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Statistics hint 3-pointers unintentionally slowed games down in the NBA

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After the introduction of the 3-point line, NBA teams learned how to use it the right way.

Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In 1979 the NBA established a 3-point line in hopes of introducing a more entertaining product for its audience. Figures show the time between field attempts increased from an average of 14 seconds to 18 seconds. Numbers change from season to season, but a general pattern emerges over time. (see table below)

Using an extra 4 seconds per possession to get 3 points instead of 2 points per attempt makes perfect sense for a team. In 2005 the average number of assists dropped below 21 per game (20.5) for the first time since 1958, because less assists were needed for points generated on field goal tries.

A 1972 change in the rules reduced the importance of great free-throw shooters by eliminating free throws for a foul until the fifth one per quarter (except for shooting fouls). Obviously free-throw attempts, not the amount of fouls called, immediately dropped from 31 to 25 per game that season.

The most important innovation in the modern NBA game was the introduction of a 24-second shot clock in 1954, which lead to huge increase in field goal attempts. 1960 witnessed a FGA peak of 109, versus 85 last season.

When it was first introduced by the NBA, the 24-second shot clock made players so nervous that it hardly came into play, as players were taking fewer than 20 seconds to shoot. According to Syracuse star Dolph Schayes, "We thought we had to take quick shots – a pass and a shot was it – maybe 8–10 seconds... But as the game went on, we saw the inherent genius in Danny's 24 seconds – you could work the ball around [the offensive zone] for a good shot."

By 1998 the NBA regressed to a boring 78 FGA per game, which approached the pre-shot clock lows of 77 FGA in 1952. Defense wins games at the cost of running a money-losing franchise like the slow-paced Memphis Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs.

The Miami Heat increased their pace in last season’s last 41 games, and used the fact that an assist for a 3-point conversion counts 50% more than an assist for a 2-point basket. Good news for Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, etc, bad news for Hassan Whiteside and fellow dunkers.

Constructing a Heat roster consists of getting the ball out to 3-point perimeter threats as efficiently as possible, while finishing at the rim with over a 65% EFG% for a balanced offense. Dion Waiters is underrated in his ability to drive and kick to open teammates for 3-point baskets. That aspect of assists doesn’t get properly weighed, because on the stat sheets the numbers by themselves don’t say whether the assist lead to a two-point or three-point bucket.

Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, because their backs are to the basket on a post-up and face the perimeter, have excellent opportunities for assists from the post area to teammates for 3-point baskets this coming season. Time is of the essence, since less than a month remains for Miami to get their game plan off to a fast start and successful conclusion this season.

Seconds between FGA

YEAR FGA FG% FTA AST PPG SEC
YEAR FGA FG% FTA AST PPG SEC
2016 85.4 45.7% 23.1 22.6 105.6 16.9
2015 84.6 45.2% 23.4 22.3 102.7 17.0
2014 83.6 44.9% 22.8 22.0 100.0 17.2
2013 83.0 45.4% 23.6 22.0 101.0 17.3
2012 82.0 45.3% 22.2 22.1 98.1 17.6
2011 81.4 44.8% 22.5 21.0 96.3 17.7
2010 81.2 45.9% 24.4 21.5 99.6 17.7
2009 81.7 46.1% 24.5 21.2 100.4 17.6
2008 80.9 45.9% 24.7 21.0 100.0 17.8
2007 81.5 45.7% 24.9 21.8 99.9 17.7
2006 79.7 45.8% 26.1 21.3 98.7 18.1
2005 79.0 45.4% 26.3 20.6 97.0 18.2
2004 80.3 44.7% 26.1 21.3 97.2 17.9
2003 79.8 43.9% 24.2 21.3 93.4 18.0
2002 80.8 44.2% 24.4 21.5 95.1 17.8
2001 81.3 44.5% 23.8 21.9 95.5 17.7
2000 80.6 44.3% 24.9 21.8 94.8 17.9
1999 82.1 44.9% 25.3 22.3 97.5 17.5
1998 78.2 43.7% 25.8 20.7 91.6 18.4
1997 79.7 45.0% 26.3 22.0 95.6 18.1
1996 79.3 45.5% 25.3 22.0 96.9 18.2
1995 80.2 46.2% 26.4 22.7 99.5 18.0
1994 81.5 46.6% 27.1 23.4 101.4 17.7
1993 84.4 46.6% 26.6 24.4 101.5 17.1
1992 86.0 47.3% 27.7 24.7 105.3 16.7
1991 87.3 47.2% 26.7 24.5 105.3 16.5
1990 87.2 47.4% 27.9 24.7 106.3 16.5
1989 87.2 47.6% 28.5 24.9 107.0 16.5
1988 89.0 47.7% 28.8 25.6 109.2 16.2
1987 87.7 48.0% 29.1 25.8 108.2 16.4
1986 88.8 48.0% 30.5 26.0 109.9 16.2
1985 88.6 48.7% 30.3 26.0 110.2 16.3
1984 89.1 49.1% 29.4 26.3 110.8 16.2
1983 88.4 49.2% 29.7 26.2 110.1 16.3
1982 89.7 48.5% 28.3 25.9 108.5 16.1
1981 88.2 49.1% 28.6 25.2 108.6 16.3
1980 88.4 48.6% 28.9 25.5 108.1 16.3
1979 90.6 48.1% 27.8 25.8 109.3 15.9
1978 91.7 48.5% 28.3 25.8 110.3 15.7
1977 92.9 46.9% 28.4 25.0 108.5 15.5
1976 92.0 46.5% 27.7 23.9 106.5 15.7
1975 91.7 45.8% 26.9 23.0 104.3 15.7
1974 91.1 45.7% 25.2 23.8 102.6 15.8
1973 93.9 45.9% 25.4 24.6 105.7 15.3
1972 96.9 45.6% 25.3 25.2 107.6 14.9
1971 95.5 45.5% 31.2 24.1 110.2 15.1
1970 98.0 44.9% 32.7 24.3 112.4 14.7
1969 99.4 46.0% 33.7 24.7 116.7 14.5
1968 99.0 44.1% 35.0 23.1 112.3 14.5
1967 100.8 44.6% 37.1 22.8 116.6 14.3
1966 103.1 44.1% 36.2 22.4 117.4 14.0
1965 102.4 43.3% 37.0 22.9 115.5 14.1
1964 99.8 42.6% 35.6 21.0 110.6 14.4
1963 99.4 43.3% 35.0 21.4 111.0 14.5
1962 101.2 44.1% 35.9 22.7 115.3 14.2
1961 107.7 42.6% 37.1 23.9 118.8 13.4
1960 109.4 41.5% 37.4 24.2 118.1 13.2
1959 108.7 41.0% 35.8 22.6 115.3 13.2
1958 102.3 39.5% 36.3 19.6 108.2 14.1
1957 101.9 38.3% 38.3 19.6 106.6 14.1
1956 94.6 38.0% 36.9 18.9 99.6 15.2
1955 91.4 38.7% 38.0 24.3 99.0 15.8
1954 86.4 38.5% 35.9 23.6 93.1 16.7
1953 75.4 37.2% 33.0 20.3 79.5 19.1
1952 77.1 37.0% 35.9 21.0 82.7 18.7
1951 80.8 36.7% 33.2 21.9 83.7 17.8
1950 83.6 35.7% 33.4 21.0 84.1 17.2
1949 83.1 34.0% 33.0 19.6 80.0 17.3