Cutting the trey down to size
Earlier this year in an essay for Bleacher Report, I showed that the payoff for the three-point shot has become grossly disproportionate to its degree of difficulty, and proposed two methods through which the NBA could remedy the situation. Granted, league bigwigs at this point simply aren't interested, but awareness is building that it makes no sense to transform the vast mid-range expanse into a howling wilderness. Most of the scoring artistry from past decades came from this area. But it's being phased out, derided by the analytics crowd as "inefficient." Alas, that's generally true, but it wouldn't be if 25-foot shots were worth two points, as was the case until the 1979-80 season.
I first took up this cause in the 2004 Hoopshype essay "Compute to Achieve" (the link for which is either temporarily or permanently inactive):
A common lament these days is that the mid-range jumper is going the way of the dinosaur. Are Glenn Robinson, Richard Hamilton and Sam Cassell the last of a dying breed? Only if NBA poobahs keep thinking like dodo birds.
Because the NBA awards a ridiculously high 50-percent bonus for every shot sunk behind the arc — 3 points instead of 2 — a player making a paltry 35 percent of his trey attempts generates more points than a hard-working sap sinking 50 percent of the same number of mid-range attempts. Thus, it’s perfectly rational for a perimeter player to work hard at mastering the 24-footer, even if it takes practice time away from 15-to-20 footers or requires him to alter his stroke so it’s better suited for long distance than medium distance.
To revive the mid-range game and get field-goal percentages on an upward trajectory, cut in half the bonus for beyond-the-arc shots. Make the shot worth 2.5 points, and sell it to the masses by anointing it the “5-spot,” “the Lincoln” or “el cinco.”
At the time I didn’t realize that hardly anybody makes half his mid-range attempts, or that 42 percent is an excellent mark. In retrospect, my 2.5 proposal was far too generous, so in the 2015 Bleacher Report piece I not only trim the subsidy, I give teams the right to opt out of the trey entirely (when at home) by playing all home games on an arc-less court. This would make for a dramatic home-court advantage, particularly if, say, Memphis nipped Golden State for best record and thus had Game 7 at an arc-less Grindhouse.
(This post was revised and expanded Aug. 7, 2015.)