Basketball’s long shot


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, March 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It…

AUDIO: Steph, with no timeout…six, five… Curry, for the lead… …GOOD!

The National Basketball Association, along with NCAA officials, were among the first major sports leagues to suspend competition earlier this month due to the Coronavirus.

EICHER: Yet, it’ll be back, eventually. 

Now, basketball’s been around for nearly 80 years. But in the past decade or so, the game’s begun to change. And that’s because of the three-point shot. 

Now, when we start playing and watching again, you’ll have the opportunity to notice the change in the game — from stadiums to kids on the blacktop.

BASHAM: Obviously, we reported this story awhile ago when people could still get together on basketball courts. So here now is WORLD correspondent Maria Baer.

AUDIO: [DRIBBLING, CLAPPING, WHISTLE]

MARIA BAER, REPORTER: 12-year-old Christian Smith likes to let ‘em fly.

SMITH: I just shoot a lot of threes. 

Christian and his curly-headed brother, Cameron—both men of few words—play on the same 6th grade basketball team at the Hilltop YMCA in Columbus, Ohio. 

AUDIO: [DRIBBLING, SHOES SQUEAKING]

Their coach says the Smith brothers shoot more three-pointers than every other kid on their team, combined. They’re copying what they see in the pros.

AUDIO:  LeBron for the tie… he’s got it!

That’s what kids do, right? They watch their heroes and mimic what they see. Well in the case of professional basketball, what they’ve seen over the past 10 years is a major transformation. Take the Smith brothers’ favorite player, for example.

SMITH: Lebron.
SMITH: Probably LeBron James.

To be clear, this is LeBron country. Columbus is about two hours south of Akron, Ohio, where King James grew up. In 2003, LeBron’s first year in the NBA, he attempted an average of two three-pointers per game. This year, he’s averaging six. That’s a big deal.

Morris Michalski—or Coach Mo—is a basketball specialist for Athletes in Action.

MORRIS: Sometimes I think about it as like, when you have a compost heap or you’re burning leaves or something like, when the leaves are wet, at some moment there’s going to be an override and everything bursts into flames. And I feel like for three-point shooting that’s what’s happened in the last 10 years.

Coach Mo has led college basketball teams for nearly 40 years. He’s also worked with NBA players and Olympians. He says the three-point revolution started because someone finally did the math.

MORRIS: They say if you can just make 50 percent of your shots, that team is going to be a really efficient offensive machine. So a 50 percent shot from 2 point area, is the equivalent of a 33 percent shot from out here.

Here’s basically how it went: a few years ago a coach for the Phoenix Suns told his team to start taking as many shots as they could per game. Didn’t matter what kind of shot necessarily, just more of them. Everyone—analysts, other coaches, other players—thought it would never work.

And for a few years, it didn’t, really. The Suns never won a title. The critics claimed vindication. Then came the lightning bolt.

AUDIO: Does Curry hit another three… for the record… GOOD!

Stephen Curry is six-foot-three. In basketball terms, that’s … short. Curry’s not big on the slam dunk. Instead, he became the best three-point shooter of all time. He combined the strategy of taking as many shots as possible with his own savant-like talent for shooting threes and took his Golden State Warriors all the way to an N-B-A title. That silenced the critics. And completely changed the game.

Ryan Pedon is the offensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes’ men’s basketball team.

PEDON: I think there’s a trickle-down effect. That generally happens within our sport where the NBA sort of evolves… the NBA game transforms and to some extent college will follow…

Pedon’s been coaching for 20 years, and he’s seen the three-point shot change dramatically during that time. 

PEDON: If you’re going to win at the highest level you’d better be able to shoot and make three-pointers.

Pedon said when he was a kid, basketball games were more like a mass of bodies driving down the court, getting as close to the basket as possible, and popping the ball up toward the hoop. Now that the three-pointer is having its day, Pedon says the game has spaced out.

PEDON: It’s made the game less physical, it’s allowed for more creativity, it’s allowed for more spacing on the floor.

In 1986, when college basketball first introduced the 3-point shot, teams attempted three-pointers an average of 16 percent of the time. For this year’s Buckeyes, that average has more than doubled.

PEDON: If you’re looking at our stats, 41.4 percent of the time we’re going to be relying on the three-point shot.

Back at the Hilltop Y, Johannah Couch, who coaches Cameron and Christian Smith’s sixth grade team, totally gets the thrill of the three-pointer. She played in college herself. But here’s the problem: in order for an onslaught of threes to be successful, the players have to be able to, you know, make the shot.

COUCH: They just come down and shoot 3s, sometimes they can make them and that’s great, if they make it keep shooting. But if they miss it they just keep shooting, And they’re blind to their open teammate under the basket.

Although Couch says the Smith boys are particularly good at threes, she still discourages them from shooting too many. Fellow coach Cody Jones sees the problem, too.

JONES: Because kids are taking their shot, falling away, turning around, that’s a big thing that kids like to do. Because you see a guy like Steph Curry, who is the best three-point shooter of all time, and he’s playing right in front of these kids’ eyes, he’s shooting the shot, he turns around, he’s laughing, he’s smiling, he’s waving at the crowd.

The kids don’t see Curry spending his early morning hours at the gym, Jones said, shooting three after three until his arm gives out. That’s a teaching moment.

AUDIO: [BASKETBALL PRACTICE, “LET’S GO LET’S GO!”]

Jones, Couch, Pedon and even Coach Mo all agree the three-point revolution has made the game more fun, both to play and to watch. That’s a good thing, because no one—from the NBA down to the Hilltop YMCA, is looking back.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Maria Baer in Columbus, Ohio.


(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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