The Weekside: The NBA needs to widen the court not move back the 3-point line

Feb 27, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) prepares to return the game after having his ankle examined during action against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) prepares to return the game after having his ankle examined during action against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

The rise of Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors has led to a lot of discussion about the 3-point line and basketball’s rules. It’s often hard to tell whether this is based in a genuine belief that changes are needed or if the hoops-discussing world just needs something else to discuss while an unbeatable super team walks the earth destroying all hopes of competition.

Either way, one recent topic of debate has focused on whether the NBA should move back the 3-point line. No is the answer to that question. It’s fine where it is. It is far away and most players can’t make it that often during the course of a game.

The NBA does, however, need to move another line: It needs to widen the court.

There are many reasons for this, and the first, while perhaps the most trivial, highlights the stupidity of the current court dimensions the best.

There is just 3 feet of space in between the corner-3-point line and the sideline. Most NBA players have large feet. Shaquille O’Neal, with his size 22 shoes, may not have been hanging out in the corner enough for his hulking sneakers to matter. But “small” guys who play on the perimeter have big feet, too. Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook reportedly both wear size 15s that measure in at over a foot long. That leaves less than a foot of wiggle room on either side if they want to remain inbounds but also behind the 3-point line.

Then there are the near-7-footers, like Kevin Love (size 19), Serge Ibaka (17), and Chris Bosh (14.5), who now positioning themselves in the corner. It’s no wonder that players inadvertently step out-of-bounds so often.

There is no great resource to determine exactly how many turnovers occur this way league-wide. “Turnover type” data is messy as it is, and publicly available info is not granular enough to dig down into such trivial detail. According to NBA Miner, the worst teams commit around 2 out-of-bounds turnovers per game, and this includes at least one step-out-of-bounds turnover every two to three games (depending upon the team). Frankly, the reliability of these numbers seems a bit suspect — and we don’t know how many step-out turnovers are from this exact tight-corner situation — but there is no doubt that it happens enough to be at least mildly disruptive and highly annoying.

Anecdotally, it certainly happens a lot. It didn’t take long to comb through the turnover reel of just a few teams and find a half-dozen examples. While the tight-corner turnover certainly isn’t some scourge, this isn’t just some blunder that bad teams and players make a few times per season. It happened to an elite team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, twice within 12 minutes in one high-profile nationally televised game against the Miami Heat earlier this season. Kevin Love has done it multiple times this year. Chris Bosh does it. Paul George does it.

After one such infraction by Allan Crabbe in the montage below, a Portland Trail Blazers announcer summed up the difficulty: “You’re so worried about keeping your feet behind that short-corner 3. There’s not a lot of real estate between the short-corner 3 and the sideline.”

Such turnovers are more annoying than statistically significant though.

The more unfortunate repercussion of the tight corner is that it curtails baseline creativity. Think about all the fantastic plays that begin when a dynamic ball handler has the rock well out above the 3-point arc.

LeBron’s “No Regard for Human Life” dunk pops to mind. He had the real estate to dribble around and sieze up the defense while how to attack and gathering his momentum in order to explode by three defenders. There is Kobe’s game-winning dunk in overtime against the Raptors after earlier 3-point heroics. And picture James Harden or Russell Westbrook essentially every time they have the ball, getting a head of steam as a high pick comes out and they are able to confound defenders to make magic happen.

This doesn’t happen from the wing as often and almost never occurs in the corner. There just isn’t enough space to do much. So it becomes a location where players simple stand motionless, because relocating and returning, without stepping out-of-bounds, requires dexterity on par with Cirque du Soleil.

In the end of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, this was on full display. As amazing as Chris Bosh’s season-saving offensive rebound and pass out were, and as spectacular as Ray Allen’s game-tying 3-point shot was, it was just as impressive that Allen positioned his feet in the tiny space between the two lines amid such chaos.

Ray Footwork
Ray Footwork /

One could argue that this footwork challenge makes up for the shorter distance. At 22 feet, it’s an easier shot in terms of range than the 23′ 9″ version above the break. But it is harder than a 22-foot 2-pointer from, say, the wing because of the care that must be taken while positioning.

While that may be true, years of league-wide accuracy figures still prove that it is made at a much higher percentage than any other 3. And moreover, why should having the dexterity of a ballerina, solely as it applies to being useful when standing in a single spot on the floor, be a skill that matters in this sport? I don’t want to applaud basketball players for nailing a Fred Astaire impression. I want to know if they can get open and make shots.

Having this space crunch in the corner is nonsensical. It was never planned — it is merely a product of the artificial introduction of a 3-point shot well after the court dimensions were already set. Back when teams didn’t use it as much, it wasn’t as much of a problem.

Now it is.  It’s a gimmick.

And it isn’t a largely innocuous gimmick like, say, the clear-path foul advantage that the league felt the need to step in and regulate against. Now, games are regularly subject to lengthy replay reviews to find out of someone was fouled on a breakaway or not despite the fact that it never happened all that frequently to begin with. To fix this “problem,” the NBA essentially adopted an bastardized version of soccer’s offsides rule, each questionable instance of which must be reviewed for at least a minute.

That rule change happened, yet there is no campaign to consider a change against a corner-3 gimmick that is actually changing the way the sport is played.

The corner 3 is such a loophole that teams like the Houston Rockets have crafted their entire style of play around the accidental and preposterous fact that there is one location on the court that is mathematically easier to score from than anywhere else.

It is a good idea. The Rockets are smart. Their reliance on the corner-3 is helping them put together a much more potent offense, year after year, than they otherwise would have. So far in 2015-16, the Rockets have taken 585 corner 3s. That is nearly 150 more than the second-place Golden State Warriors, which have put up 447. And it is nearly 400 more — or 6 more per game — than the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves.

Of course, other teams could just start following Houston’s lead and take more corner 3 if it’s such a good shot. But the fact that there is a loophole to exploit in the first place is what is silly here.

But instead of talking about change — as if the width of the court is some sacred distance that most fans even know — we talk about the importance of the corner 3 in the modern game. We praise teams and players who have become adept at it like the distance disparity between the corner and straightaway distances isn’t idiotic.

There is a whole class of players — “3 & D” guys from the Bruce Bowen mold — who aren’t particularly good shooters. But they have become offensive weapons in today’s game because, while lacking the range to consistently make actual 3-pointers, they can hit the shorter ones from the corner.

Wesley Johnson, for example, is fourth in the league in corner-3 attempts. He makes nearly one corner-3 per game while hitting 44.7% of his shots from there. But he has made just 22.4% (25-for-125) of his other 3-point attempts. Trevor Ariza, the league leader in corner attempts, makes 44.5% of the short ones but just 32.9% from everywhere else behind the line. PJ Tucker, 10th in corner attempts, makes 37.5% vs. 26.2%.

This isn’t cherry picking. These are the league’s highest-volume corner-3 shooters despite the fact that they are not capable of making shots from 23′ 9″. And it isn’t just a few 3-and-D types that post these differences. The league-wide average on corner-3s is 37.3% compared to just 34.8% from above the break. That’s an enormous difference.

The math on when it makes sense to take a 3-point shot is pretty simply. Ignoring some other small variables, if you can hit a 3-pointer 33.3% of the time compared to a 2-pointer 50% of the time, then there is no real advantage either way. It’s a wash.

So if the league is hitting above-the-break 3s at 34.8%, that is a better shot than a 2-pointer that can be made 50% of the time. But not by much.

A corner-3 though? At 37.5% leaguewide? Or, even better, at an Ariza-level 44.5%? Well, then it’s almost insane not to take one.

The evidence is overwhelming: Corner 3s from 22 feet are way too easy to be worth the same amount of points as shots from 23′ 9″.

So instead of campaigning to move the line back, why not just actually enforce the distance that someone, decades ago, determined made a shot difficult enough to be worth more points? Rather than just taking that 23′ 9″ distance and saying “But, it doesn’t fit on our court” and coming up with a dumb solution, (“we’ll make 3-pointers from the corner easier because otherwise we have to re-draw the out-of-bounds line and, I dunno, I guess it’s 1980 and paint is expensive?”), how about just actually making all 3-pointers equal?

Widen the court.

But how wide?

The new width must be a minimum 53′ 6″ in order to fit a full 23′ 9″ arc and preserve the current 3-feet of room on each side. That’s literally the least the NBA could do.

I propose wider, however, to allow extra space in the corner for dribble moves and creativity with the ball behind the (true) arc. Let’s say we add another 3-ish feet for that — giving about 6 feet of space behind the line in each corner — and bring the total width to an even 60 feet. It would open up the half court more, lead to more exiting action on the baseline.

And most important of all, it would bring order to shot values so that they game strategy would not longer be dictated by an arbitrary accident of history.

Or, you know, we could just keep the current idiotic set up.

We can keep pretending it’s actually an arc.

And we can maintain the illusion that a corner-3 is actually a difficult shot that should be worth 3 points instead of a dumb loophole that has made math-based shot selection as important as the ability to actually shoot a basketball.

Quit Reaching

LeBron James doesn’t need me to defend him. At this point, a Dream Team of lawyers couldn’t win him a trial in the court of opinion. He is over-analyzed and constantly scrutinized regardless of what he does.

Most recently, he was mocked across the internet for failing to go all out in what would have likely been a futile attempt to prevent a Paul George dunk.

A few things are obvious. He clearly did stop running back. He probably could not have prevented the younger, transition-savvy, dunking extraordinaire Paul George from scoring. Most of the coverage of the play sounded the same.

Of course, this is the Vine era, and all media outlets post short video clips with little to actually say about them. That’s just the norm now in a landscape that has made page views so important. So there’s nothing wrong with showing the clip and ribbing a four-time MVP for how this play looked.

But some of the remarks about this one were biting in a way that only coverage of LeBron can be. Here are a few of the headlines, with the one referencing his salary most showing the depths of the enmity many have for the Cavaliers star.

In fairness, a few of this articles have a fine point of view. His team won the game, they note, and they don’t seem overly concerned with connecting his “quitting” and “giving up” on this play to his overall character. Others do, however, in a way that is not just dishonest to his whole career but what had been occurring in this very game.

Probably because most of the people writing about this weren’t even watching that game. But at this point in the matchup, with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, LeBron had scored 23 of his teams 48 points. He was 10-for-15 on the night and it wasn’t just hot shooting. He had been attacking Paul George and the rim all night, repeatedly blowing by defenders and playing in a way that his biggest critics wish he would all the time. Attack, attack, attack. Effort, effort, effort.

He had been pouring sweat in the first half while carrying a team that was shooting 9-for-30 (30%). More than half of his shots at come at the rim, as he drove again and again to convert 7-of-8 shots in the restricted area in under 20 minutes.

If there was ever a game to not nitpick his effort level on one possession and try to insinuate it represented how he was performing throughout the game, this was it.

Again, LeBron doesn’t need my defense. But a lot of people are reaching to conjure examples of a selfish, lethargic character flaw that, at least during this game, on this night, certainly were not on display throughout the night.

Words With Friends

This week’s five must-read articles about the NBA. Excerpts here — click through to read the full piece.

1. Draymond Green’s fire benefits far more than it burns
by Marcus Thompson, Mercury News

“It’s one thing when you’re going into an arena and they’re booing you and you’re the villain,” Green said. “I love that. But to paint me as a bad guy? I don’t get in trouble off the court. I don’t disrespect people. Your kid doesn’t walk up to me and I’m the biggest (jerk) they’ve ever seen. I don’t get arrested. You can try to paint me as that, but anybody who knows me knows that’s false.” Volcanoes look dangerous, but they provide all kinds of advantages: geothermal energy, rich soil, ventilation for the earth’s core, precious metals. The answer is not to turn off Green’s volcano. That would be like taking the ARC reactor out of Iron Man’s chest. The Warriors need Green fully charged to handle all he’s asked to do. The trick is managing his fire, avoiding the long-term damages.

2. On Anthony Bennett’s Downward Spiral and What Comes Next
by Eric Koreaen, Vice Sports

Bennett has been waived twice, and is currently out of the NBA. Bennett’s latest roadbump was getting dumped by his hometown Toronto Raptors in favour of veteran forward Jason Thompson, a depth move general manager Masai Ujiri was smart to make. While saying that, it is likely Thompson will have next to no on-court impact. Head coach Dwane Casey called Thompson an “insurance policy” on Tuesday, and that is why Bennett lost his job.

3. Jeremy Lin calls out Oscars host Chris Rock: ‘Tired of it being ‘cool’ and ‘OK’ to bash Asians’ 
by Amara Grautski, New York Daily News

In 2012, Lin was forgiving when an ESPN staffer wrote a racially insensitive headline about the basketball phenomenon. The editor was fired but Lin invited him out to lunch, believing the man had made an honest mistake. However, Rock’s skit — which received backlash — was purposely done and during a show the host seemed to devote to discussing Hollywood’s race problem.

4. It’s Stephen Curry’s Game Now
by Scott Cacciola, New York Times

It was noteworthy when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants came along in 2001 and not only set the single-season home-run record, with 73, but also broke Ruth’s 81-year-old record for single-season slugging percentage (.863). Bonds, of course, later became known as one of the more notorious figures of baseball’s steroid era, which may have helped explain his hitting prowess. “But to have a slugging percentage and an on-base percentage so far beyond the league norm — well, that’s what Curry is doing now,” Thorn said.

5. An Interview with Allen Iverson, The Realest Hall of Famer
by Gerald Flores, Complex Sports

“That dude battled every night and he had that flair and that creativity,” reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry told me during NBA All-Star Weekend, as he raised his right arm to mimic Allen Iverson’s signature crossover. “I loved watching him play. He was a competitor and fighter.” Players who shared the court with Iverson in his prime tend to view him differently than how he’s historically been portrayed in the media. “It was hard for me to play against this guy,” said Shaquille O’Neal, whose Lakers went head-to-head against Iverson’s Sixers in the 2001 NBA Finals. “Usually, I needed to make something up about a person in my mind to play against them. But, I couldn’t do that with [Iverson] because I liked him too much.”

What to Watch


The rematch.


Just days after arguably the best game winner of all-time.

They’re back.

This time in Oakland.

You don’t need any more information.

And if you don’t already have plans to watch this one, I have to question: Do you even NBA?