3×3 Basketball is here to stay

 

3×3 is a new basketball product that has recently exploded into the public sphere. This fast-paced and exciting form of the game offers a great relief for anyone suffering from withdrawal now that it’s the end of the basketball season. With the incorporation of 3×3 basketball into the 2020 Olympic Games, and the inauguration of the BIG3 basketball league in the US, this is a new hoop phenomenon that is not going away anytime soon.

3×3 represents basketball in its purest form. For years before it began to be standardised, 3×3 basketball has been being played on streets and in gyms all over the world. The first 3×3 tournaments emerged in the US in the late 80’s and more and more events have popped up as the sport has developed globally. The sport’s youthful, urban and dynamic image, coupled with its universality, relative simplicity to organise and potential as a catalyst to grow the sport, became key reasons why FIBA chose to incorporate it into their program in 2007.

 

FIBA 3X3

There are a number of differences in 3×3 basketball to the more conventional 5-on-5 game. Firstly, the court consists of one basket in a half court setting. Teams are made up of 4 players with 3 on the court at any time and a fourth player acting as a rolling sub.Points are awarded in 1’s and 2’s, with a 2-pointer being awarded for a shot made from outside the arc. The team that wins is the first to 21 points or the team with the most points after 10 minutes. Another one of the main differences in 3×3 is the 12-second shot clock which adds a dynamic to the game that makes it extremely fast-paced and fluid.

Since its first appearance on the international stage at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, FIBA’s new basketball commodity has come on leaps and bounds. The FIBA 3×3 World Tour began in 2012 and has traveled to numerous cities in its six-year lifespan.  Soon after the beginning of the World Tour, FIBA introduced  3x3planet (now play.fiba3x3); an online community of players who organise events around the world, with points earned contributing to a player’s world rankings. Teams participate in tournaments worldwide, earning points for podium finishes. The best teams from around the world are selected to join the world tour which will this year travel to countries such as Canada, Japan and Mexico City, culminating with the Finals in Beijing.

Another FIBA 3×3 event is the World Cup. Now also in its sixth year, the World Cup recently concluded in Nantes, France and was won by the Russian Women’s team and the Serbian Men’s team – giving them their third gold medal in four years. Serbia, who went unbeaten in the tournament, faced off against the Netherlands in a grueling final, edging them out 21-18. The Serbian team has been top of the world rankings for a few years now with a team that features Dusan Bulut (player world ranking: 1), Dejan Majstorovic (5), Marko Savic (2) and Marko Zdera (4). The amount of time the Serbian team has played together clearly shows (they also play together on Novi Sad; their respective team for the World Tour) as they play a fluid and exciting brand of basketball that is highlighted by the stellar play of Savic and Bulut.

 

It’s not hard to see why Dusan Bulut is the number one ranked player in the world. Bulut is to me like 3-on-3’s homage to Jason Kidd; a crafty 6’3 guard who has a knack for getting to the basket and finishing, or dishing it off to the bigger Savic or Majstorovic. He has a deadly shot from outside as well as some sick handles that allow him to go to work on defenders. He’s an absolute menace on defense, as he bullies the opposing matchup into submission with a tenacious energy.

Marko Savic is a stocky 6’6 forward who plays a bit like what you’d expect from a stretch-4 in the NBA. He can score inside and out, either by beating opposing players into the post or pulling them out to the 2-point line where he can capably shoot the ball. He has excellent passing vision, as he finds his teammates on backdoor cuts or when they’re open for the shot. Despite his height, he can handle bigger players in the post due to his large 230lb frame and is remarkably quick for his size.

Slovenia is 2nd in the world rankings and have the world number 4 player, Jasmin Hercegovac – a tough 6’3 guard. In fact, the world rankings are very much dominated by countries from Eastern Europe. In the world rankings, along with Serbia and Slovenia; Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Estonia are ranked 3rd, 6th, 7th and 11th respectively.

The USA is currently ranked 4th in the world and is made up of a team of ex-college players. This is a team in which no player is younger than 28 and are probably coming to the end of their run. Their last two runs in the 2017 World Cup and the 2016 World Championships ended at the hands of Dusan Bulut and the Serbian Team.

A young up and coming team that I enjoyed watching in the World Cup were the 18th world-ranked team from the Philippines.  The youngest team in the World Cup also featured 19-year-old Kobe Paras who played for Creighton in 2017/18 and has committed to play for the Cal State Matadors next season. Paras played minimal minutes in college last season but shines on the 3×3 stage due to his 6’7 frame and impressive skillset.

Now, I’ve seen people on Reddit and other places saying that guys from the NBA could come into the 3×3 circuit and absolutely blow out the competition. But, the truth is the 3×3 game is very different to the traditional game. Due to the pace of 3×3, the game is far more physically demanding on a player across a shorter period of time meaning the sport requires a very different kind of stamina. The game also requires players to be relatively multi-dimensional as they have to be able to shoot the long ball, defend, handle the ball and rebound. Therefore, I believe that many of the players who primarily act as specialists in the NBA would most likely struggle in a potential transition to the 3-on-3 format.

 

The BIG3

The announcement of 3×3 basketball being incorporated into the Olympic program happened almost simultaneously with the arrival of Ice Cube’s BIG3  league which recently commenced this weekend at the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn. The BIG3 is another basketball product that although is still very much in its youth, had a historic entrance his weekend. Many have tried and failed to start an official league for former NBA players but it has finally come to fruition. The BIG3 differs a little to FIBA’s format so I’ll let Ice Cube tell you the rules of the BIG3 better than I ever could.

Ice Cube announced the introduction of the BIG3 back in January and has been actively marketing his new league in the last few months. Calling it the “ultimate basketball fan experience,” Ice Cube promised some of NBA fans’ favorite players in a “high energy, physical and competitive environment” – in any other sense, a good show.

The BIG3 rosters feature a litany of former NBA players which are accentuated by the return of NBA legend Allen Iverson, and memorable retirees such as Jason Williams, Rashard Lewis, Jermaine O’Neal, Stephen Jackson and Kwame Brown as well as coaches Gary Payton, Julius Erving and  Charles Oakley.

We knew since the announcement of the BIG3 that the basketball itself was never going to be on par with the level of the NBA. However, the entertainment factor on Saturday night was in no ways disappointing. The first game of the BIG3 finished in 62-60 clincher, in which the Three Headed Monsters – a team boasting Jason Williams, Rashard Lewis and Kwame Brown, defeated the Ghost Ballers – who featured Mike Bibby and Ricky Davis. The game was won as Rashard Lewis established position on Ricky Davis in the post, and after receiving the entry pass battled his way inside for the and-1 layup. The crowd went wild as an animated Lewis taunted Davis and subsequently went on to make the free throw to win the game.

Some players’ rust was clearly on show as players like Iverson and Larry Hughes struggled to have an impact on the games. Jason Williams, Corey Magette and Kenyon Martin also went down with injury fairly early in their respective contests. On the bright side however, we saw a number of players shine on the 3×3 platform. Rashard Lewis and Al Harrington had standout perfomances. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was still balling out at 48 years old. It was also great to see guys who never really lived up to their expectations in the NBA like Josh Childress and Kwame Brown reinvent themsleves on the BIG3 stage.

I like the BIG3 for what it is – a league for retired players. It not only gives fans an outlet to watch their favorite players from a decade ago, but also gives former players a medium to show that they’ve still got game. Many players in the BIG3 were victims of the modernisation of the NBA and were gradually phased out as the game became more about pace and space. The BIG3 gives these players an opportunity to showcase the type of play that made them so impactful in their time in the league.

 

One thing I will say is that they need to ditch the 4-point shot. Although there were some made 4-pointers in the most recent BIG3 event, it was clearly not a shot that any teams were relying on. This is not the Harlem Globetrotters that people have come to see. Get rid of it.

 

What’s next for 3×3?

So where does it go from here? With these two major milestones now in the sport’s history books, 3×3 basketball can only get bigger. The next step is bringing the sport to a wider audience; a task FIBA seem adept at handling, considering their exponential growth on social media in the last few years. FIBA has been pushing 3×3 for a number of years now and will more than likely continue to do so in the run-up to the Olympics.

Considering the Serbians have now beaten the USA two straight times in the World Cup, it’s very doubtful that the guys at USA Basketball let that slide – see the 1972 Olympics. With three years left until the Olympic Games, it would be very surprising if USA Basketball doesn’t invest a sizeable amount in developing 3×3 to the point where they can handle the top teams from Eastern Europe.

Although a largely Hollywoodized form of the game, the BIG3 is a great introduction to 3×3 basketball to the US market. The collection of former NBA stars on the BIG3 rosters will continue to draw huge crowds to the arenas hosting the tournament. Basketball fans thirsty for some basketball during the offseason will undoubtedly lap up the action as it unfolds on television and social media.

Now I’m not saying that 3×3 basketball is going to immediately surpass the NBA and Euroleague in terms of popularity overnight, but by the 2020 Olympics, the level of play will be remarkedly better than what it is now. The BIG3 has sparked commercial interest in the sport and will be very interesting to watch as it unfolds this summer. Meanwhile, FIBA also streams all 3×3 events live on Youtube which you can watch when the World Tour begins in Mid-July.

 

 

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