The average NBA fan probably thinks the most devastating shot in basketball is the slam dunk. But to NBA coaches, the most devastating shot in basketball is the 3-point shot.
A trey -- as the 3-point shot is affectionately called -- can get a team back in a game quicker than any shot since Dr. James Naismith invented basketball. It also can help a team put a game totally out of reach in a hurry.
Case in point: When the Dallas Mavericks played the Spurs in San Antonio on Dec. 23, the Mavericks never really had a chance to be in the game.
The Mavericks were victims of an amazing shooting spree in which the Spurs converted a franchise-record 20 3-pointers in 30 attempts. With Danny Green going 5 of 5 from 3-point land in the first period, the Mavericks trailed by as many as 46 points before losing 129-91.
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The 3-pointer is the most potent weapon in basketball. And the key to being a good 3-point shooting team is simple.
"Have people who shoot the ball well," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "If Chris Mullin is on your team, you're going to have a better 3-point shooting team than if I'm on the team."
Popovich then, tongue-in-cheek, said the NBA should abolish the 3-point shot.
"It's not real basketball," he said. "Get rid of it and let's play basketball again.
"But it's there, and everybody's getting real good."
The evolution of the 3-point shot is interesting because, initially, it was snubbed by the NBA. The old American Basketball Association, which vied for talent, employed the 3-point shot as a source to compete with the more established NBA.
The powers-that-be in the NBA frowned at the 3-pointer, and always thought it was nothing more than a gimmick. But after looking for ways to increase scoring, the NBA implemented the 3-pointer on a trial basis during the 1979-80 season -- the year Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were rookies.
The change was made so the NBA could open up the lanes, prevent double teams down low and add excitement and scoring. The NBA adopted the 3-pointer on a permanent basis at the start of the 1980-81 season.
Sacramento Kings guard Jimmer Fredette said players who don't have the 3-pointer as part of their arsenal are doing themselves a disservice.
"If you practice it, that's a deadly weapon that you can have," Fredette said. "And that's something that a lot of guys are getting into."
The 3-point line is 22 feet in the corners and 23 feet, 9 inches elsewhere behind the arc.
It's almost become the same as a regular jump shot for some players, which is why there have been discussions about moving the 3-point line back a bit.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, however, doesn't believe that will happen anytime soon.
"There's been talk in the past of making the court bigger [in order to move the 3-point line back farther], but you just simply cannot do it because of the limitations on the sizes of the arenas," Carlisle said. "And there's a lack of complete uniformity from arena to arena as well.
"Some places it would just be impossible to do it, and then the rest of them, those seats generate so much revenue that it would be probably business suicide if you did it. For that reason, it's not going to get any longer in the corners, so I doubt that it will get longer, at least not in our lifetime.
"But I've been wrong before."
In picking the Mavericks' defense apart with their barrage of 3-pointers on Dec. 23, the Spurs showed how dangerous the 3-point shot can be.
"It was one of those games where Danny Green started 5 for 5, then other guys started to make shots and we moved the ball very well," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "But sometimes it's not easy to shoot 20 for 30 in practice.
"It was one of those games that sometimes happen, and then you're going to have another one that you're going to shoot 5-for-25. It's part of the game."
Like a number of teams, the Spurs use the 3-pointer as an integral part of their game so they can showcase other elements of their offense.
"We know what our system is and, obviously, it opens up the lanes for us if we can knock down those open shots," Green said. "We know who our creators are -- we know who the guys that can create off the pick-and-rolls."
Popovich acknowledged that the 3-point shot has evolved through the years, for a number of reasons.
And it has become a mainstay in a lot of teams' offensive attacks.
"We were talking about it the other day -- about the pick-and-roll, there's so many guys now [who can shoot the three that] you can't go under because guys stop and shoot threes," Popovich said. "Way back when it was first put in, everybody went under because people weren't good at shooting threes, and they didn't want to shoot threes.
"Now it's such a huge part of the game and so many guys shoot it well that, if you don't, you're behind the curve and you can't score if you don't knock those threes."
Popovich is against moving the 3-point line.
"A lot of people's feet are so big that they step on that line a lot," he said. "But if they move it back again the game will be almost silly -- like it's a video game or something.
"It's there, so we use it."
Steve Kerr is the NBA's all-time leader in 3-point shooting at .454 percent, with Miami's Ray Allen the all-time leader in 3-pointers made at 2,774.
Through Tuesday's games, the Spurs' Matt Bonner leads the NBA in 3-point shooting this season at .474 percent, followed by Allen (.452 percent), Golden State's Stephen Curry (.450 percent), New York's Steve Novak (.447 percent) and teammate Jason Kidd (.440 percent).
For his money, Denver Nuggets forward Corey Brewer believes if he needed to make one shot with the game on the line, he would choose Novak to take that game-deciding shot.
"When Steve Novak is open, he's not going to miss," Brewer said. "That's the way I feel."
Carlisle, who is on the NBA's competition committee, believes the league is better off for stealing such the game-changer that the ABA made famous.
"Ten years ago when you could start loading up on guys and put two guys on a guy that didn't have the ball, it put a premium on being able to move the ball and score," Carlisle said. "And so that means a shot like the 3-point shot is going to become very important.
"It's been one of the reasons that the game has gotten, I think, to be a better game to watch aesthetically. The ball moves a lot better than it did 10 or 11 years ago, and now guys that are coming up through the AAU and the high schools and colleges know they have to be skilled at shooting long-range shots as well as being able to run, jump and dunk."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760