Why don't basketballers take more long shots?

Lately, I ran into a discussion about how basketballers barely take long shots and are often looking to break through for dunking. I'm from the Netherlands, and there is this sport called "korfball" which is pretty similar to basketball. The word "korf" translates to something which is pretty similar to a basket.

In korfball, you're not allowed to walk when you're in possession of the ball, which results in having to pass the ball around at a very high rate to be able to break through. The defending team tries to find a balance between holding back (preventing break throughs) and blocking shots.

More important, korfballers do not care too much about not being able to break through, as (at a high level) their accuracy is crazy and they score the vast majority of their long shots. Their accuracy pushes defenders to give away less space, which opens up possibilities for breaking through.

Here is a video to get a feel of their typical accuracy:

My question is as follows: why don't basketballers simply take the "long" shot as soon as they approach the three-point line? At that distance, they are rarely so strongly defended that their shots would get blocked. I often see attempts of players trying to break through, aborting mission and taking the shot from a closer (and strongly destabilised) position. Why not take your time and shoot from a couple of meters back? Korfballers shoot (and score) from much greater distances all the time.

Even more, assuming that basketballers can have an equal accuracy, scoring from the three-point line will push the defenders forward, creating more space for their beloved dunks.

Some data to support my question:

• A basketball weights 650 gram, whereas a korfbal weighs about 500 grams. A neglectable difference, if you ask me.

• Radius of a korfbal, korfbal "basket" and their ratio (the lower, the more difficult): 11 cm, 15 cm, 1.36

• Radius of a basketball, radius of the hoop and their ratio (the lower, the more difficult): 12.5 cm, 22.8 cm, 1.82

• The basketball net is at a height of 3 meter, whereas a korfbal "basket" is at a height of 3.5 meter.

• The 3-pointer line is at a distance of 6.75 meter, whereas korfbal players regularly take shots in the range of 15-10 meter

• Lastly, there is a board behind the basketball net which makes scoring easier

• Do you have any stats on the percentage of shots made from various distances in korfball? Feb 11, 2015 at 8:57
• I second @PhilipKendall. I watched a few korfball videos and I'm seeing them miss the vast majority of shots. In this league final match it seems like half of the shots are airballs. Feb 11, 2015 at 21:49
• Found a breakdown of the 2013 World Games gold medal match (click the "Detailed" tab). The world champion team made 12/74 from long range, 3/22 from medium range, and 4/7 from close range. Maybe... maybe korfballers take too many long shots? Feb 11, 2015 at 22:23
• 150g more than 500g is 30%. That's a huge difference right away, before you even get into differences between games and the shooting stats.
– Nij
Apr 24, 2016 at 6:12

First off, NBA teams (at least) do very frequently take 3 point shots. The median team this year takes about 22 3 point shots per game, making about 35% of them, so around 23 points out of 100 in a game (per team) are scored by the 3 point basket.

Second off, the three point shot is indeed becoming more important as teams realize it's an effective strategy statistically speaking. Grantland frequently discusses this, as the stats tend to back more three pointers.

However, there are several issues with your assumptions. Dunks are relatively uncommon in the NBA; while they're spectacular, they're not the point of most offensive systems. Rather, layups or short range jumpers are the primary focus. Inside shooters hit nearly 50% of their shots, and good players can hit more than that; a 50% 2 pointer versus a 33% 3 pointer are equivalent shots.

Good (or at least frequent) three point shooters are generally guarded when they reach the three point arc. The reason they're not guarded of course before that is they generally won't take a shot too far beyond the line; a few players regularly make shots from well beyond the arc, but most don't, and even 'regularly' means fewer than one per two games.

The NBA in fact considered adding a four point shot, although that hasn't gone anywhere in the past year. Overall, most players simply aren't accurate much beyond the current arc, whether due to lack of practice or difficulty.

I don't know anything about Korfball personally, other than the basics behind what it is, so I couldn't say whether the reasons you're saying it 'should' be easy make sense. I would note that basketball teams expect to score around 40 baskets per game plus free throws (penalty shots), each, so that's around double the scoring of korfball matches from what I can see. Basketball is also a physical game - from what I've read korfball is not (in terms of players putting bodies on one another).

Defense makes a huge difference; having someone in your face while you're shooting makes it hard to make a shot, and if you don't believe a three pointer can be blocked, Vince Carter would like to have a word with you (in his early years, he was well known for blocking long-range shots, his first two years he averaged over a block per game as a guard, which is very unusual, and in fact was in the top 20 for blocks in 1998-1999.

It's also possible the ball itself is harder to shoot. It's markedly heavier (650g vs 500g is a huge difference - nearly 1/3 heavier) and appears somewhat larger; it's also possibly different aerodynamically. I've never shot either one, but I would suspect that NBA shooting guards are likely pretty close to as accurate as you can be for shooting a basketball; so if there is an accuracy difference, it's likely due to the nature of the game in some fashion. (Otherwise I'd expect to see korfballers head over to the NBA and make millions...)

• The 4-point shot is interesting and I had not heard of it. But reading the article you link, I wouldn't say that the NBA 'considered' adding it. Rod Thorn simply "revealed that the 4-pointer has 'come up' in league discussions." Probably a thousand other things "come up" in league discussions everyday. It doesn't mean the NBA gives every one of them even slight consideration.
– user3564
May 24, 2015 at 21:19

Based on the stats from the 2013 World Games final, I'm not seeing any evidence that high-level korfball players

score the vast majority of their long shots

Specifically, in that match, there were 220 shots of which only 46 were made (21%) - and that includes shots from all distances. Looking at "long distance" shots, the ratio drops to 22 / 141, or just under 16%. That's significantly below the three-point shooting percentage in the NBA (around a third). Unless some hard statistics are provided which show that korfball players really do make a much greater percentage of their shots than in that match, I'm not seeing any strong evidence (or really any evidence at all) that NBA-quality shooters would be better off shooting from significantly beyond the three-point line.

This also fits with what the statistical analysis of the NBA tells us: while the stats heads may be correct in pointing out that the three-point shot is an underutilized tactic in modern day basketball, we're not talking about a few points per game, not a "world changing" tactic that everyone would adopt in seconds. While professional sports coaches may be somewhat conservative when it comes to new tactics, they're not stupid - if something is so clearly better than the current tactics, they'll do it.