Five minutes into the annual WNBA All-Star Game, 6-foot-6 Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones casually dribbled across midfield, took two dribbles to the left wing, square inside a circle designated as a 4-point shot, bent his knees slightly, and fired a long shot that rolled around the edge before falling through the net. She got four points and while it wasn’t considered as significant as Sylvia Fowles’ breakaway dunk, it was symbolic.
For their last All-Star Game, the WNBA instituted two circles at each end of the field, 28 feet from the edge. But it shows that the 4-point shot is moving up the ladder, much like the mid-season tournament went from the G League to the WNBA and hopefully into the blood of the NBA.
The 4-point bucket has crept into the national hoops discourse as more than just a novelty idea over the past decade. It’s only a matter of time before he goes from All-Star Game experience to WNBA and NBA mainstay. After all, the 3-point line first rose to prominence in the ABA’s groundbreaking petri dish, and the Las Vegas Aces are a trial run for the NBA expands to Sin City during this decade. The WNBA also pioneered the midseason tournament when the NBA was too chicken to tinker with its regular season first.
The NBA is afraid of change. He introduced a new synthetic basketball in 2006 that nearly scratched the skin off his guards’ hands. If you think we’re seeing alien shooters now, wait until Steph Curry’s followers can splash 30 feet away for extra points.
The fear of instituting a 4-point arc is that shooters will start chasing these shots and games will revert to a symphony of long-range rattling making rim music interrupted by occasional marks.
NBA front offices and coaching mathletes who understand offensive math know it won’t, understand its usefulness in close games and how it could pave the way for more drives in the paint . However, this will further separate proficient 3-point shooters from the true sniper. It’s a delicate balance. So where would a 4-point shot be placed to minimize the bad shooters logo shot?
Two years ago, Hunter Zhang of Northwestern Sports Analytics Group collected data from the 2017-19 NBA seasons to determine the expected shooting value for 2-pointers and 3-pointers during that time frame.
Using the Points Per Shot metric, which measures the effectiveness of a player’s shot, and (Total Player Points)/(Player Goal Attempts) to measure the expected shot value of different types of shots, the Zhang’s study found that the expected shooting value for 2-pointers, including mid-range shots, dunks, and points in the paint, is 0.9834. The expected shot value of each 3-pointer was 1.0566.
Zhang believed that the 4-point should be at a distance where its expected value was lower than the average 3-point shot to discourage overreliance on the 4-point. From 29 feet, Zhang’s methodology revealed that the expected value of the four points was 0.9229, which is a bit below the expected value of a triple and the expected value of a 2. points. However, this is also an additional point. From 30 feet away, the expected shot value decreased to 0.693.
Hats off to North West Sports Analysis Group:
For the purposes of an all-star game, both circles worked, but in a competitive regular-season game format, defenders could just defend these two prominent spots on the floor. A hypothetical 4-point line should be an arc about 30 feet from the bucket. Jones’ shot should still have been worth 3 points. Some shooters like Curry, Damian Lillard and Trae Young would become more effective, but overall the 4-pointer would actually be a high-stakes bet for offenses.
The 3-point era unlocked the ground and introduced new brands of basketball, the same way the Wright brothers’ flights opened up the possibility of finding new worlds. For two decades, shooters have gravitated even further from the basket. Curry and the Warriors launched the NBA to the next frontier in the form of a 4-point line, especially from 30 feet away. This week, NASA released images of the deepest view in space yet, courtesy of the Webb Space Telescope. The WNBA gave us a glimpse into the future of the NBA.
Both leagues should prepare to lead the next evolution of basketball.