Half-court 3-on-3 basketball is something everyone that’s played ball has enjoyed at some point in their life, because the logistics of getting together a full-court, 5-on-5 game isn’t always possible. Whether it’s because of a lack of players, lack of court space or just a lack of energy to play a full game, half-court 3-on-3 is the standard alternative at rec centers and park courts around the country.
That staple of the playground is now making its way into arenas. The 3-on-3 basketball boom is happening, and before the BIG3 Basketball League and its roster of former NBA stars takes to courts this summer, 3-on-3 hoops will be on display at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, courtesy of Mountain Dew.
The finals of the Dew 3x Tournament (which air on TNT at 6 p.m. on Saturday Feb. 18) will pit two teams of streetballers from around the country against each other in New Orleans, with the teams of three streetball players being joined by a former NBA legend (and a future member of the Big3) as Jason Williams and Baron Davis will play as well. The teams are coached by Dennis Scott and Shaquille O’Neal, with Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook serving as the general managers.
The 3-on-3 game creates more natural space on the court. As Scott explained to UPROXX, that spacing of 3-on-3 basketball lends itself to a certain style, which is why roster construction was so important.
“There’s two things you’re gonna look for,” Scott said. “You’re gonna look for a guy or two that can pick their man off the dribble, and you wanna find a big guy. And that was one thing that Shaq and I were kinda looking for. How many big guys would show up for this even? Because if you can find someone that you can throw in the post and he can take his man one on one, now if you decide to double team now there’s a guy wide open on the weak side of the floor ready to shoot the basketball. So that’s why this thing is pretty interesting depending on the skill set of the players.”
Shaq has long lamented the death of the traditional big man in the NBA, so it’s not surprising to hear that he sees the space in the paint offered by 3-on-3 and looks at it as an opportunity to give big guys touches on the block. It makes strategic sense, because if the big man is skilled enough to make moves and gain advantage 1-on-1 in the post, you put the defense in a serious predicament. Helping down on a dig in a 5-on-5 game, you can hide where the space is for an open man better than in 3-on-3, where someone is going to be extremely wide open.
You’ll see those roster building thoughts executed both in the Dew 3x Finals, as well as the BIG3, where the combinations released so far have tended to be one guard that excels with ball-handling and driving to the rim (like Williams, Allen Iverson and others) and a big that will be able to take advantage of the space down low (like Kenyon Martin). That said, there’s also an appeal to having a big man that can shoot and put it on the floor when needed with all that space, which is why guys like Rashard Lewis, Al Harrington and Jermaine O’Neal have also been scooped up by the BIG3.
As to why 3-on-3 basketball appeals to retired players, Scott explained that for those who still feel like they’ve got skills left, but simply can’t handle the rigors of the NBA game, it’s the perfect way to continue one’s career.
“When you go to 3-on-3 you slow the game down,” Scott said. “So now it becomes a half court game. So now if you’re one of those guys that still feels that you still have game or you still can get to your sweet spot some of the things we talk about on NBA TV and TNT well 3-on-3 basketball is the perfect setting for you to do that. You don’t have to worry about getting up and down the court. You do have to be in some kind of shape, but not up and down the court kind of shape. And I think that’s the good thing about 3-on-3.”
That’s what the BIG3 is hoping for this summer, that the skills of the former NBA legends on their rosters can shine through without having guys being forced to run up and down the court for 60 minutes. The appeal from the players is understandable. It’s an opportunity to keep playing basketball once their body can no longer get through an NBA season. However, it will be interesting to see how 3-on-3 basketball translates to a watchable product for fans.
Getting to see former legends like Allen Iverson, Jason Williams, Latrell Sprewell and others is going to be something that gets fans in the door immediately, but whether they’ll stay around once the novelty has worn off and if the league can have long-term success will be something to watch for. Part of the allure of basketball is the tempo and back-and-forth nature of the game. Playing 3-on-3 slows that tempo down and also takes away the big fastbreak dunks and excitement of transition.
The expectation is that having all that space on the floor will make up for the need for transition and we’ll see players shine in 1-on-1 situations to create that excitement and fun.