Not to be confused with Field goal (American and Canadian football).
A three-point field goal (also called a three-pointer) is a field goal in a basketball game made from beyond the three-point line, a designated arc surrounding the basket. A successful attempt is worth three points, in contrast to the two points awarded for field goals made within the three-point line and the one point for each made free throw.
The distance from the basket to the three-point line varies by competition level: in the National Basketball Association (NBA) the arc is 23 feet 9 inches (7.24 m) from the basket; in FIBA and the WNBA (the latter uses FIBA's three-point line standard) the arc is 6.75 metres or 22 feet 1 3⁄4 inches from the basket; and in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) the arc is 20 feet 9 inches (6.32 m) from the basket. In the NBA and FIBA/WNBA, the three-point line becomes parallel to each sideline at the points where the arc is 3 feet (0.91 m) from each sideline; as a result the distance from the basket gradually decreases to a minimum of 22 feet (6.71 m). In the NCAA the arc is continuous for 180° around the basket. There are more variations (see main article).
In 3x3, a FIBA-sanctioned variant of the half-court 3-on-3 game, the "three-point" line exists, but shots from behind the line are only worth 2 points. All other shots are worth 1 point.
The three-point line was first tested at the collegiate level in a 1945 NCAA game between Columbia and Fordham but it was not kept as a rule. At the direction of Abe Saperstein, the American Basketball League became the first basketball league to institute the rule in 1961. Its three-point line was a radius of 25 feet (7.62 m) from the baskets, except along the sides. The Eastern Professional Basketball League followed in its 1963–64 season.
The three-point shot later became popularized by the American Basketball Association after its introduction in the 1967–68 season. ABA commissioner George Mikan stated the three-pointer "would give the smaller player a chance to score and open up the defense to make the game more enjoyable for the fans." During the 1970s, the ABA used the three-point shot, along with the slam dunk, as a marketing tool to compete with the National Basketball Association (NBA).
In the 1979–80 season, after having tested it in the previous pre-season, the NBA adopted the three-point line despite the view of many that it was a gimmick.Chris Ford of the Boston Celtics is widely credited with making the first three-point shot in NBA history on October 12, 1979. Kevin Grevey of the Washington Bullets also made one on the same day.
The sport's international governing body, FIBA, introduced the three-point line in 1984, at a distance of 6.25 m (20 ft 6 in).
The NCAA's Southern Conference became the first collegiate conference to use the three-point rule, adopting a 22-foot (6.71 m) line for the 1980–81 season. Ronnie Carr of Western Carolina University was the first to score a three-point field goal in college basketball history on November 29, 1980. Over the following five years, NCAA conferences differed in their use of the rule and distance required for a three-pointer. The line was as close as 17 ft 9 in (5.41 m) in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and as far away as 22 feet in the Big Sky Conference. Used in conference play, it was adopted by the NCAA for the 1986–87 men's season at 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m), and was first used in the NCAA Tournament in 1987. In the same 1986–87 season, the NCAA adopted the three-pointer in women's basketball on an experimental basis, using the same 19 ft 9 in distance, and made its use mandatory beginning in 1987–88. In 2007, the NCAA lengthened the men's three-point distance to 20 ft 9 in (6.32 m), with the rule coming into effect at the beginning of the 2008–09 season. The NCAA women's three-point distance was moved to match the men's distance in 2011–12.American high schools, along with elementary and middle schools, adopted a 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m) line nationally in 1987, a year after the NCAA. The NCAA is experimenting with the FIBA three-point line (see below) in the 2018 National Invitation Tournament.
During the 1994–95, 1995–96, and 1996–97 seasons, the NBA attempted to address decreased scoring by shortening the distance of the line from 23 ft 9 in (7.24 m) (22 ft (6.71 m) at the corners) to a uniform 22 ft (6.71 m) around the basket. From the 1997–98 season on, the NBA reverted the line to its original distance of 23 ft 9 in (22 ft at the corners, with a 3 inch differential). Ray Allen is currently the NBA all-time leader in career made three-pointers with 2,973.
In 2008, FIBA announced that the distance would be increased by 50 cm (19.69 in) to 6.75 m (22 ft 1 3⁄4 in), with the change being phased in beginning in October 2010. In December 2012, the WNBA announced that it would be using FIBA's distance, too, as of the 2013 season. The NBA has discussed adding a four-point line, according to president Rod Thorn.
In the NBA, three-point field goals have become increasingly more frequent along the years, with effectiveness increasing slightly. The 1979-80 season had an average 2.2 three-point goals per game and 6.6 attempts (28% effectiveness). The 1989-90 season had an average 4.8 three-point goals per game and 13.7 attempts (35% effectiveness). The 2009-10 season had an average 6.4 three-point goals per game and 18.1 attempts (36% effectiveness). The 2016-17 season had an average 9.7 three-point goals per game and 27.0 attempts (36% effectiveness).
A three-point line consists of an arc at a set radius measured from the point on the floor directly below the center of the basket, and two parallel lines equidistant from each sideline extending from the nearest end line to the point at which they intersect the arc. In the NBA and FIBA standard, the arc spans the width of the court until it is a specified minimum distance from each sideline. The three-point line then becomes parallel to the sidelines from those points to the baseline. The unusual formation of the three-point line at these levels allows players some space from which to attempt a three-point shot at the corners of the court; the arc would be less than 2 feet (0.61 m) from each sideline at the corners if it was a continuous arc. In the NCAA and American high school standards, the arc spans 180° around the basket, then becomes parallel to the sidelines from the plane of the basket center to the baseline (5 feet 3 inches or 1.60 metres). The distance of the three-point line to the center of the hoop varies by level:
A player's feet must be completely behind the three-point line at the time of the shot or jump in order to make a three-point attempt; if the player's feet are on or in front of the line, it is a two-point attempt. A player is allowed to jump from outside the line and land inside the line to make a three-point attempt, as long as the ball is released in mid-air.
An official raises his/her arm with three fingers extended to signal the shot attempt. If the attempt is successful, he/she raises his/her other arm with all fingers fully extended in manner similar to a football official signifying successful field goal to indicate the three-point goal. The official must recognize it for it to count as three points. Instant replay has sometimes been used, depending on league rules. The NBA, WNBA, FIBA and the NCAA specifically allow replay for this purpose. In NBA, FIBA, and WNBA games, video replay does not have to occur immediately following a shot; play can continue and the officials can adjust the scoring later in the game, after reviewing the video. However, in late game situations, play may be paused pending a review.
If a shooter is fouled while attempting a three-pointer and subsequently misses the shot, the shooter is awarded three free-throw attempts. If a player completes a three-pointer while being fouled, the player is awarded one free-throw for a possible 4-point play. Conceivably, if a player completed a three-pointer while being fouled, and that foul was ruled as either a Flagrant 1 or a Flagrant 2 foul, the player would be awarded two free throws for a possible 5-point play.
Major League Lacrosse features a two-point line which forms a 15-yard (14 m) arc around the front of the goal. Shots taken from behind this line count for two points, as opposed to the standard one point.
In gridiron football, a standard field goal is worth three points; various professional and semi-pro leagues have experimented with four-point field goals. NFL Europe and the Stars Football League adopted a rule similar to basketball's three-point line in which an additional point was awarded for longer field goals; in both leagues any field goal of 50 yards (46 m) or more was worth four points. The Arena Football League awards four points for any successful drop kicked field goal (like the three-point shot, the drop kick is more challenging than a standard place kick, as the bounce of the ball makes a kick less predictable, and arena football also uses narrower goal posts for all kicks than the outdoor game does).
During the existence of the World Hockey Association in the 1970s, there were proposals for two-point hockey goals for shots taken beyond an established distance (one proposal was a 44-foot (13.4m) arc, which would have intersected the faceoff circles), but this proposal gained little support and faded after the WHA merged with the NHL. It was widely believed that long-distance shots in hockey had little direct relation to skill (usually resulting more from goalies' vision being screened or obscured), plus with the lower scoring intrinsic to the sport a two-point goal was seen as disruptive of the structure of the game.
The Super Goal is a similar concept in Australian rules football, in which a 50-meter (55 yd) arc determines the value of a goal; within the arc, it is the usual 6 points, but 9 points are scored for a "super goal" scored from outside the arc. To date the super goal is only used in pre-season games and not in the season proper.
The National Professional Soccer League II, which awarded two points for all goals except those on the power play, also used a three-point line, drawn 45 feet (14 m) from the goal. It has since been adopted by some other indoor soccer leagues.
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Thirty-six years later, the 3-point shot has gone from a gimmick to a vital part of every team’s offense, and few would call it boring. This season, teams were averaging 8.3 3-pointers — on 23.7 attempts — each game entering Wednesday. Both of those figures would be records, breaking marks set last season.
It is not just desperate, long-shot teams that use the 3 as a weapon, as some early critics feared. The Golden State Warriors, one of the best teams of recent times, are averaging 30.2 attempts a game.
There are many reasons for the rise of the 3-point shot, but one may simply be math. It took a while, but coaches finally stopped listening to the traditionalist naysayers and realized that a shot that is worth 50 percent more pays off, even if that shot is a little harder to make.
“Teams have all caught on to the whole points-per-possession argument,” Lawrence Frank, the Nets’ coach at the time, said in 2009 as the 3 rate began to rapidly increase.
While the idea of a 3-point shot had been kicking around basketball for decades, it really took off with the founding of the American Basketball Association in 1967. But even in the run-and-gun A.B.A., teams shot from long range only occasionally, five or six times per game on average.
Three-point shots gradually increased in popularity through the 1980s and then jumped to 15 attempts per game, from 10, during a three-year experiment from 1994 to 1997 with a slightly shorter line. When the line reverted to its present distance, 23 feet 9 inches, the pace slowed only briefly. N.B.A. teams reached an average of 18 3-point attempts a game in 2007-8 and 20 in 2012-13.
Brian Taylor, a point guard for the Clippers, became the first 3-point specialist in the first year of the shot. “Gene Shue believed in it,” Taylor told NBA.com recently, referring to his coach. “So we had set plays for it. It was amazing.”
His efforts were not always appreciated.
“People were real critical, saying: ‘Aw, that’s not a good shot. They’re taking a lot of bad shots,’ ” said Taylor, who led the league in made 3s that season with 90. Last season, 73 players reached that total.
Danny Ainge was perhaps the first to demonstrate that the 3-point shot could be a key element of an elite team’s offense, crushing the single-season record of 92 made 3s with 148 in 1987-88 for an outstanding Celtics team.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, 5-foot-10 Michael Adams of the Denver Nuggets carved out a niche as a 3-point specialist, leading the league in attempts four years running. John Starks of the Knicks was the first to break 200 shots made — in 1994-95, he was 217 for 611 — and Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics set a record of 269 in 2005-6.
Then along came Stephen Curry. A strong 3-point shooter in college at Davidson, Curry was among the league leaders from his rookie season with the Warriors. But his breakthrough came in 2012-13, when he broke the record with 272. He broke it again last season with 286 — more than all but five teams even attempted in the shot’s first season.
If Curry’s totals were amazing the last few seasons, they are superhuman this season. Curry has made 196 3s in 41 games (on 437 attempts). He should easily become the first player to make 300 3s in a season, and depending on how many games he plays down the stretch, he could well make 400.
Even in a world without Curry, the 3-point record would be tumbling. His teammate Klay Thompson, James Harden of the Rockets and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers are among the many players who have been pouring in 3s at rates that would have stunned the players and coaches of the early 1980s.
Despite the deluge, accuracy has risen, not declined. While the league’s 2-point field-goal percentage has been more or less flat for decades, at around 49 percent, 3-point shooting has gone from below 30 percent for the first seven years of the shot to above 35 percent in recent years.
The skeptics of the 1980s have been proved wrong: The 3 is far from a gimmick that is useful only late in a game when a team is trailing big. Factor in the extra point it awards, and the 3 is one of the most effective shots on the floor. Teams have clearly figured this out, and the trend toward long-range shooting shows no sign of slowing.
Correction: January 20, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of years it has been since the 3-pointer was introduced in the N.B.A. It is 36, not 26.
An earlier version of this article misidentified the player who held the record for 3-pointers in a season before Stephen Curry. It was Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics with 269 in 2005-6 — not Jason Richardson of the Charlotte Bobcats with 243 in 2007-8. The error was repeated in a picture caption.
Correction: January 20, 2016
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Stephen Curry’s 286 3-pointers last season. That was more than all but five teams attempted in the shot’s first season — not more than all but five teams made that season.