Over the last several years, the NBA has transitioned to embrace the 3-point shot entirely. The Golden State Warriors, headlined by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, guided that swift change across the league. It’s an evolution of the game that completely stunned former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird.
Warriors lead NBA to fully embrace the 3-point shot
The Warriors’ rise to prominence this past decade led to a significant transformation across the league.
Golden State’s star-studded backcourt duo of Curry and Thompson forced the rest of the NBA to adapt. The Splash Brothers’ excellence from distance quickly became the staple of their formula to success, winning three NBA titles in five straight trips.
It created a ripple effect that pushed teams to embrace shooting a high volume of 3-pointers in hopes of replicating sustained success. The massive change is one that a former Celtics great didn’t envision transpiring.
Larry Bird was stunned by the widespread impact of the NBA’s increasing 3-point dependencies: ‘Now if you don’t do it, you’re not going to win’
Since the Warriors’ rise to championship success, the rest of the NBA has embraced a heavy dependence on 3-point shooting.
The monumental shift has seen nearly the entire league build teams that feature a heavy dosage of the 3-point shot. During an interview with Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press in June 2019, former Celtics great Larry Bird voiced that he envisioned the NBA game evolving differently.
“My concern 15 years ago was everybody’s going to be 6-(foot)-9 like Magic Johnson at the point guard and the little guys are going to get squeezed out. Now it’s just the opposite,” he said. “The big guys are getting squeezed out and the little guys are taking over, and the 3-point line has been there since 1980 and nobody utilized it until the last 15, 17 years.
“I can remember watching Kentucky play and Rick Pitino was shooting 3-pointers all the time and I go, Jesus Christ, no way you can win like that. Now if you don’t do it, you’re not going to win.”
During Bird’s playing days, the 3-point shot didn’t hold a massive role. The Hall of Famer found much of his offensive success in the mid-range and his passing while only averaging 1.9 three-point attempts per game in his career. It includes him averaging 1.0 or fewer 3-point tries per contest four times, while he topped 3.0 attempts on three occasions.
Bird believed the physically bigger players would push out the smaller ones. However, the 3-point shot has given them a purpose and a significant role moving forward.
3-point shot will remain the key to success in the NBA
With the NBA fully embracing the 3-point shot, it’s an offense staple that is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Through the first few weeks of the 2021-22 season, each team in the league is averaging 26.9 three-point attempts per contest, while nine squads are averaging north of 40 tries per game. Eleven teams are shooting at least 35.0% from beyond the arc, as the Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks are hitting at a 40% clip or higher.
It’s no surprise that the Hornets and Knicks are among the Eastern Conference’s top records through the first several games. As teams continue to experience sustained success behind heavy usage of 3-pointers, don’t expect that to change anytime soon.