Cleat Geeks

Modern Era of the NBA: Bombs Away

The birth of the 3 point shot in the NBA happened in the 1979-1980 season. From that point on their has been a gradual shift in the way the game is played.STEPHCURRY-articleLarge

The 3 point shot didn’t become a weapon teams used with regularity right away. It wasn’t until the 1986-1987 season that entire teams averaged one made 3 per game. To give perspective on just how little the 3 was used in its infancy, Steph Curry averaged nearly 5 bombs per game by himself this season.

This year’s playoff run has seen 3s dropping in record numbers. The Cleveland Cavs made 46 long balls in their previous 2 games. The style of play has allowed teams like the Warriors and Cavs to thrive, effectively changing the winning formula in the modern NBA.

Stockton&MaloneA look back into the history of the game shows the game has done a 180, and without having proof of what lies ahead, the changes appear to be permanent. In the 1980’s, power forwards like Kevin McHale and Karl Malone played almost exclusively inside of 15 feet. McHale, who for my money is the best post player the NBA has ever had, may have had a difficult time keeping up with the pace and athletes today’s game offers. Karl Malone and John Stockton were pioneers of the screen roll back in their heyday. A pick and pop during their era usually resulted with Malone getting a look somewhere around the elbow, which turns out to be around a 15 footer. Nowadays the pick and pop often results in the big receiving the pass for a 3 ball after his defender has committed.

Photo by: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere around the turn of the century a new position seemed to come out of nowhere in the league. With the amount of European players ingratiating themselves into the league at an all time high, skill sets started to change. With overseas teachings of the game being different at the time, players of all sizes were coming to the league with the skills of perimeter players. The birth of the “stretch 4” was here. The prototypical stretch 4 was around 6’10, could handle the ball, and had a nice stroke from deep. The perfect example of the modern-day stretch 4 was Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk came to the league in 1999 as a 7 footer with a stroke out to 25 feet, could make plays with the pass, and was adequate on the glass. In ’99 Dirk was something of a unicorn. These days every team has at least one stretch 4.

The change in style has caused a guy like Anthony Davis, who is a marvel in the paint, to extend his range. Davis is arguably a top 8 player in today’s game, but after a few years in the league there was talk of “he’s a beast, but it would be great if he could stroke the 3.”

By the 1999-2000 season, teams were averaging 4.8 made 3s per game. The wheels of evolution were churning.

magic-johnsonDuring the 1980’s most floor generals were guys that looked to set their teammates up with open shots on almost an exclusive basis. Magic Johnson was the epitome of the pass first point guard, leading his “Showtime” Lakers to 5 titles during the decade. In today’s game, the pass first point guard is becoming more rare. Isaiah Thomas enjoyed a Hall of Fame career during his years in Detroit. He was a phenomenal passer and defender, along with a 2 time champ. He was one of the first scoring point guards in the history of the game. Just like the stretch 4, the scoring point is now on display throughout the league.

The list of scoring point guards is a mile long these days. It would be much faster listing the guys who are still pass first guards. Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo are a dying breed, as the pass first guard has slowly fallen out of favor in today’s game. Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and Steph Curry are all examples of scoring point guards. They all have crisp handles, can shoot from anywhere, and in the case of Westbrook, arguably the most athletic player of all time.

The scoring point has the ability to make shots from downtown off the bounce. Some pull up for 3s in transition, a move that would all but certainly landed a player on the bench back in the ’80s. They look to create their own shot just as much, if not more, than to set up their teammates.

Their ability to get in the lane on a consistent basis has changed the game. With stretch 4s on the court alongside 2 wings that can also stroke from deep, penetration loosens up the D by forcing them to close out on perimeter shooters. “Penetrate and kick”, “pin and pitch”, and “drive and dish”, are all phrases a fan might hear while watching a game on TV.

The remaining 8 teams in the playoffs all have a commonality. They all have a guard who can get in the lane, and either finish at the cup or kick it out to the perimeter for an open 3.

nash2s-1-webWith teams like Steve Nash’s “7 seconds or less” Suns, the league average of 3s made swelled to 6.5 per game in the 2010-2011 season. Nash was the pioneer of the high screen roll we are now seeing in Golden State. He came off the high pick, and would either cash a midrange J or get to the paint and find a shooter for an open look.  This style was spreading like wildfire throughout the league. Today there are far more teams playing the pace and space game and shooting 3s than there is playing a more traditional game.

The game is continuously changing. Teams are playing with small guards, with no 5 man. Some stretches during games coaches are playing their 5 best players, regardless of position. Many of the league’s top coaches play unconventional lineups in an attempt to force the hand of their opponent. The defending champion Warriors often play a lineup1 of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green. The tallest of the five is 6’8, and they all possess the ability to splash 25 footers.

The pace in today’s game has risen to an average of 95.8, up from 90.5 during the 2005-2006 season. Pace is an advanced metric used to quantify how many possessions a team averages per game. The game is speeding up gradually, but still falls short of the pace prior to the induction of the 3 point line. The year the NBA implemented the 3 point shot the league average pace was 103.1. The league was run and gun across the board back then. The 1979-1980 season was shortly after the NBA/ABA merger. The ABA was famous for its up and down style. The league is trending in the direction of the ABA style, but there’s still a way to go to reach a league wide pace of 103.

The NBA is becoming a more entertaining, aesthetically pleasing product as the style of play changes. When teams are hot from deep it is exhilarating. Conversely, when a team is cold from downtown it can be a painful to watch. Player development will continue to evolve. Players will become more efficient at the 3. This should translate to this style of play being more than a flash in the pan.

If you ask me, players launching bombs isn’t going away. I love it. I feel like the pro’s outweigh the con’s and that it makes for a much more exciting brand of basketball. If a Golden State vs. Cleveland match-up materializes and they can make it to the Finals without injury, we are assured that we will see 3s going up early and often. Winning titles with this style makes the case for pace and space offense to become a permanent fixture in today’s NBA.

Leave a Reply


If you like this site or just simply want to school your friends because you got the information first.  

Join us on the field! Click on any of the links below.

%d bloggers like this: