The case for a four-point line in the NBA

Caleb Paasche, Contributing Writer

When the NBA introduced the three-pointer in the 1979-80 season, the idea was so outrageous that then-Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli complained that “changing the two-point basket is immoral… We have separated ourselves from the main body of basketball by tampering.” While such an opinion seems arcane in an era where teams continue to demolish records for three-point attempts, at the time, the three-pointer was indeed controversial, adopted from the ABA only three years after the leagues merged.


Much in the same way, many individuals today regard a four-pointer as an outlandish concept, one perhaps more suited for the G-League than the highest level of competitive basketball. However, the idea of a four-point line is neither outlandish nor immoral; in fact, it may well be the best possible rule change for the modern NBA. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the league has already started weighing the option of a four-point shot and while league executives say that the proposal is not serious, the fact that it has merited consideration should show that its implementation is not impossible.


The idea of a four-point line is not only reasonable but is a natural progression for the league. In the 1980 finals between the 76ers and the Lakers, the first to feature the three-point shot, the two teams combined only converted a single three-pointer over the course of the series. Today, the Houston Rockets average 44.7 three-point attempts per game, converting on 15.6 of those attempts.


This evolution to a three-point-heavy league has been met with some resistance from those fans nostalgic for a style of play that involved more offensive variance, with post-ups, mid-range jumpers, and the like. However, the advent of the three points, pace-and-space era of today has created a product on the floor that is superior in many ways. Today, scoring and pace are up, with median possessions per game rising from 91.7 in 2008-9 to 100.1 today and scoring rising at the median from 100.0 points per game to 111.0.


This type of pace and scoring growth, with pace naturally inducing scoring to rise, are trends that make the game more interesting and engaging. Such changes are what the league wants to see (rule alterations like a 14-second shot clock after offensive rebounds show the NBA’s commitment to this). A hypothetical four-point line would increase spacing and allow for a more open floor, with defenders forced to cover shooters even further out, likely leaving more room for drives, dunks, and other such exciting plays.


Additionally, a four-pointer would also alter the competitive balance of games in a way that could make the end of games all the more engaging. A seven-point lead with a minute left, for example, would no longer be nearly insurmountable, but instead, be a two-possession game. Furthermore, with this addition, players would likely be incentivized to attempt the types of long three-pointers that get fans out of their seats; a deep Steph Curry or Damian Lillard three-pointer is already one of the most exciting plays in basketball, and increasing the quantity of these plays could make the game all the more exhilarating.


Ultimately, the four-pointer seems like the next evolution in NBA basketball. As with the three-pointer, this idea will likely be derided initially by purists. However, through continuing to up the pace of the league, making the end of games closer, and increasing the number of thrilling plays in every game, the four-pointer is primed to eventually make the game – and the entire league – better.

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