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The new 3-point line: Big deal or not?

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For once, Andrew Skwara and Bob McClellan of have a fairly interesting debate over how the new 20'9" 3-point line will affect college basketball. One foot doesn't seem like much of a change. but if you are used to shooing a 19'9" shot as the limit of your range, that extra foot is likely to negatively affect your game. On the other hand, guys who are used to shooting from 21 or 22 feet frequently, as many of the better 3-point shooters in college do these days, it is likely to affect you much less.

Skwara argues that perimeter-shooting big men will be the most affected:

Here's the problem: The range of most of the big men who shoot 3-pointers in the college ranks – and there are plenty – usually stops right around the old 19-9 line. Suddenly those guys are no longer inside-outside scorers. Many of their coaches will take away their green light, and they sure don't want them shooting from a foot inside the arc (the shot that is often described as the worst in basketball).

McClellan argues that the new distance won't matter much:

Players are used to making sure their feet are behind the line at 19-9. What's another foot? The best shooters in the college game probably are hoping for professional careers, so I hope when they practice they're chucking a lot of jumpers from the NBA 3-point line, which is well behind 20-9.

I think these guys wind up making very similar arguments, more in agreement than disagreement. Myself, I think marginal 3-point shooters will be the most affected -- guys that rarely take the three but wind up shooting a decent percentage at 19'9". The extra foot is likely to be a psychological as well as mechanical detriment to their shooting. Those most affected by that are likely to be big guys that occasionally shoot the three to keep the defense honest, or slashers who use the 3-point shot to keep their man closer to them, making it easier for them to get to the rim.

For example, guys like Terrance Williams of Louisville, who can shoot the three but tends to be very streaky could be negatively affected by the new distance. Slashers like Williams who use the 3-point shot to help open up their driving game are likely to see their percentage suffer, at least for a few years until players become used to the new distance.

The purpose of moving the line was supposed to be to open up the inside more, and I think you will see some of that, especially where teams have really good shooters. Forcing the defense out an extra foot will make double teams from the top harder and post scoring easier. Conversely, teams with poor perimeter shooters can look forward to more tightly packed zones. I fear that Kentucky will face this problem more often than not, due to a lack of depth in perimeter shooting. Perhaps one of the walk-ons can help in that role, but I expect it will be a double-edged sword in the case of more athletic teams.

But I believe the new line will impact the game, perhaps more significantly than most people think. To give you some idea how ingrained the 19'9" distance is, did a case study of a Vanderbilt-South Carolina game. The final score using the existing line was 99-90, but using the new line, the score would have been 77-74.

Generally, I think you will see guards taking more of the 3-point shots now than bigger guys. I also think you will see less 3-point shooting on the move -- that extra foot really makes a difference when you don't have the time to get your feet under you. Hence, spot-up shooting is likely to be the rule more often than not.