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Clang, Clang, Clang Goes the Ball
Phil Taylor
December 16, 1996
That noise you hear is being made by errant shots heaved up by stagnant NBA offenses
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December 16, 1996

Clang, Clang, Clang Goes The Ball

That noise you hear is being made by errant shots heaved up by stagnant NBA offenses

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Reduce the Shot Clock to 20 Seconds

It's hard to score when you don't shoot, and teams have been shooting less and less in the past few seasons. Through Sunday the average number of shots per team was 78.7 this season, about 25 less than 30 seasons ago and 10 less than a decade ago. It's possible for a team to make 50% or more of its field goal attempts and still score under 100 points, which was almost unheard of in the 1980s.

The main reason for the decline in shots is that the fast break is going the way of the dinosaur. More teams are using almost all of the 24-second clock before they shoot. "There's more of an emphasis on transition defense," says Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "Teams naturally wind up walking [the ball] up out of habit, because you're not going to be rewarded by running it."

The prevailing philosophy in the NBA once was that the team that took the most shots was most likely to win because its opponent would have to sink a higher percentage to beat it. The success of methodical teams like the Cavaliers (12-6 at week's end while scoring an average of 87.9 points and surrendering 80.1) has helped change that. "Cleveland wishes it had a 45-second clock," says Orlando general manager John Gabriel. Now many coaches think that if you limit the number of possessions by milking the clock, you will give yourself a better chance to win.

Fine. Just give teams less of the clock to milk. A 20-second clock would give both teams more possessions and more shots, and it would encourage teams to push the ball down the floor in a hurry, either for fast-break points or to get into their offense sooner.

Move the Three-Point Line Back

In 1995 the three-point arc was moved in from a maximum distance of 23'9" from the basket (where it had been established in '79) to a uniform 22 feet. There is growing sentiment, especially among coaches, for moving it back out. "The first thing moving the line in did was send a message to every guy in the league who isn't a three-point shooter that he can be one," says Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens, mindful that the league-wide three-point percentage was 35.7% through Sunday. "It looks so close, they all want to shoot it. Sometimes it makes me want to cry, and I'm not just talking about my own team. The second thing it did was make it much easier to double-team because you're defending a much smaller arc."

With the current three-point line, defenses can have the best of both worlds. A particularly agile defender like Pistons swingman Stacey Augmon can sag in to double-team Knicks center Patrick Ewing in the low post and still get out fast enough to get a hand in guard Allan Houston's face when Ewing passes the ball back to Houston on the perimeter. "The old line stretched the defense," says Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello. "The new line does not. The old line, you had to think, Do we commit a guy out there? Do we play off him, dare him to shoot?"

It's time to force defenses to take those calculated risks again. The elite marksmen—Houston, the Pacers' Reggie Miller, the Golden State Warriors' Mark Price et al.—would still be dangerous from beyond the arc. Some of the players who are marginal three-point shooters at the current distance, including such high scorers as the Rockets' Charles Barkley (32.4% from beyond the arc through Sunday) and the Dallas Mavericks' Jim Jackson (34.4%), would be less tempted to shoot from beyond the line and would concentrate more on midrange jumpers, which would probably make their shooting percentages rise.

Encourage Offensive Innovation

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