The 2001-2002 NBA season was the first time the league instituted the zone defense, due in large part to the dominance of Shaq and the Lakers. So when Mark Cuban suggested the NBA push back the 3-point line earlier this year it made no sense, because it would only help Warriors star Stephen Curry, not stop him.
Teams couldn’t double team Shaq because of his superior passing ability. If they sent two defenders, teams were sure to get a sizzling pass from the big man to a cutting player and an open basket. Left alone he would back-down his man or spin around anyone for an easy basket. The zone defense was supposed to stop that, and for the most part it did a good job.
The fact is more NBA players, big and small, shoot three pointers more effectively nowadays. This is in part thanks to an evolution in the game. Long gone are the days of traditional big men, save Tim Duncan, and the style of play more resembles European basketball than ever before. There are very few players who can play back to the basket in the low post. Statistically the NBA’s 3-point attempts has increased every year since 1996, the last time they pushed the line back.
In the 1997-98 season, there was the biggest decrease in shot attempts and field goal percentage behind the arc and those stats have increased every year. Pushing the line back now would create a similar phenomenon, but players would just adapt. Eventually there would be more attempts as the years go on. In the immediate, only a handful of players and a couple teams would feast on this new rule, namely the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors.
Take into account it would make mid-range jumpers less valuable, as the league already shoots a historically low number of mid-range shots at 25 percent of all attempts. This would have an effect, as Mark Cuban says, on drives to the basket, but that statistic already is increasing with every season, as less teams take mid-range shots and go for the high percentage look.
This rule change would give Curry and Kevin Durant a clear advantage, as both shoot a high-percentage beyond 25ft. The only other player to shoot over 42 percent from that range is J.J. Reddick. The Warriors are the highest shooting team beyond 25ft at 42 percent, and Curry specifically is 46 percent from that range. Pushing the line back would do the opposite of what the NBA did to curtail Shaq’s dominance. Considering the shot he hit from the parking lot to bury the Thunder in OT last week in Oklahoma City 121-118, The Warriors would have a clear path to the Finals every year with that rule change.