What if 2-Pointers Were Worth 3 and 3-Pointers Worth 4 in Basketball?

Longtime readers of this site back when we were on the old server (I will forever grit my teeth in anger at our previous host losing all our content from 2015-16 and making the stuff from 2016-17 all but impossible to search; that’s why this site migrated to a WordPress server in 2017, but that’s a story for another day…)

Anyway, I wrote a piece suggesting that we turn 2-pointers into threes and 3-pointers into fours in an effort to mitigate the spread in eFG% that comes with one shot from farther away from the basket being worth fully 50 percent more than other shots that are closer to the basket.

And while such frivolities are, for a variety of reasons, impractical (just imagine the score of an average NBA game if every shot that goes in is worth an extra point; all the scoring records would instantly be rendered incomparable and useless), with a growing cadre of people who should know better insisting that the 3-pointer is “killing basketball”, clearly we need to humor them and suggest something.

Because Kirk Goldsberry clearly spent enough time in the Spurs organization that it warped his brain, as he went on Rachel Nichols’ show on ESPN, with Byron Scott on the panel (man, how perfect a forum for pooh-poohing the triple than one featuring a guy who contributed his name to one of my biggest bugbears), to complain that the NBA needs to move the 3-point line back to “preserve the diversity of the game”…and that was then expanded upon by the panel as if it was going to magically bring back the midrange jump shot.

The midrange jump shot is dead, and that’s the best thing that’s happened to the league since it came out of the Dark Ages! What idiot would possibly want to watch crappy, inefficient, get-up-by-20-and-you-win basketball compared to the wild games today where you can’t even turn the game off when the Warriors are up by 31 points at home?

But OK, sure. Let’s create a world with no corner threes, no perimeter ball movement, just the same #FireNate garbage that Indiana Pacers fans have had to endure, with no joy on our end that isn’t a result of Victor Oladipo succeeding in spite of rather than because of his coaching, for the past three seasons.

But really, if we’re going to be making wholesale changes to basketball, here’s an idea: Let’s lower the gap between the value of a midrange jumper (or a dunk) and a three.

If 2-pointers are worth 3 points and 3-pointers are worth 4, here’s the relative value of every shooting category, league-wide, for the 2018-19 regular season, according to Basketball Reference, along with, in parentheses, the actual values for 2 and 3-point attempts under the current system.

0-3 ft: 1.974 (1.316)
3-10 ft: 1.200 (0.800)
10-16 ft: 1.239 (0.826)
16 ft-3pt: 1.203 (0.802)
3-point: 1.420 (1.065)

So…well, guess what. You can change the relative value of the points and still establish that anything shot beyond the arc is better than anything shot within it that isn’t a layup or a dunk. Because midrange shots blow, they’ve always blown, and they will always blow.

Let’s consider the score of the average NBA game under the new scoring system.

In 2018-19, teams shot 52 percent on 57.2 two-point attempts a game. That’s 59.5 points.

Teams shot 35.5 percent on 32 three-point attempts a game. That’s 34.1 points.

And teams made an average of 17.7 free throws per game.

Total it all up and you get 111.3; the official league average was 111.2, rounding errors accounting for the difference.

Now let’s just for the sake of pure argument assume the same numbers but with 3- and 4-point shots, and let’s wait just a second to talk about free throws.

That’s 89.3 points for “threes” and 45.5 points for “fours”, plus those 17.7 FT, equals 152.5 points per game if strategies are not in any way adjusted for the narrowing of value between a three and, if not a midrange jumper, at least a dunk.

I dunno, maybe having a game where the average score is 152.5 would just open up even crazier avenues for huge comebacks!

After all, we’ve just raised scoring 37 percent by doing nothing more than messing with the values, so wouldn’t Golden State’s 31-point lead be roughly worth a 42- or 43-point lead?

Sure, you lose the sweet “3-1 lead” joke, but man, no 43-point lead is safe! What fun for fans!

But there’s one elephant in the room here.

What About Free Throws?

We can assume certain things about a free throw rule.

One, the “and-one” would still be an and-one, creating four-point plays on three-point shots the way the current “three the old-fashioned way” works. That element of basketball would not change.

But would you send someone to the line for three shots on a “two-point” foul and four shots on a “three-point” foul? How boring would that be? We’d be back in the bad old days of “three-to-make-two” that made the end of pro games as unwatchable as today’s college games.

Here’s a better idea, and it’s one that rewards good free throw shooters.

The first free throw is worth one point.

The second free throw is worth two points, but only if you made the one-pointer first.

Or, if it’s on a four-point shot, the second FT is worth one point and the third FT is worth two points only if you made the first two.

Either way, you can get as many points from the line as you used to, and you’re rewarded if you make ’em both (or ’em all.)

Or, if you think that this will create too much Hack-A by putting that two-point free throw out of reach of poor free throw shooters, you could front load it. Make the first free throw worth two points and each additional FT worth one. As long as you make at least one FT on the trip (and unless it’s an and-one, which is still just a one-point FT), you get enough points to do damage to your opponent.

Make one free throw out of two now and you get half as many points as you would on an uncontested make without a foul.

Make one free throw out of two under that latter rule and you get two-thirds as many. Teams would be afraid to foul, and that would open up defense and lead to a much more wide-open game, not that the NBA needs to make it any easier to draw cheap fouls on the defense (James Harden, looking at you.)

But that would at least level out free throw scoring relative to the new value of field goals without creating slogs at the line.

What’s My Point?

My point is that basketball isn’t just fine the way it is.

Basketball is GREAT the way it is.

Eliminating the midrange jumpshot from most teams’ playbook led to more ball movement, more scoring, more variance so no lead is safe and fans don’t turn the game off early, and a distillation of the game to long-range bombs and inside dunks and layups.

Although I am fully in favor of any rule change that reduces the number of free throw attempts per game. Let ’em play!

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