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…

… 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…

Rise & Fire

If you’re shopping for a terrific last minute Christmas gift for your favorite basketball junkie (perhaps yourself?), look no further than Shawn Fury’s Rise and Fire, The Origins, Science, and Evolution of the Jump Shot – and How It Transformed Basketball Forever.

It’s a wonderful addition to any basketball fan’s bookcase.

As the book jacket reveals, Rise and Fire traces the history of how the jump shot revolutionized the game, “shedding light on all corners of the basketball world, from NBA arenas to the playgrounds of New York City and the barns of Indiana. Award-winning journalist, Shawn Fury, obsesses over the jump shot, explores its fundamentals, puzzles over it complexities, marvels at its simplicity, and honors some of basketball’s greatest moments.”

Fury’s exploration of the jump shot has special significance for readers of betterthanalayup.com.

When I launched the site in 2014 I outlined ten immutable laws or principles that define the nature of basketball and govern its play. These laws are fundamental to understanding, coaching, and playing basketball. Once mastered they form a prism through which one can “see” the game, appreciate its simplicity, and master its subtleties. At the center of the ten is the all-important Fifth Law: A jump shot is better than a layup. For me it’s the cornerstone on which modern basketball theory rests and why I named my site betterthanalayup.

Pick up a copy of Shawn Fury’s book. You’ll like it.

The Best Matching Zone You’ve Never Seen

We’re three months into the 2013-14 season and the more vocal critics of the new hand-check and block/charge rules are beginning to quiet down. (See C.J. Moore and Matt Norlander’s recent columns.) Compared to last year at the same point in time, fouls are up by only four while scoring has increased by six, and most games have been completed in less than two hours.

I happen to think that the rule changes are the best thing to happen to college basketball in a long time. Eventually the players will more fully adapt, learning that defense is played with one’s feet and heart, not with arms, hands, and hips.

In any event, some coaches are turning to various forms of the zone defense in an attempt to cut down on fouls and keep their starters in the game. In early December, using statistics compiled by Synergy Sports Technology, The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen reported that the use of zones was up by a 6% since last year with Top-25 teams facing zones on nearly 24% for their half-court sets.

If that news sparks your interest in the zone defense, here’s an in-depth look at the most comprehensive match-up ever devised.

Click here to read Rediscovering Gene Sullivan’s Matching Zone Defense, Part I