‘Leap’ into March, 3Pt Shot 2020

This is a free day; no charge for the extra 24 hours of Leap Year 2020.

I’m leaping off my usual topics of travel, books, and occasionally movies or stage shows to something that has been a passion since the 1970s: college basketball, particularly the “March Madness” of the NCAA Tournament.

Today I’m analyzing the 3-point shot. Here’s a history lesson for that shooting distance (feet and inches) during the existence of the three-point shot in the men’s game:

2007-08: thru that season, the 3pt line was 19', 9"
2008-09: the line was moved back to 20', 9"
2019-20: the line was moved back to 22', 1 3/4", the International distance

It seems there has been no drop-off with this season’s longer line. Things are not always as they seem, eh? Analysis makes those “things” clearer. I’ll get to the data in a moment.

Why would the longer distance not cause a drop in shooting? My theory was that the distance had the following effects:

  1. Yes it was harder for the offense to shoot from there
  2. But it was also harder for the defense to cover that distance
  3. So defenders “helping” away from 3-point shooters were caught
  4. Help defenders could not recover to guard the 3-point shot adequately
  5. A 3-point shooter could stand at their shooting spot, and
  6. Upon receiving the ball, easily assess that the defense cannot “close out”
  7. More 3-point shots were essentially uncontested, stand-still shots
  8. The less-contested nature of the shot offset the distance difficulty.
It seemed simple. It was all clear. Analyzing the data could prove the case. And the proof arrived in two parts, each partly disappointing and each wholely enlightening:

  1. There is a drop-off in 3-point shooting; the premise was wrong
  2. The conjured theory was a well-known fact for coaches
    … from the outset!

Here is the analysis I “leapt” into on Leap Day that led me to that two-part conclusion.

All-teams 3pt shooting has been reduced:
3Pt% is down 1.1 percentage points (and 1.75 points over 2 years)
   33.47% in 2019-20 vs. 34.54% in 2018-19 (35.2% 2017-18);
which is more than the 0.8% decline in 2008-09
   34.4% in 2008-09 after 35.2% in 2007-08
3Pt Attempts are down 0.7/gm,
    21.72 in 2019-20 versus 22.45 in 2018-19
    the “same” 0.8/gm drop occurred in 2008-09
3pts-Made are down by 0.5/gm,
    7.27 in 2019-20 vs. the peak 7.75 in 2018-19
3-point shooting accounts for the 1.5-point drop in team scoring to 71.17ppg thusfar in 2019-20, from 72.71ppg in 2018-19.
Next question:
Is there a different picture for the best of the best at this skill?
Highest Tier of 3pt teams (the top 5) also reduced:
3Pt% is down about 1% among the top tier vs 1.1% overall
    39.0% for #5 UC Davis 2019-20, vs 40.0% for #5 FDU in 2018-19
    tho #1 BYU 2019-20 at 42.2% equals #1 Lehigh 2018-19 at 42.3%
3Pt-Made are down 1/Gm among the top tier vs. 0.8 overall
    10.3 for #5 N. Colo 2019-20, vs. 11.2 for #5 Quinnipiac 2018-19
    with 11.9 for #1 N. Fla 2019-20, vs. 12.4 for #1 Winthrop 2018-19

Again, the total impact is that overall scoring has declined 1.5 points thusfar in 2019-20, to 71.17ppg vs. 72.71ppg in 2018-19.

Well! There has been a drop-off with the greater distance.

But the theoretical part of this study was still intriguing, namely that perhaps the effects on defense had not been understood as much as the effects on offense.

Research showed that the NCAA conception of the impact from moving the 3-point line had 3 components:

->[Open] the lane more ... for dribble/drive plays
->Slow the trend of the 3-point shot
->Assist in offensive spacing
That third component merited less attention in media reports and is the gist of my theory above. But coaches immediately recognized the importance of spacing for the offense and closeouts by the defense, particularly coaches of teams that make heavy and highly effective use of the 3-point shot:
->"Good spacing, (Winthrop Coach Pat) Kelsey says, 
  [will] help increase high-percentage 3-pt chances."
->“We’re going to have to have some more plays that 
  attack long closeouts,” (Wofford coach Jay McAuley)
Both quotes were included in the NCAA’s rationale for moving the 3-point line:
Conclusion: I am the Christopher Columbus of the 3-point shot,
(1) thinking I have discovered something only to later uncover that Amerigo Vespucci had taken the necessary next steps to work beyond the first impressions and find the real data; and
(2) realizing after historical analysis that the coaching equivalents of Leif Ericsson and the Vikings arrived at this point long ago.
But one might never know unless one is willing to make a Leap!

*Footnote: Data for the current 2019-2020 season is through games played as of 02/27/2020.

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