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A New NBA Generation and the Three Point Art

A reader marvels at the skill of Damian Lillard and his peers.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday thanks to a career-high three-point shooting night from All Star point guard Damian Lillard. 33 points from beyond the arc is a remarkable feat. It’s made possible by the skill of modern-day shooters, which is the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dear Dave,

I just watched Dame hit 11 3’s against Minnesota. I can’t believe I got to be there for that game! Watching his shot is so pure. It’s like an artist. Especially when you see it in person!

I was wondering why are we seeing so many shooters now? We have Dame and Steph and lots of players shoot threes. I know we had Drazen and Ray Allen before, but now it seems like everybody. I know the NBA is more friendly towards it and I’m not asking about that. I think if anyone shot like Dame in the 1990’s he would have been able to anyway right? But the NBA accepting threes doesn’t really make players better at shooting them right? They had shooting coaches then too. The points were the same. Why are so many players good at it now?

Sorry for the long winded question.


I think general acceptance has changed how well players shoot, for a couple of reasons. First, there’s more repetition now. “Back in the day”—and how it pains me to hear the 1990’s described that way—a shooting guard might attempt 2-3 threes per game, at most. Right now Lillard is attempting 11.3, Anfernee Simons 10.1. That’s not just a part of their arsenal, it IS their arsenal. Each attempts more threes than two-point shots.

That emphasis also affects how, and what, players drill on. Once upon a time, if your small forward didn’t have an outside shot, that was fine. He’d just take opponents off the dribble or stay out of the offense. Today, if a wing doesn’t have a three-pointer, he’d better get one. Opposing defenses are going to dare him to shoot it. Coaches and shooting instructors are going to emphasize that first, as they do with many players. When closer shots were considered inherently better, the three might be reserved for special players or stuck in somewhere amid the other drills. Now players are practicing it all the time.

Another factor might run deeper than all of these, though. This is the first full generation in which the three-pointer is a way of life instead of a cobbled-on adoption.

Once upon a time, highlight reels were a collection of astonishing dunks by reality-defying athletes. The old Superman trope was in full force. Those fancy jams were special because nobody else could do them.

That idea still exists, of course, as do highlight-worthy stuffs. But the definition of hero has changed from somebody you aren’t to somebody you are, or at least can be. The cultural significance of the three-pointer has mirrored this transformation.

Long before kids can reach the rim—a feat most never achieve—they’re imagining buzzer-beaters winning championships. Those are inevitably threes. This isn’t actually good for young shooters, by the way. You should learn proper form on a size-appropriate hoop at a modest distance, then extend the range of your shot while keeping your form. But either way, the three-pointer is the great leveler, something that anybody with a ball in their hands and a dream in their heart can attempt.

Watch a nightly NBA highlight reel nowadays and it’ll only be 40% dunks. There will probably be a block or steal. Everything else is a three. The idols do it. The kids do it. It’s in the bloodstream of American basketball. Today’s players have been practicing and dreaming about this shot since they first picked up a ball. For the first time in history, whether you grew up to be a 7-footer or 6’2 determines your destiny less than how well you can shoot it.

For a long time—and many would argue still—overseas soccer players had a huge advantage over Americans. U.S. kids had athleticism. They practiced too. But players and teams from other countries had something that the Americans just couldn’t match.

That something was having the game, and its skills, in their bloodstream, while U.S. players had grown up with a ton of options, soccer among the least. Plenty of people can master technique. There’s a difference between that and a way of life, something you’ve been repeating, rehearsing, inhaling since you were small. It goes beyond muscle memory into not even having to ask, because this thing comes to you as instinctively as breathing.

I don’t want to diminish the work, talent, or skills of this generation of NBA players. Those aspects remain critical. Getting to the league now takes everything it always did, and more. It’s harder to make it in 2022 than it was in 1993, let alone 1975. You can’t just be big, or athletic, or really good at one thing. You have to be well-rounded, blinding fast, and skilled in a way past generations barely dreamed of. In aggregate, this is the most accomplished, qualified generation of players we’ve ever known.

When you add to that a constant, instinctive diet of shooting from the time they were small—free from the boundaries and biases that previous generations endured, now celebrated by coaches, friends, and teammates—you have a crop of NBA players who can shoot the three pretty well, and a select group at the top of that skill ladder who can shoot it as well, and freely, as we’ve ever seen.

You are watching the pinnacle of shooting as we know it. And yes, it is art. We’ll have to see if the game evolves further, into another set of skills. Likely this would require a rules change, as no distinction in the game is more stark than the difference in shot value inside or outside that arc. The 50% scoring premium on every bucket becomes an insurmountable edge when you’re good at collecting it. And these players are very, very good.

The three-pointer is in the game, the culture, and the collective consciousness of basketball players in a way it’s never been before. Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, and their peers are not only occupying that new space, but pushing its boundaries. That’s changed the way the sport is played. It’s also led to performances like you saw last Monday.

Thanks for the question! You can send yours to and we’ll try to answer as many as we can!