The New 3 Point Line - Part 1

From the diaries. Nars drops more knowledge on this post than Bilas does in an entire season. GO BRUINS. -N

The new 3 point line:

The men's basketball rules committee approved a measure last month that would move the 3-point line back one foot in 2008 - from 19 feet, 9 inches to 20 feet, 9 inches. Approved by the playing rules oversight committee on May 25, it marked the first major alteration to the 3-point shot since its adoption in 1986-87.

Committee chairman Larry Keating  - yes Kerry's Dad - said two proposals were considered. The other proposal would have moved the line to 20 feet, 6 inches, the same distance as international 3-pointers. Both proposals were still significantly shorter than the NBA line, which is 23 feet, 9 inches at the top of the key and 22 feet at its shortest point in the baseline corners.

The rationale for the rules change was to "help create more space between perimeter and post players, and it could help the rules committee eliminate some of the more physical play (Howland style defense?) something it has tried to reduce over the past several years."

I know many of you are thinking, "Who cares? I'd rather keep hitting refresh to see if Jrue has committed yet and get into a pissing battle with some SUC troll." Why this topic is so interesting to me is that in conversations with old coaches and knowledgeable fans, I've heard many varying opinions on how this rule change will affect the game, and in particular, UCLA.

With the summer doldrums in full effect, I thought this topic of discussion warranted some vetting. Here is the first of three installments of my summer project - The new line: Zone Effects

Zone Effects:

The Basics:
A normal zone defense is based covering areas of the floor, as you will see in the Syracuse 2-3 zone. I reference the `Cuse a lot given that they are the poster child of the 2-3. Even as a young hoopster, my old coach would yell `Cuse if he wanted 2-3 or Indiana if he wanted man.

The 2-3 zone defense scheme has been around since shortly after Dr. James Naismith nailed the peach basket to the balcony. Several championships have been won using it exclusively: Michigan State in 1979 and Syracuse in 2003 come to mind. Though having Magic and `Melo couldn't have hurt, either.

While many teams use zone as a "change of pace" tactic, the 2-3 has been the bread and butter of Boeheim and the Orange since Jim B had hair. Predicated on big rangy guards, and active wingmen, the 2-3 has been the bane of Big East foes for years.

Hell, Zone D is so basic, even Wiki has some commentary on reasons a zone defense can be effective:

  1. The size and quickness of the players can effectively take away the open 3-point shot.
  2. Teams spend most of their time working on man-to-man offense.
  3. It is easy to know what teams will do against you. There are far more man offenses to prepare for than zone offenses.
  4. It keeps good players out of foul trouble.
  5. It hides a bad defender.
  6. It can be an effective defense to rebound and fast break out of because of the players' positions in the zone.
  7. It can change the tempo and momentum in the game.
Up to this point, I think we can all agree on these aspects of the zone. What is important is the marginal contribution of the rules change and how that makes a zone better or worse.

The rule change: Marginal Contribution

Given that zone defenses are predicated on defending the ball - i.e. the zone shifts with passes more than player movements, strategies for countering the zone can be generally be classified as either penetration focus or overload focus.

Penetration focus attacks will often attack the gap in the middle of the lane in a 2-3 or 2-1-2 variation. Getting the ball between defenders elicits a collapse response from the other defenders, opening the court for other offensive players. The most classic way to exploit this gap, is to assign a forward to operate in the high post area near the free throw line to catch and distribute the ball. A forward in the high post area can also set screens on the players at the top of the zone to allow penetration by the guards. Unfortunately with the new rules change, this distribution ability is limited by the fact that "open looks" are going to be disadvantaged from 3-point land. The old adage that you shoot out of a zone was reliant on outside shot making. That's only going to be made marginally more difficult given the rules change. Dribble penetration accomplishes the same goal, but without pulling a forward outside of his "comfort zone", thus making ankle breaking guards even more valuable to zone attacks.

The second general method of attack is predicated on overloading the zone and making a defender guard two positions. To me, this is most easily accomplished with quick accurate passing. This misdirection is most often accomplished with swing passes and skip passes over the top of the zone. Against a zone, look for UCLA to try to "overload" a Syracuse-style zone by sliding shooters behind occupied defenders and into the "short corner" (3-ball corner pocket) and get a great shot because the weak side of the zone has to be concerned with guards on the wing. This was AA's bread and butter against the zone since other defenders had to respect the shot of DC, Shipp, Roll, etc. This technique for getting open looks is going to be marginally disadvantaged since the shot created will be a foot further and the number of players that will require being guarded at the new line will be impacted.

Looking at the other side, teams playing zone get beat too. Its not perfect, and in that light I looked for an example of when the Orange abandoned their zone for man defense. Last January 30th, the Orange switched to zone against the Irish. Why? "I don't think we could have beaten Notre Dame playing zone tonight," Boeheim said. "We had been successful playing zone, but they're better attacking it and they're shooting better. The four or five times we played zone, they scored. So the zone was not going to be a winner tonight. We probably would have done better if we'd stayed all zone, but we would have been behind and you'd always look back and say, 'What if you'd played man-to-man?'

In that game, the Irish hit the floor with 4 players shooting over 40% from 3, and the 5th was a mauler down low. What killed the Orange is that there were 4 options on the court at all times looking to get their shot off from distance. Thus, if the new line knocks even one of those options "outside of their comfort zone" then the offense is much easier to guard against. At the margin, the 40% 3-point shooter must become a 60% shooter from the field for the offensive team to be no worse off than before.

The two biggest weaknesses of zone defenses are the ability to defend the perimeter and control the rebound. Above is the case why the new rule change will help with the first, but the question is what effect will it have on the latter. Basketball physics (according to Fran Fraschilla - so consider the source) says that 70 percent of misses taken from one side of the court end up on the opposite side, thus making zone defenses especially susceptible to weak side rebounds and put backs by the offensive team. Finding a body to box out and seeing overloads on the weak side is already difficult in a zone, and will only be more so with the new rules. Here's why:

With the greater spacing, defenders will be forced to cover more ground between the offensive players and the tin. The larger gap between backcourt and frontcourt defenders will make boxing out a more difficult task. It stands to reason that with more effort on rebounding there is less opportunity to run a break in transition and more opportunity to give up easy "chip shots" and put-backs to offensive players.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - Effects on Man-to-Man

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.