The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, October 09, 2019 1:00 am

Moving line won't move needle

Teams think effect of 3-point distance will be minimal

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

ROSEMONT, Ill. – One of the central developments in basketball over the last decade has been a matter of simple math. Teams at all levels, from the Golden State Warriors down to small high school squads have realized three is more than two.

That epiphany has led to an explosion of 3-point shooting, especially in the NBA and college basketball in the 2010s. In college, Division I men's teams made an average of 7.8 3-pointers per game in 2018-19, an all-time high.

To combat the rising tide of 3-pointers and give slashers some extra room to work in the middle of the floor, the NCAA's rules committee decided to move the 3-point line back from 20 feet, 9 inches to the international competition line of 22 feet, 13/4 inches this season.

The change is the first to the college 3-point line since 2008, when it was moved back from 19 feet, 9 inches.

If history is any guide, the line moving back won't dissuade teams from chucking from deep, at least in the long term. In the shorter team – this season, for example – there might be a dip in attempts. Teams shot 0.8 fewer 3-pointers per game after the distance changed in 2008, but attempts quickly rebounded as shooters adjusted.

Purdue coach Matt Painter, whose team ranked eighth in the country in 3-pointers made last season at 10.1 per game, said the new line will affect everyone differently depending on preexisting skills.

“I think the guys that can make 3s, it's probably not going to bother much, and the guys that are trying to (become) 3-point shooters, it's really going to bother,” Painter said. “We have a couple guys that are working towards trying to make 3s now. (The new line) made it really hard for them.

“But the guys that already shoot 3s that walk on campus and that's the reason they're there, we really look into their skill level when we take them.

“As the season progresses and you look at guys' percentages, I think you can end up seeing, for certain teams, people really packing it in and making you earn it from the 3-point line.”

Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, whose team ranked in the top 40 nationally in opponent's 3-point percentage last season, had a different take. He expects the difference in the game to be minimal.

“As I've watched it with our team through the summer and then now this fall, players adapt really quickly,” Gard said. “It'll be interesting to see what the percentages do. I think they may dip a little bit.

“Does it change defensive concepts, does it bring more zone into play, do teams squeeze the floor and pack it in even more? I don't think so too much, just because I've watched our team adjust and shoot it in our drills and in our workouts relatively the same as what it was in a little closer.”

One shooter who doesn't believe the line will affect him much is Indiana's Devonte Green. He would know better than most in the Big Ten, since he played with the new distance in the 2019 NIT, the second year the tournament was used as a testing ground for the new distance. The North Babylon, New York, native went into the tournament on fire from beyond the arc after hitting 66.7% in Indiana's previous four games. 

Green made 37.5% in Indiana's three tournament games, slightly down from his season mark of 41%, though he still managed to knock down nine 3-pointers and help the Hoosiers reach the quarterfinals.

His percentages were in line with the overall NIT, where teams shot 33.8% from 3-point range, compared to 35.8% for the same teams during the regular season.

“I think it will have a small impact on shooters because we usually shoot a step back from the 3-point line anyway,” Green said. “Guys who toe the line, like (small forwards or power forwards), it might have a little effect on them because it's a little farther and takes a little time to adjust to.”

For defenses, the biggest issue might be having more space to cover on a close-out and a longer distance when they help off their man on the perimeter. Indiana's aggressive defense gives it an advantage in this area, as well, according to Green.

“It spaces out the floor a lot more, for sure,” the senior captain said of the new line. “It's a little bit more ground to cover, but we pick up guys a step above the 3-point line anyway, so we're kind of used to guarding guys at that level.”

The bottom line: Don't expect the 3-point revolution to be slowed by a one-foot movement.

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