Of all the superlatives that have been used to describe Stephen Curry this season, the best may have come from Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who in late December compared Curry to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Two months later, Carlisle had proof when Mark Cuban, his boss, said it is time to begin considering change.
“It’s not long before the discussion will start – and I guess I should start it – about pushing back the 3-point line,” Cuban said to reporters last week. “Guys are shooting them from a foot behind it, anyway.”
Cuban said adding distance to the 3-point line “opens up the court for more drives, more mid-range game. It would open it up so guys with different skill sets could play. Guys with mid-range games would be rewarded.”
That is interesting because there was a somewhat similar sentiment in 1994, and the solution was to move the 3-point line nearly two feet closer to the basket, which resulted in a 22-foot arc. Team executives believed at the time that the closer 3-pointer would draw defenses away from the basket, unclog the lane and create more room for players to operate down low.
It did not happen. Teams averaged 101.5 points in the 1993-94 season. The following year, with the closer 22-foot 3-point shot, teams averaged averaged 101.4.
Three-point attempts per team did increase by about 50 percent from 811 in 1993-94 to 1,244. And the league-wide percentage increased from 33.3 percent to 35.9 percent. But team scoring did not increase.
The shorter shot lasted two more years, and in 1996-97 – the last year of the experiment – scoring was down to 96.9 points per team and the lanes did not open up. The NBA went back to the uneven arc of 22 feet in the corners and 23 feet, nine inches straight away from the basket.
More intriguing than the merits of moving or not moving back the line, however, is the impetus for such a change.
As Cuban noted, players are shooting more 3-pointers, and that is because Curry has led the way. In each of the three seasons before the current one, Curry attempted at least 600 3-pointers. No one else did that.
This season, it took him only 56 games to surpass 600 3-point attempts, and he is almost certain to become the first player in the 37-year history of the 3-point shot to average more than 10 attempts a game.
Right now, Curry is the only active player among the top 18 in single-season 3-point attempts. Damian Lillard is No. 19 with 572 attempts last season. But except for Curry, every other player who has had more attempts than Lillard last season is retired.
That will change this season because Lillard, James Harden and Klay Thompson are on pace to attempt more than 572. The three of them might crack the top 10 for most single-season attempts.
That means, however, that we are in only the first year of Curry’s true impact. If you check their career stats, Harden, Lillard and Thompson have never been shy about taking 3-point shots. But Curry has demonstrated that even more really can be better.
In 2011-12 – the first season Curry had at least 600 3-point attempts – the average number of attempts per team was 1,213. This season, the projected number of 3-point attempts for each team is 1,939.
But here is one of the problems with moving the 3-point line back a foot or two. Despite what Curry and the other great shooters have made it seem, the 3-point shot is not easy.
There have been rule changes in the past to negate some of the advantages of height, particularly near the basket. In 1951, it was too easy for George Mikan to stay close to the basket, so the lane was widened from six to 12 feet. In 1964, because of Wilt Chamberlain, it was widened again to 16 feet.
The NBA never banned the dunk, but the NCAA did from 1967 to 1975 because of the height and superior athleticism of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Let’s think about this for a second. Mikan was 6-10 and 245 pounds; Wilt was 7-1, 275; and Kareem played at 7-2, 225.
Curry is 6-3, 190 – perhaps the smallest player in history to have such a major impact on offense that some see the need for making a 3-point shot more difficult. Curry has simply made it look too easy.
There have been discussions in the past about raising the height of the rim to 11 or 12 feet to make it harder to dunk. There is little doubt that today’s players are bigger and bulkier than they were 50 years ago, and there has been discussion about widening and lengthening the court, which will not happen now because of those high-revenue courtside seats.
But it is a tribute to Curry’s excellence that someone now believes a way needs to be found to limit the dominance of a 6-3, 190-pound player. There is no doubt a bit of hyperbole in the Gates/Jobs comparison, but there is little doubt that Steph Curry is changing the game.
Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.
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