It’s All Relative

In the run-up to this season’s Final Four we were greeted by two interesting but unsurprising commentaries. Unsurprising because they merely confirmed what we already knew: that the number of 3-point attempts in college basketball continues to surge, and correspondingly, the number of dunks has followed suit. 

In his April 8th Sports Illustrated piece, citing data compiled by Ken Pomeroy, Andy Staples recounted the record number of treys attempted in the tournament. Back in 2014 and ‘15 the percent of three-point field goal attempts per tournament game hovered around 32% but rose to 35% in 2016, then cleared 38% last season. Through the first 64 games of this year’s tournament, Pomeroy found that the average percent of three-point attempts had grown to nearly 41%.

Hoop Vision’s Jordan Sperber chimed in with a nifty chart, illustrating the trend over a ten-year period.

And what does the dramatic uptick in three-point attempts have to do with the increasing number of dunks generated in this year’s tourney?

Josh Plano’s March 28, 2019 piece at FiveThirtyEight.com revealed that six of this year’s Sweet 16 entries had a dunk share, or percent of 2-point attempts, exceeding 10%. Four years ago, only one did. “This is less about a few dunk-crazed teams and more a reflection of the nationwide trend in college basketball,” reported Plano. On the eve of the Final Four, the season had produced 19,550 dunks, about 2,000 more than just five years ago.  

And the reasons?

“We’re seeing more dunks,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas told The New York Times, “because there are more spectacular athletes out there.” More significantly, though, Bilas cited the symbiotic relationship between 3-pointers and dunks. 

The rise of the three as a strategic weapon has created an either-or game: you shoot the three or drive to the rim for a high percentage layup or dunk. You avoid all other lower percentage 2-point attempts. Throw in the long-range accuracy of a Carson Edwards or Kyle Guy and the crazy athleticism of players like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, and you end up with lots of threes and dunks. 

Again, interesting but not really surprising. 

While the three-pointer has greatly influenced offensive schemes and strategy, I sometimes wonder if the media echo chamber has overly dramatized its importance, imbuing it with near magical qualities when its actual benefits are, in many ways, quite relative.

Continue reading…

The Basket is True North

When I launched better than a layup in 2014, I outlined ten laws or principles that undergird the game and define its nature. Since then, I’ve presented detailed essays on the first two.

Time Trumps Territory is appropriately basketball’s first law for it is the cornerstone upon which the remaining laws are built. We learned that basketball is fundamentally a game governed by time, not by the space in which it takes place. We play within the dimensions of the court and are constrained by its boundaries, but we don’t capture territory. Instead, we pass through it and must assault the basket according to timelines established by various clocks: the game clock, the shot clock, and the various “countdowns” employed by the officials to govern different situations of play – inbounding the ball, crossing the half court line, etc. Additionally, we must contend with other forms of time that are not governed by an actual clock: tempo or pace, reaction time or long it takes for one player to react to the movement another player, and rhythm or how well the moving parts of the game are “timed” or in sync with one another.

There are no static lines or fronts in basketball. It’s not a stop-start-stop game during which the offense and defense align across from one another, snap the ball to initiate play, then, do it all over again in a contest to seize territory. Instead, the action is continuous and fluid, the teams seesawing back and forth between offense and defense, the position of the players constantly shifting in relationship to the ball, the basket, and the movement of one another.

And, it is in the midst of that continuous and fluid action that we discovered basketball’s second law, Space Shapes Time. One’s ever-shifting position on the floor in relationship to the ball, the basket, and the other players shapes time, either shrinking or stretching it. Identifying and reacting properly to the angular and spatial relationships between these elements minimizes the disadvantages of the slower players and maximizes the opportunities of the quicker ones. Spacing between players creates avenues to the basket or chokes them off.

In a game of time, characterized by ever changing spatial relationships, coaches and players need a set of navigation tools to help them recognize and make choices quickly. What are the principles by which you read or “see” the game and its myriad of choices? How does one plot the game’s “latitudes and longitudes” accurately? How does one develop “court sense”?

Understanding basketball’s third law – The Basket is True North – provides the navigation tools needed to answer these questions.

Click here to read Basketball’s Third Law

Space Shapes Time

In a post several years ago – Time Trumps Territory – we explored basketball’s first law. We learned that basketball is fundamentally a game governed by time, not by the space in which it takes place. We play within the dimensions of the court and are constrained by its boundaries, but we don’t capture territory. Instead, we pass through it and must assault the basket according to timelines established by various clocks: the game clock, the shot clock, and the various “countdowns” employed by the officials to govern different situations of play – inbounding the ball, crossing the half court line, etc.

Success in a game like football rests on seizing territory and improving your team’s field position even if you are unable to score during a particular possession. You take control of the field in ten-yard chunks. As you advance the ball across the field toward the goal line you “control” that portion of the field that you have crossed – it’s “behind” you; you “own” it. To improve your position on the field, you may even turn the ball over to your opponent by punting. In effect, you trade a difficult position and an unlikely chance to score for a more favorable location, biding your time until you can regain possession. Football is a chess match over territory.

In basketball there are no static lines or fronts. It’s not a stop-start-stop game during which the offense and defense align across from one another, snap the ball to initiate play, then, do it all over again in a contest to seize territory. Instead, the action is continuous and fluid, the teams seesawing back and forth between offense and defense, the position of the players constantly shifting in relationship to the ball, the basket, and the movement of one another.

And, it is in the midst of that continuous and fluid action that we discover basketball’s second law: Space Shapes Time.

Click here to read Basketball’s Second Law

… Consequences

In my last post we explored the law of unintended consequences – that strange phenomenon that often occurs when we take an established routine or “way of doing things” – cutting the grass, driving to work, drafting a memo, playing a game, virtually anything – and change the routine or rules or circumstances under which the activity takes place.

Sometimes the change produces the outcome we desire; in other instances, the opposite occurs, often because the participants shift their behavior in unexpected ways in response to the initial change in routine. The well-intended result in one area often ripples into an unintended consequence in another.

I promised to explore how the law of unintended consequences has played out in the world of college basketball. Here goes. Continue reading…

Unintended…

Imagine waking up tomorrow to discover that you’ve been named head coach of a new franchise in a newly formed professional league called the North American Basketball Association. Like their counterparts in the NBA, your squad will play on a traditional sized basketball court outlined with the same markings and using a basket suspended ten feet from floor. For all practical purposes you’ll be coaching the same game under the same rules… but with one, critically important difference.

There’s no game clock.

The first team to reach 50 points determines half time. The first team to reach 100 is the victor. Game over. Continue reading…