Five Years Later: Has Longer Three-Point Line Achieved Desired Results?Posted by BHayes on October 3rd, 2013
With five full seasons of college basketball’s 20-foot, 9-inch three-point line under our belt (formerly 19’9″), now would seem like a good time to take inventory on the impact of the rule change. There was ample debate back in summer 2008 on just how much of a difference the extra foot would make, but believers, and more importantly, the enforcers (the NCAA) trusted that the new line would promote better offensive spacing, and again make the three-pointer an option for only the finest of shooters. Those on the other side of the debate refused to believe that a measly 12 inches would alter a whole lot, with common refrains ranging from “players will be able to adjust very quickly” to “most three-point attempts came from well beyond the arc anyways.” So which group gets to say “I told you so” now? We have a large enough sample size to draw legitimate conclusions, but if we recall the initial objectives of the rule change – increased floor spacing and a decrease in non-shooters attempting the shot — it’s hard to argue that the evidence shows anything but mixed results.
At the simplest level, the new line served its purpose: Three-point shots have been harder to make since 2008-09. In the last decade, the peak of three-point shooting proficiency came in the final year of the 19’9” line, when players shot 35.02% from distance. That number immediately plummeted to 34.18% in the first year with the new line — a significant drop when you consider that the largest shift in percentage in the five years prior was just .21%. Also worth noting is that the overall percentage in each of the last five years is well below even the lowest percentage (34.49%) in the five years before the change. StatSheet has some wonderful visual representations of this data, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that college players are simply not making as many threes as they did when the line was shorter. No PhD necessary to deduce that they are also taking fewer threes – another desired outcome for the rule book authors back in 2008. Total attempts saw a drastic decline between 2007 and 2008, as the average of 38.25 3FGAs per game fell to just 36.73 in the year after the change. That number has experienced a relative flatline in the four years since – a sharp interruption to a decidedly upward trending graph in the years prior.
So we succeeded right? Three-point shots are being attempted less often, and when they are, they are finding the net less frequently than they did in the years before the longer line. Well, let’s call it mission partially accomplished. Three-point shooting is now closer to again being a niche skill reserved for the most elite of shooters, but has this shift provided the corollary and desired impact on floor spacing? There are many, many variables that come into play when answering this question, but on the surface alone, it’s very difficult to argue that it did. The college game is as slow and grinding as it has ever been, and while we can talk all we want about loose officiating, enhanced scouting options, and the ever-improving athleticism of players, it’s hard to believe we wouldn’t have been able to see at least some spacing benefits of the new line in recent years – provided they were actually there. Instead, we bore witness in 2012-13 to the lowest scoring college basketball season since 1951-52, and only the most optimistic of viewers can see an end in sight for the offensive drought. While inefficiency from beyond the arc doesn’t help light up scoreboards, it’s obvious that reasons for the offensive slowdown go well beyond the new three-point line, so it’s hard to offer any sort of direct cause-and-effect relationship here. That being said, the catalysts for change could not have been hoping to see the progressively slower brand of basketball we have witnessed over the last five years.
In 2008, Charlotte head coach Bobby Lutz told ESPN’s Andy Katz that the new three-point line “should allow for more mid-range games and spreading the floor.” In theory, Lutz was right. With more space to operate between the key and three-point line, the value of a player with a good mid-range skill set can only increase. But how many of those players actually exist in today’s sport? Every color analyst known to man has told us about the dying art of the mid-range game, and trite as it may be, there really are few players out there who utilize it efficiently. So in this post-19’9” era, we have fewer players who can efficiently score from deep, still fewer capable of taking advantage of the added space inside the line, and just as many bruisers occupying the paint. It’s no recipe for offensive beauty, but at least for now, it’s the world that college basketball is living in.