The rise of the 3-point shot

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Photo by Brigham Berthold

The way the game of basketball is played is changing. The age of sports analytics has given rise to a new age on the hardwood. With each passing year, more emphasis is being placed on building offenses designed around getting efficient shots. The most efficient shots in the game are layups at the hoop and open jump shots from behind the 3-point line. This is true at every level, and it’s something that the UVU men’s basketball team has especially taken note of.

When head coach Mark Pope took the reins at UVU in the 2015-16 season, one thing became clear quickly: his teams were going to shoot from range, and they were going to do it a lot.

In the 2014-15 season, the Wolverines shot 566 3-pointers, an average of 18.9 per game. During their first season under Pope just one year later, they shot an astounding 729 3-pointers, an average of 24.3 per game. It was a UVU single-season record, but it’s a record that doesn’t look like it will stand for long. This year, the Wolverines are on pace to break it again. At 27 attempts per game, UVU is currently tied for fifth in the nation in 3-point attempt rate and on pace to shoot 830 3-pointers.

Making the defense respect the fact that any player on the floor could fire a 3-pointer at any moment clears out space for the rest of the offense to operate. With the exception of Hayden Schenck, every UVU player who averages at least 10 minutes per contest also averages at least one 3-point attempt per game. Even starting center Isaac Neilson has shown off his range this year, shooting 8-of-22 from beyond the arc for just over 36 percent.

Aside from the strategic advantages of a 3-point heavy offense, it’s simple math: Three is greater than two. The power of the 3-point shot in the Wolverine offense has been manifest throughout the season, but no more prominently than in what was considered the biggest win in program history. In the win over BYU on Nov. 26, UVU attempted 37 shots from beyond the arc, hitting 18 of them. It set Marriott Center and UVU records for most 3-point shots made in a single game and helped the Wolverines to 114 points. The only time UVU beat that scoring total was Jan. 29, 2009, when it prevailed over Chicago State University in quadruple overtime.

Pope has said that his goal is for the team to approach 30 3-point shots each game. If the team is hitting those shots at a reasonable rate, as we saw in the upset win over BYU, that can make the Wolverines a tough opponent for any team they go up against.