In the N.B.A. Western Conference semifinals, the team that revolutionized professional basketball only a few years ago, the Warriors, is facing the team that has taken Golden State’s 3-point-bonanza style to an extreme: the Houston Rockets.
The story of both teams, who meet Tuesday in Game 2, is 3-pointers delivered in bulk. In 2015-16, the Warriors’ Stephen Curry attempted 886 3-pointers, an N.B.A. record that seemed untouchable. This year, the Rockets’ James Harden crossed that threshold with three weeks remaining in the season, finishing with 1,028 3-point attempts.
The strategy may rankle older fans and coaches who still view the 3-point line as some sort of gimmick, but more than ever, N.B.A. teams understand the probabilistic value of a 3-point shot. If a 24-foot shot has almost the same likelihood of going in as a midrange jumper, but it’s worth three points instead of two, why bother with the 2-pointer at all?
In his new book, “Sprawlball,” Kirk Goldsberry, a former San Antonio Spurs executive, describes the strategy bluntly: “With the exception of layups and dunks, two-point shots are simply dumb choices.”
Houston, behind Harden and under the direction of General Manager Daryl Morey and Coach Mike D’Antoni, has embraced “Sprawlball” like no other N.B.A. team. More than half the Rockets’ field goals this year were 3-pointers.
Share of all field goals that were …
Temporarily shorter3-pt. distance
Considering the success that Golden State and Houston have had, it is hard to argue with their strategy. But tradition can have a powerful hold. And some believe the game is losing its variety — similar to complaints that baseball has devolved into a game of home runs or strikeouts.
Goldsberry explores several possible rules changes in his book, including pushing back the 3-point line, narrowing the lane to encourage more post-up play, even letting teams draw 3-point arcs on their home court however they please.
Absent those changes, N.B.A. shot selection, whether people like it or not, could eventually approach a stasis: a mostly even split between 3s and 2s.
If current trends continue, the N.B.A. could be a majority-3-point-league in the 2030s. That might sound ridiculous, but it’s already happening in lots of games right now. The Rockets shot more 3s than 2s in more than 80 percent of their games this year; no other N.B.A. team came close. At one point in the Rockets-Jazz first-round series, Utah’s Ricky Rubio guarded Harden from behind on the perimeter, essentially inviting him to drive into the lane with a 5-on-4 advantage rather than allowing him to take another 3-pointer.
Percent of all games with more 3-point shots than 2-point shots