Mike MacKay shares some thoughts on the three-point shot in the modern game


One of the major things that stood out at the Junior World Championships, in Auckland, New Zealand, was the importance of the three-point shot. The USA team that won the championship was one of the best at making use of this long distance weapon. All perimeter players need to be able to shoot the three. In fact, on many teams, all five players were capable of shooting the three-point shot. We could see the evolution of the multi-skilled forward from a back to the basket scorer, screener and rebounder into a player who can:

• stretch the defence with his ability to shoot the three
• take a player to the hoop off the dribble
• post up an score the tough basket inside if necessary
• Handle the ball vs. pressure

The four teams that made the semi-finals were the USA, Greece, Croatia and Australia. Their four-man was often the best three-point shooter on the team.

USA – 6’8” – shot 41.4% from the three-point line
Greece – 6’7” – 3pt FG%- 47.1%
Croatia – 6’11” – 3pt FG% -45.1%
Australia – 6’8” – 3 pt FG%-56.5%

Many key games were decided in the late stages of the game by the ability of these players to make a big three. One must remember that this is the junior level and what happens here does not always apply at the senior level, but this trend is already seen at the highest level of the game. Dirk Nowizki with the Dallas Mavericks is the best example. In order for us to stay competitive on an international level and to give our players a chance to play at the highest levels of the game, we need to do a better job of developing this multi-skilled big man. Just as importantly your big player has to be able to defend this player. If you are used to sagging into the key to clog up the lane your check is out at the three-point line nailing the game-breaking three.
Is very difficult to play as a perimeter player at the elite level if you cannot shoot and defend the three-point shot. Teams very quickly figure out who can and cannot shoot the three and do not guard you if you can’t. If you cannot defend the three there is no help defence in the world that can prevent it.

What follows are some observations about the three-point shot.

Shot ready

In order to shoot this shot, the player must be both physically and mentally ready to shoot. The hands have to be up and the hips down. I like to say that the ten fingers, the ten toes and the eyes have to be ready. You have to be thinking shot. When players think pass or drive first and then shoot as an afterthought, their shooting percentage goes down.

Just as important was the ability of the other players to find this player when he was open and ready to shoot. The good teams had a knack of always finding the man when his defender cheated on help. The psychological lift given to teams by nailing a big three-point shot cannot be mentioned enough. A team could be struggling for the longest time on offence. Allow them to hit the three and it was if life had been restored.

Hop vs. set up

The majority of the top shooters hopped into their three-point shot as opposed to the inside pivot step. They often start with the feet in a stagger position. As the pass is in the air they hop on both feet to catch the ball. This allowed them to drive upward into a jump shot as opposed to a pushing action which often comes from stepping into the shot. Also, they were much more able to react to a bad pass and maintain their rhythm into their shot. The players who anchor one foot into the ground sometimes refuse to give up their position to maintain possession. This leads often to one-handed catches and a loss of rhythm in their shot.
The other benefit was that they could use either foot as a pivot foot if they decided to drive.

Jump shot vs. set shot

The ability to rise up over the defence had a tremendous impact on the number of uncontested three-point shot a player could take. The traditional close out, with your hands up to the three-point line, had no bearing on these players ability to get an open look; whereas the player who wanted to step into his shot, with a low release would not even consider shooting the ball.

The three-point jump shot forced very long closeouts by the defence. This had a huge impact on how far off a help defender could sag.


The majority of teams ended up with four perimeter players in a late clock situation. By spacing four players who could all shoot the three-point shot at the three-point line it made it next to impossible to build the traditional ‘I” on defence. Teams were too good at making the cross-court pass and forcing a long close out. If you got up and applied extreme ball pressure all perimeter players could also put the ball on the floor and force help rotations. Once teams started chasing in rotation it usually led to an open uncontested three.

When using the traditional defensive “I” on defence, where the bottom player on the help side rotated over to help on the drive and the top player dropped to cover the basket, teams were very vulnerable. The defenders had too long of a distance to recover once the ball was passed.

Many teams modified their help side defender by playing with a wider defensive “I”. This allowed for an easier close out when the skip pass was made.

No help by the perimeter players

One solution that teams used was to not help off the perimeter players. The help came from the post player. The post players were very good at protecting the front of the rim and forcing the player to score over or around the help. They would also fake help by stunting into the driveline and recovering back to their own check. They never wanted their check to be more than an arm’s length away.

This brings out the importance of perimeter defence. The teams that played the best defence were the ones that did not have to help. They did not get beat and allow penetration.

Modified “I”

Another solution was to modify the way in which the teams rotated to help. If a perimeter player did help the person who was at the top of the defensive “I” dropped pick up the next perimeter player and not to the basket. The other perimeter player rotated to the top. This meant that for brief moment these two players were responsible for three perimeter players. This method worked very well against teams that stayed static on the perimeter. If a perimeter player dove to the rim when he saw the basket unprotected it caused problems.

Sag on the ball side

Instead of the traditional, deny the ball one pass away, many teams would sag the ball side wing defender. By being in the driveline it discouraged penetration. It is also much easier to help close out on the pass. You do not have to help in and then recover back out.

These short closeouts to take away the three-point shot are a crucial defensive skill.

Long rebounds

With the long shot comes the long rebound. This creates some interesting situations for the coach. Many teams do a great job of sealing in the help defenders on the weak side. Forwards need to be mobile and go get the rebound. Very few missed three-point shots rebound by just falling off the rim. Defensive rebounders need to work to escape the paint and to push the offensive players further out to make space.

Defensively your perimeter players need to be involved in defensive rebounding. In a game with a lot of three-point shots, your perimeter players may have to be your leading rebounders.

The tip rebound

An over the back call was a very rare call in the tournament. Offensive rebounders have developed the technique of tipping the ball out to another offensive player. Very often the player takes off on one foot, this allows him to jump and reach higher with one hand than the defensive rebounder who is trying to secure the ball with two hands.

How are the three-point shots created?

The majority of the three-point shots came from the following situations:
• pick and pop –off the side or top
• pick and roll – hit the perimeter shooter when his check helped in on the roller
• pass out of the post when double team occurred
• penetration and perimeter player helped
• trailer walking into a three-point as the defence flatten out to stop transition
• one on one late clock, when a switch created a mismatch or at the end of the quarter.

Although a lot of teams ran stagger screens these were rarely used to shoot the three-point shot. Staggers were mostly used as a way to create a mismatch or penetration.