Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How does enlarging the floor help?

In Gregg Easterbrook's most recent column, he vents about the NBA. While I disagree with a good number of the things he says (decline in play in the NBA, it being a mistake to shoot 3-pointers), the issue that I really want to comment on is his proposal that the NBA should enlarge the court.

Easterbrook isn't the first to make this argument, but he sums up the normal reasoning behind the proposal fairly succinctly:
Want to reform basketball more? Enlarge the court. Today's typical NBA and big-college performer is taller and broader in the shoulders than a generation ago. With each passing year, there is simply less room to maneuver on the court. Less room to maneuver means fewer artistic old-Celtics-style backdoor plays, more crazy off-balanced 3 attempts and out-of-control elbows-flying drives down the lane. Players have gotten bigger; the court needs to get bigger.
I've never understood this argument, because I don't understand how enlarging the court really solves the problem. The issues with spacing occur in the final third of the court when the defense can compact itself. No matter how large the court is, the offense still needs to get to the basket and the defense's first priority is going to be stopping penetration to the basket. Simply enlarging the court isn't going to magically create more room.

To the extent that enlarging the court refers to widening the court on the baseline, then I can see some merit in the proposal. The corner 3-point line is short, so widening the baseline (and moving the three point line back to its maximum distance at that point) will create some additional room for cutting to the extent that teams extend their defense to the 3-point line. Still, I'm not sure that an additional four feet along the baseline is really going to make that much of a difference. For the most part, plays do not originate in the corner--players normally shoot from there as the result of a drive and dish when their defender has sagged into the lane to help out on defense. The extended 3-point line won't change this dynamic. It will just mean that the attempted 3-pointer will be slightly harder to make (perhaps accomplishing the opposite of the intended result, since the defender will be more likely to sag off of his man if the resulting 3-pointer is less likely to be made).

If you really want to open up the lane for more cutting, then I think you need to get more revolutionary. Changing 3-pointers into 4-pointers, or adding a more distant 4-point line, are far more likely to bring defenders away from the basket and open up cutting lanes. I'm certainly not ready for that revolutionary a change. Are you?

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