3 Point ShotEarlier this year, the celebrated writer Malcolm Gladwell was on one of my favorite podcasts talking about the incredible shift in the way NBA basketball is played over the last decade. Traditional offensive strategy was based on working the ball inside as close to the hoop as possible for high percentage shots. The guard, forward, and center positions were strictly defined and, except for a few outliers, this style of play created a slower, plodding game, in which a lot of big people fought for a small piece of real estate near the basket.

Today's NBA is all about playing with "pace and space," which in basketball terms is defined by a few principles: 1) traditional player positions no longer matter; 2) spread the floor to keep driving lanes to the basket clear and make quick passes to keep the ball moving from player to player; and 3) perhaps most importantly, everybody has to be an effective shooter from the perimeter. The reason for this shift, Gladwell speculated, is the rise of the 3-point shot.

This makes sense, of course, because it's worth 50% more points than any other shot; teams that are effective from 3-point range have a huge advantage. But the 3-point line was introduced in the NBA in the 1979-80 season-why did it take some 30 years for this strategy to take hold? Gladwell says this trajectory mirrors that of many transformational changes, which historically take about a generation to become truly adopted.

The NBA is more popular and more profitable with a deeper talent pool than any time since Michael Jordan dominated the league. At least some of this boon can be attributed to the pace and space philosophy that promotes 3-point shooting. Just for fun, let's apply the ADKAR model to this transformational change. If the NBA rolled out the 3-point line with a strong organizational change push, would the league been able to enjoy this huge surge in success sooner?


Without OCM

With OCM

  • When the NBA introduced the 3-point line at the beginning of the 1979-80 season, it was widely referred to as a gimmick by coaches and players alike
  • That season, teams attempted just 2.8 three-pointers a game, making 0.8 on average
  • The next season, this drops to an average of 2 attempts and 0.5 makes a game
  • An experienced change manager works with the NBA commissioner and his league officials to define a vision for the 3-point line
  • Together, they identify key influential coaches, players, and members of the media where 3-point communication will be focused


  • Through the mid-1980s, the shot continued to languish with teams still attempting less than 5 per game
  • Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics is considered one of the best shooters of all time said this in a recent interview:

"We never practiced it. Somebody asked me in an interview if back in the 1980s did your coach design plays for you to take 3-point shots. We never thought of that."

  • League leadership meets with identified coaches, players, and media members to introduce the vision and why it is good for the league
  • Points of resistance are identified and the change manager modifies communication accordingly


  • A few innovative college coaches started to embrace the shot as a strategy to equalize disparity in talent
  • One of these coaches-Rick Pitino-took over the New York Knicks in 1987
  • By 1988-89, the Knicks became the first team to average double digit 3-point shots (14)
  • Change manager develops materials explaining the strategic advantages of the 3-point shot
  • Change manager coaches key influencers on the game-changing possibilities of the shot


  • From the 1994-95 through the 1996-97 seasons, the NBA moved the 3-point line in about 21 inches
  • Average 3-point attempts jump almost 60% to 15.3 per game and 3-point shooting percentages increases about 3 percentage points
  • After the line is moved back to its original distance (23'9") in 1997-98, these averages dip
  • By the early 2000s, 3-point attempts and shooting percentage return to their 1996-97 levels
  • With the change manager's help, the league introduces formal 3-point shooting clinics which it holds quarterly
  • The league also hires a 3-point shooting training team that all teams have access to
  • The change manager begins working with college coaches to educate them on the NBA's 3-point philosophy


  • In the 2004-05 season, the Phoenix became the darlings of the league by playing a wide-open style that relied on speed and 3-point shooting
  • The orchestrator of this attack, point guard Steve Nash, won back-to-back MVP awards-and was runner-up for a third consecutive award in 2006-07
  • The league introduces a "3-Point Shooter" of the year award
  • Change manager analyzes league-wide shooting statistics to identify which teams seem to be struggling
  • Change manager meets with these teams to understand their concerns; modifies education and training based on their feedback

The right-hand column above is obviously a tongue-in-cheek alternate universe in which the league has a vested interest in having more teams utilize the 3-point shot; but on the other hand, why shouldn't OCM be applied to athletics to boost performance of the organization as a whole, just as it is in the corporate world?

If you look at 3-point shooting attempts and percentages since its inception, what strikes me is it seems to have taken the players about 10-15 years to get used to the distance but the number of attempts per game grew at a much slower rate. The league average for 3-point shooting grew to about 33% in the 1991-92 season and has pretty much remained in the 33-35% range since. Yet, as late as the 2000-01 season, teams were still only shooting 13.7 three-pointers a game; today, teams take more than 25 a game. This suggests that the ability was always there, but the desire to change and the knowledge of how to exploit the strategy took a long time to catch up.

3-Point Shooting Chart

Maybe if the NBA had focused on addressing these components of the ADKAR model, the growth the game is experiencing now would have happened in the early 1990s. Then again, between Michael, Sir Charles, and Shaq among other stars from that era, the league was in pretty good hands, even without my help.