Permission to Shoot the 3

5 January 2024

An observation about basketball and software engineering teams.

I was always the “big man” on basketball teams growing up. Big men usually don’t shoot threes. I excelled at anything within a 6 ft radius of the rim.

My senior year my shooting percentage was off the charts partially because I was out half the year due to a broken foot, but also because I only took shots within that 6ft radius.

As a big man, you can still score three points, if you can make your free throws. But, it’s not really a decision you make, the defender has to make it for you.

I always envied our guards ability to choose to take 3 point shots as it represents more responsibility.

Not every guard wielded this responsibility well, and as a big man, it’s especially annoying because missed three pointers generally rebound further from the hoop.

If you didn’t wield this responsibility well, your coach would pull you, tell you to stop shooting the 3 ball and drive to the hoop or get it into your big man instead. Establish a rhythm, then take the occasional 3 pointer.

If you were really wielding the responsibility poorly, your permission to shoot the 3 was revoked which meant if you did it you’re likely to get you benched.

There were outliers though. The gym rats. The ones who spent a disproportionate amount of time in the gym, shooting shots. Not just good basketball players. The ones who lived and breathed it. Being good was table stakes.

They had far more leeway when they took ill informed three point shots. Of course, being an outright ball hog would still get benched.

We may have grumbled when they took one too many ill advised 3s, but there was always at least a begrudging acceptance that they’ve put in the work to be above needing permission.

They saw something. A pattern on the court that they felt made the risk / reward trade off worth it. Maybe it was there, maybe it wasn’t, but they’ve put in the work to develop that pattern recognition and it would be a shame to waste it.