The 3-point shot has changed the way professional and college basketball is played, but its impact on the local prep game seems to depend on the gym for now.
A trip to a Pine Creek boys or Colorado Springs Christian School girls practice would show a good portion of each day dedicated to the shot from 19 feet, 9 inches (at the high school level) worth an additional point, while a visit to Discovery Canyon girls or the 2017 Rampart boys’ practices would feature more emphasis on post moves and drills.
“We practice shooting 3s every day,” CSCS coach Mark Engesser, who is in his fifth season coaching the Lions girls. “We’ve done that ever since I took over. We spend quite a bit of time shooting now.”
It may be no coincidence that this year’s Thunder and last year’s Rams boast dominant post players in 2019 Stanford signee Ashten Prechtel and 2018 Hawaii signee Dawson Carper, respectively.
“That’s something we do every day,” said Discovery Canyon girls’ coach Heath Kirkham of inside work.
“I hate the 3-point line. It’s changed the game a lot.”
Since losing Carper, Rampart coach J’on St. Clair is adjusting his style to fit the personnel, something Engesser did when he coached the CSCS boys in previous years.
“It wasn’t an emphasis just because that was our personnel. This year’s a little bit different,” St. Clair said. “We’re trying to create more space.”
Basketball-reference.com shows NBA teams are attempting 31.3 triples per game this season, the most since the league added the shot in 1979-80. The previous seven seasons follow in descending order to the 2011-12 season, the season with the eighth most attempts, when teams averaged 18.4 attempts .
Houston and its analytics-based general manager Daryl Morey and Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have highlighted the charge in the NBA, as the Rockets set a new records for 3-pointers made in a season in each of the last two years, while the Warriors have used their shooting ability to win three of the last four championships.
Morey’s approach avoids the mid-range or long 2-point shot, a stance Pine Creek coach Joe Rausch shares.
Rausch talks to his team in the preseason about dead zones, the parts of the floor that exist outside the lane and inside the 3-point arc. During the season, there are penalties for taking shots from those areas.
“If it’s 15 feet and in it’s a good shot, and if it’s 19-9 or farther,” Rausch said.
“I’d rather a kid shoot from 3 feet behind the line than 1 foot inside it.”
Rausch added that the shot has added importance, since he hasn’t had the dominant post player in his time at Pine Creek and Sand Creek before that.
The women’s professional game also follows the trend. In the 2017 WNBA regular season, eight of the league’s 12 teams attempted at least 16 3-pointers per game, according to a 2017 New York Times article. The previous year, only three teams hit that mark, the article states. In 2018, 10 teams reached 16 triples per game, led by Seattle’s 24 attempts per game.
The 3-pointer was introduced to the college game in 1986 and the national high school game the following year. The NCAA moved the men’s line back to 20 feet, 9 inches in 2008 (the women’s line moved back three seasons later), but the prevalence of the shot continues to grow. According to a 2016 USA Today article, men’s teams took 35.4 percent of their shots from deep, a record at the time. Last year, 37.5 percent of field goals in the men’s game came from 3-point range, according to kenpom.com.
While concrete data is harder to find for the women’s college game, Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell broke the NCAA women’s record for career 3-pointers made in November last year, and Florida Gulf Coast set a team record for treys made in a season during the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
While college and professional teams have the ability to recruit or draft to a system, high school coaches seem to play to the people that show up at tryouts.
For those without height or explosive athletes, deep range provides a counter.
“Definitely, It’s coming to be more prevalent,” St. Clair said. “Especially teams that don’t have a lot of size are using the 3-point line to give them a little advantage.”
“We are very small this year so we have to do something to equalize,” Engesser said.
Recruiters want range regardless of position
While high school coaches with big bodies on the block or explosive players capable of getting to the hoop still seem to prefer most of their shots to come inside, the college coaches that may eventually be recruiting those players are curious about their range.
“They want to know, ‘Can he shoot the 3?,’” St. Clair recalled conversations with coaches recruiting Carper. “If not, then they want to know if they’re working on it.”
Carper made one of his two 3-point attempts as a senior last year but has relayed to his prep coach that he’s spending a lot of time in Hawaii working on the shot as a way to spread the floor for his teammates.
For Kirkham and his star center, an improved ability to stretch defenses led to offers from high-profile programs like UCLA, Texas and Stanford before Prechtel committed to the Cardinal. Not only is she averaging more than 21 points and 15 rebounds , but she’s shooting 32 percent from deep through five games.
“With her skill set it definitely changes things as far as why she’s going to where she’s going,” the Discovery Canyon coach said.
Engesser has seen it happen with his team, too. The coach’s daughter, Megan, is headed to Division I University of Portland after knocking down 40 percent of her 219 3-pointers last year, while classmate Rachel Ingram is heading to Division II University of Alaska-Anchorage thanks in part to a 46-percent mark from deep as the duo led the Lions to a Class 3A championship game.
“The University of Portland specifically said we need more shooters,” the CSCS coach said. “That’s why they recruited her.”
Engesser said he heard the same from coaches recruiting Ingram.
Some high school coaches run into problems thanks to the 3-point revolution.
Coaches shared stories of players who try to emulate Curry, James Harden or Diana Taurasi, who each make off-balance triples off the dribble look routine, without the requisite gym work.
“A majority of kids can’t shoot it, but they do it anyways,” Kirkham said. “That guy (Curry or Harden) shoots 1,000 shots a day, and they don’t.”
Other concerns arise when players possess an ability to shoot from deep but haven’t developed the more rudimentary parts of the game.
“The real danger for kids at the high school level right now is falling too in love with it,” Rausch said of the 3-point shot. “We started to see a few freshmen who could shoot the 3, but not a left-handed layup.” Forecasting the future
While basketball purists might wince, coaches agreed they’re taking and defending more shots from deep, and most feel like that trend isn’t going anywhere.
Even Kirkham admitted to adding more outside shooting to his practices.
“I do a little bit just because the way basketball is going,” he said. “If everybody can step out and shoot it, you have to defend differently.”
Coaches also seemed to agree that the increased appreciation of the 3-pointer has led to higher-quality shooters in high school.
In addition to Ingram and Engesser on the girls side, Lewis-Palmer’s Matthew Ragsdale hit 49 percent of his 118 attempts as a junior and earned a scholarship offer from Division II Western State. Falcon’s Reece Warren also hit 49 percent last year as a senior and earned a spot on Jamestown’s squad.
Statewide there were 60 boys and 16 girls who shot 40 percent or better with a minimum of 38 and 29 makes, respectively, via MaxPreps.
“There’s a lot more now that I think can shoot because it’s emphasized,” Engesser said. “I think they’re practicing it a lot more.”
While the impact might not yet be as pervasive as it is at higher levels, the 3-point shot has changed the game in eyes of area coaches.
“In some ways we’ve lost what the game looked like in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Rausch said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to that because spacing will always be different.”
“Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they make it fun to be a shooter. It used to be the dunks,” St. Clair added. “It won’t go away. That’s for sure.”