Change in 3-point line leaves many questions

Nov. 11, 2008


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The adage is that you live and die by the three-point shot. Last year, few if any teams knew that saying better than Vanderbilt. When they were on, they were on, shooting 42.4 percent from long range in wins. And when they were off, they were off, connecting on just 31.4 percent of three-pointers in losses.

For the season, Vanderbilt hit 39.9 percent (303 of 760) of its three-point attempts, which was tops in the Southeastern Conference and 10th in the nation. Among SEC teams, only Tennessee attempted more three-pointers than Vanderbilt's 760.

Last year's assault from beyond the arc is nothing new for the Commodores as of late. Since the three-point line was established 22 seasons ago (1986-87), Vanderbilt has never relied on the three as much as it has in recent years. The team's three highest three-point outputs have all come in the last four seasons.

However, that trend may change this season. Over the offseason, the NCAA rules committee decided to move the distance of the three-point line back from 19'9" to 20'9". With the regular season yet to get underway, it is hard to quantify how much the increased distance will change the game.

"I think it will affect the game some, but I don't think it will affect it a terrible amount," junior guard Jermaine Beal said. "I think if anything, defenses will change more because team's will try to make others shoot outside more often."

And unless you are Bruce Bowen of the San Antonio Spurs, who led the NBA in three-point shooting in 2003 at 44.1 percent, but made just 40.4 percent of his free throws, the odds are that the increased distance will lower the percentage and the number of attempts.

Judging by the recent numbers, a decrease may be just what the game needs.

When the three-pointer was instituted in time for the 1986-87 season, teams attempted only 9.2 three-pointers. That number has steadily increased to a record high of 19.07 attempts a game in 2007-08. Teams also made a record high number of threes per game (6.72) last season.

Because of the change in distance, junior guard George Drake believes players who can knock down jump shots will see their games flourish.

"I think it will give guys who have the midrange game the opportunity to make a move off the dribble and pull up," Drake said. "I think it will open it up in the paint and extend the defense out a little bit."

Head Coach Kevin Stallings sees the increased distance potentially having the opposite effect on the game.

"I don't think that it will make a whole lot of difference relative to the opening up of the game," Stallings said. "In fact, it might open the game less. It might be that people pack it in more because of the increased distance and therefore, the game is not actually opened up, it is actually more crowded."

There may be a lot of uncertainty regarding how much the change will impact the game, but if there is one thing Stallings is certain of, it is that Vanderbilt will not attempt as many threes as it has in the past.

"We won't shoot as many threes this year as we have in the past," Stallings commented. "We don't have the number of three-point shooters, so we won't cast as many."

The decreased number of three-point attempts will certainly give Vanderbilt a different look from recent years. Last year, 33.4 percent of Vanderbilt's points came from beyond the arc. In addition, 38.0 percent of the team's shots were three-pointers. Just two years ago, 42.4 percent of Vanderbilt's shots were three-pointers. In 2005, 45.0 percent of Vanderbilt's shots were threes, which led to the team scoring 39.9 percent of their points from long range.

Beyond the challenge of having to shoot from a longer range, one of the largest challenges for the players has been adjusting their bodies to the new distance after years of inherently knowing where they were on the court in relation to the three-point line.

"The biggest thing is knowing where you are on the floor because if you aren't careful your foot will straggle over the line because you are thinking about where it used to be," Drake noted.

It may take time to adjust to the change, but Beal believes the move is good because it will help prepare players for the next level of competition. While the new distance is still shorter than the NBA's distance that ranges from 22' to 23'9", it is longer than the distance of 20'6" in international competition.

"I think it's a good change. (The distance) is similar to what it is overseas and the NBA is even further, so if anything, it is helping to prepare us to play at the next level."

The increased distance will certainly help prepare players for the next level, but Stallings also sees where the distance could expose players, who don't have the shooting range that is needed at the next level.

"I think it will certainly separate the guys who are pretend shooters as opposed to the ones that really can shoot."



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