Evolution: How the three-pointer has changed the game

Herald File Photo by Nic Antaya
Jasper's Claire Knies shoots a three-pointer earlier this season against North Harrison. As the game of basketball continuously evolves, area girls basketball coaches shared their thoughts on what the shot has brought to the game and how it's impacted the high school level.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

For the past decade, the three-point shot has been all the rage at all levels of basketball. For most of its existence the game of basketball was played with a focus on getting the best shot as close to the hoop as possible with jump shots and trips to the foul line sprinkled in during the course of a game. But with the introduction of the three-point shot in the 1960’s and its adoption into the NBA in the 1979-80 season, the game suddenly added a long-range dimension which fundamentally changed the way that coaches and players approached the game.

However, even though the three-ball has been in the game for decades now, the last ten years or so has seen its use take off like a satellite launched by NASA. A few of the area girls basketball coaches look to the league and the success of the NBA's Golden State Warriors as the main primer for basketball’s increased focus in the long-range game in recent times.

“You have to pinpoint it to the NBA,” said Northeast Dubois girls coach Andy Chinn. “Arguably the best player in the game right now is Stephen Curry. (The Warriors) are so successful, they have all those guys that can shoot the three, and people see them winning. It’s definitely changed the game.”

“You see teams using it at all levels more and more, especially with the success that the Golden State Warriors have had at the NBA level,” said Forest Park girls coach Tony Hasenour. “They just do an unbelievable job of spreading you out, and if you leave that three-point shooter open they’re deadly.”

What was once looked at as a luxury is now a necessity for basketball teams at all levels if they hope to achieve any sort of success on the court.

Coaches are designing whole offenses and building entire teams around the idea of either killing teams from downtown or spreading out the floor with shooters to create more driving lanes into the paint.

“It creates more scoring options for different types of players,” said Jasper girls coach Jessica Mehringer, who first encountered the three-point shot as a sophomore in high school in 1987 — a year after the NCAA universally implemented the shot. “It allows someone to practice different parts of the game offensively. If you have a player that can hit the three-pointer, why wouldn’t you take a three-pointer? We don’t want to take a 19ft two-pointer. It changes the number of possessions in a game. If you’re down three you’re only down a possession, not two. A lot of coaches have sets in their arsenal that allow them to get looks that are going to help them close or extend a gap.”

But there are pitfalls that come with the use of the three-pointer. As much as teams can live by it, so too can they die in a game where the shot isn’t falling which can cause players to panic, force bad shots, and lead to disjointed possessions. So coaches are challenged with finding that balanced mix of shots for the team and teaching the players better shot selection.

“It’s a tricky thing,” said Hasenour. “We’ve been in games where we hit a bunch of threes and win, or you go 2-20 or something and you’re keeping a team in the game that you should be able to handle. We’re always trying to teach the girls to think the game and recognize what’s going on, make the proper adjustment, and give us the best chance to win.”

“If you’re outside game is not working, you have to do whatever it takes to get it going,” said Chinn, who owns a couple of three-point shooting records at Tell City High School. “Whether that’s driving the ball or going to the free-throw line, once kids find their comfort level they can expand their game outside. It’s hard sometimes, with all the plays and sets we have...if they’re not falling it could be a long night. On the reverse side, if they’re falling it could be a long night for the team trying to guard you.”

Not everyone is a big fan of the three pointer.

Herald File Photo by Brittney Lohmiller
Heritage Hills' Claire Heckel is one of several threats the Patriots have from downtown. Several area coaches give credit to the NBA's Golden State Warriors for the revival of the three-point shot as high school athletes try to emulate what they see from players such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on a nightly basis.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shared his thoughts on the game of basketball recently, and thinks that the three has turned the game into a boring, predictable sport where everyone just runs out to shoot threes. Some of the area coaches lean towards that line of old-school thinking, while others love what the three-pointer has done for the game and see it as a natural evolution of the sport.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s had a negative impact, but I miss some of the game play that you used to see at the higher levels. When you could watch Larry Bird and Magic (Johnson) and see the great passes they would make in halfcourt opportunities,” said Mehringer. “You don’t see that as much now because everything is a one-on-one or a drive-and-kick. But I love basketball so it’s cool to be part of the evolution of the game, and to be able to fall in love with it all over again.”

“I think there is the potential for that with teams jacking up 30 threes a night and they go cold, it could make for some ugly basketball.” said Hasenour. “But this is the next generation of what basketball is like. Like the Detroit Pistons in the early 90’s, they made it all about defense so you saw teams making it a physical contest. Now we’ve evolved into the shooting age and trying to spread the floor out as much as possible. Right now we’re in the sweet spot of that, but if it goes too far it could make for some ugly basketball.”

Everyone has different feelings when it comes to the three-point shot, but almost everyone agrees that you must account for it on both ends of the floor in order to be successful in today’s game. How the game moves forward is anyone’s guess, but the trey shot has cemented its place in the playbook for many years to come.

“If anything were to change, I think at some point they might have to scoot the line back at different levels,” said Chinn. “If they do that you might see teams try to figure out how you can pound it inside, work on that mid-range game. But until they do that and make it more of a challenge to get three points, I think we’re going to be headed in the same direction.”




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