Forecasting the next scoring revolution


Dan D’Antoni may be on to something. (AP/Garry Jones)

Scoring is up this season, thanks in part to what can only be termed a sophomore-breakout season from the 30-second shot clock. Surely that clock will remain a fixture for the foreseeable future, and it’s therefore reasonable to assume that the scoring boost it has provided may well plateau. By next season, after all, players with a working memory of the previous clock will already be a decided minority.

So what happens to scoring now? Glad you asked….

Teams in Division I are making about 49 percent of their twos and 35 percent of their threes, meaning 100 attempts of each type of shot will net you, on average, 98 and 105 points, respectively. This seven-point margin perhaps holds the allure of a green light from the hoops gods.

All the usual caveats apply, naturally, and in particular Josh Pastner and Kim Anderson are hereby given permission to tackle any of their players that are about to attempt a trey. Not to mention the math here can be boosted in favor of our old friend the two-pointer through the simple expedient of shooting fewer jumpers inside the arc and getting more chances at the tin.

North Carolina has never shot threes, never will, and will always be hegemonic at basketball anyway. And, whether you’re speaking of D-I, a conference, a team, or a player, more three-point attempts can mean less accuracy. There are complexities intrinsic to this question, to be sure, and what follows is pitched at the level of the whole beach and not the grains of sand.

Nevertheless, there are just three possibilities in play. Either D-I’s shooting too many threes, too few, or the ideal number. The evidence suggests that D-I may be shooting too few. Indeed one possibility is that the overarching story of college basketball since Wooden is simply that after three-plus decades we still haven’t really, truly wrapped our heads around the notion that three is more than two.

If the entirety of D-I’s on the wrong side of the hoops gods on this one, then the major conferences in particular are seriously downtrodden analytically. Trusty big-picture observer Kevin Pauga is correct when he tosses a shot-selection bouquet to all 351 teams as a bloc in 2017…

…but the funny thing is the six major conferences are, kind of, fighting this “more threes” trend tooth and nail.

While 2016-17’s on-track to be the most perimeter-oriented season in the history of the two different three-point lines, as a group the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC have started conference play by just hitting “repeat” on last season in terms of shot selection.

Are the majors and mid-majors separating stylistically?
3FGA/FGA (%)

                  D-I    Major-conference play
2017 (so far)    36.3            34.4
2016             35.4            34.5
2015             34.2            33.7


My hunch is this is purely accidental. Surely it didn’t have to play out this way. As recently as 2008, the Big Ten as an entire conference launched no less than 38 percent of its shot attempts from beyond the (old-distance) arc. Rick Pitino made his bones as a three-point-scheming wunderkind at Providence. Heck, hallowed old-school curmudgeon Bob Knight himself won a third national title by green-lighting Steve Alford to the tune of seven made threes in the 1987 national championship game.

A couple weeks ago Marshall lost back-to-back road games at Cincinnati and Pitt, but not before the Thundering Herd had made 27 threes and scored 205 points. After the loss to the Panthers, head coach Dan D’Antoni walked off the court and into the press room.

Then this happened:

I suspect the major conferences will indeed follow the green light behind the damn analytics story. These 75 head coaches are too well paid to not do some tentative exploration.

When they do, maybe a new clock-blind boom in scoring will erupt. Perhaps even soon.