societal ills prior to the team’s 21-win season, but four teams shot fewer threes than the Lakers last year, and the team’s mark of 19 attempts per game would have been a bit higher had Kobe Bryant and Nick Young (who combined to shoot a whopping 11 per game despite poor percentages) not missed 87 games.
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It turns out it wasn’t even the three-pointer Byron Scott that was afraid of. It appears as if he was merely waiting to embrace the four-point shot. A shot that, currently, does not exist.
“I think the 3-point line is exciting,” he said. “I would add another line and make a 4-point line as well. I’d say let’s go another three or four feet back and that’s a 4-pointer.”
Scott led off his anti-trey campaign in 2014 by telling the press that he would like to only take 10 to 15 three-pointers a contest, going against a modern NBA orthodoxy that says that nailing a three-pointer even at a league average clip is no bad thing. His Laker players betrayed him in that realm, with the aforementioned Kobester and Young combining to outpace Scott’s “10” by themselves, but even that bit of freedom only dragged the Laker offense to 24th last season.
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Part of that was due to the team’s makeup, as the Lakers have already taken 97 (making 28, 28.9 percent) three-pointers in the exhibition season over four losses.
Point guard Jeremy Lin was not a lights-out shooter for the team in his lone season as a Laker, there was only one stretch power forward on the roster, and the team’s swingmen were low usage guys. Kobe Bryant will retire as one of the great scorers in NBA history, but he shot over five threes a contest despite awful results (a 29 percent mark), and he’s managed just one season over the league’s average percentage in his Hall of Fame career.
Kobe did lead the team and the league in a statistic that he and his coach probably don’t care about, though they should.
According to John Schuhmann at NBA.com, a whopping 69 percent of Bryant’s shots were contested jumpers last year, just edging teammate Nick Young for the league lead in that. The leaderboard also features big names such as Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin, but all three of those players were working in a down year, and nobody approached the ten (!) contested jumpers per game that Kobe put up.
Maybe that’s the reason Scott wants a four-point shot. He’d rather Kobe line one up just as he crosses the half-court line, rather than relying on a “weapon” that led to his 37 percent shooting last season.
Bill Oram at the Orange County Register notes that the NBA did at least consider talking (if not consider placing) up a four-point line in 2014, but even with the increase in perimeter scoring it’s hard to see the NBA moving in that direction. The any new line wouldn’t affect the most desirable of three-pointers, the corner three, and there’s no way the league is going to expand the court (and lose valuable seating) in order to accommodate a gimmick shot.
The three-pointer was considered a gimmick shot, it’s fair to say, until only recently. Teams have been relying on it to punch out reeling opponents since the 1980s, but it took until last year’s Golden State Warriors (winners of 83 out of 103 total games) for a champion to arrive that used the bomb so extensively. Even sharpshooting recent champs in San Antonio, Miami and Dallas still attempted to go from the inside-out.
It’s hard to get over the “gimmick” stereotype when the line itself was only added to the court to drum up publicity for the fledgling American Basketball League in 1962. The ABA brought the line to their league when they fired up four years later, but because the NBA laughed down its sleeve at both outfits during their existence, it was slow to embrace the carryover line upon its installation in 1979.
A four-point line would also be treated with such derision, as most would pinpoint the genesis of a new line on either MTV’s old ‘Rock and Jock’ basketball matches, or Antoine Walker’s infamous (and possibly apocryphal, as I’ve heard it credited to gunners from the 1980s) comment that he shoots so many three-pointers “because there are no fours.”
Many NBA players are certainly capable of mustering the strength to nail 27-footers, but for a player that has made a point for his entire basketball life to shoot from as close to the three-point line as possible, a new length of shot probably isn’t widely practiced. From there you would have issues with long rebounds, and the morphing guesswork as to what would make a great percentage (30 percent might seem unseemly, but the eventual payoff would be big) from a shot that would rarely send you to the line.
It’s also worth noting that the three-point line has acted as the league’s go-to bugaboo before.
As a response to a decline in scoring, the league moved the line in to 22 feet in 1994, making it a continuous half-circle and the same distance for straightaway shots as it was from the corner. Players half-joked about the rash of three-pointers that would be hoisted by those that shouldn’t be that far away from the basket (Vlade Divac’s name was mentioned), and scoring continued to drop even as three-point percentages rose. One team, Dick Motta’s 1995-96 Dallas Mavericks, took a whopping 25 attempts per game – unheard of at the time (they would have tied for tenth in 2014-15).
What the NBA didn’t realize is that it was its strict ban on zone defense (which encouraged a slow, stagnant two-man offensive game), its refusal to crack down on hand-checking, and the stubbornness of the era’s slow-down coaches that were getting in the way of 110-point nights. Bringing the line in only added to a crowded interior landscape, as teams attempted to work on the two-man games and low post moves of the day, and it was moved back to 23-feet, nine-inches after just three seasons.
The NBA has enjoyed a scoring renaissance over the last decade due to the abolition of strict illegal defense rules, a ban on hand-checking, more flexible coaches, and an abundance of younger players who grew up not only taking three-pointers, but understanding its value in comparison to the sort of contested two-point jumpers that Kobe and Nick Young led the league in last year. Because players and coaches will always be slow to adapt, however, you won’t be seeing many defenses scramble as a shooter lines up at the four-point line. Their attitudes, just instinctually, will mirror those of their predecessors as they watched Chris Ford line up for a trey in 1979. “Go ahead. Take it.”
Perhaps that’s where Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant come in. Maybe Byron wants to give his guy a chance to retire as the all-time leader in four-pointers attempted, and hopefully made.
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