Stephen Curry set a record In May of this year:
It took Reggie Miller 22 games to set an NBA playoff record of 58 three-pointers for the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 playoffs. Now, Stephen Curry has broken that mark in just 13 games.
He is now up in the 80s I believe. Curry, by the way, is NBA MVP and his team is probably on the verge of winning the Finals. The three-point strategy seems to be working: for Curry, for the Golden State Warriors, and also for last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs.
Yet the three-point shot has been in the NBA since 1979 (!), and for most of those years it was not a dominant weapon.
What took so long? At first the shot was thought to be a cheesy gimmick. Players had to master the longer shot, preferably from their earliest training. Coaches had to figure out three-point strategies, which include rethinking the fast break and different methods of floor spacing and passing; players had to learn those techniques too. The NBA had to change its rules to encourage more three-pointers (e.g., allowing zone defenses, discouraging isolation plays). General managers had to realize that Rick Pitino, though perhaps a bad NBA coach, was not a total fool, and that the Phoenix Suns were not a fluke. People had to ponder the expected value concept a little more carefully. Line-ups had to be smaller. And so on. Most of all, coaches and general managers needed the vision to see how all these pieces could fit together — Arnold Kling’s patterns of sustainable trade and specialization.
In other words, this “technology” has been legal since 1979, yet only recently has it started to come into its own. (Some teams still haven’t figured out how to use it properly.) And what a simple technology it is: it involves only placing your feet on a different spot on the floor and then moving your arms and legs in a coordinated (one hopes) motion. The incentives of money, fame, and sex to get this right have been high from the beginning, and there are plenty of different players and teams in the NBA, not to mention college or even high school ball, to figure it out. There is plenty of objective data in basketball, most of all when it comes to scoring.
Dell Curry, Stephen’s father, was in his time also known as a three-point shooter in the NBA. But he didn’t come close to his son’s later three-point performance.
So how long do ordinary scientific inventions need to serve up their fruits? I am a big fan of Stephen Curry, but in fact his family tale is ultimately a sobering one.
Addendum: Tom Haberstroh fills in the history.