The WNBA announced this morning that the league’s Board of Governors has voted to approve several rules changes that will slightly change the game you see on the court next season.
- The most noticeable difference is the three-point line moving back from its current distance of 20 feet, 6 1/4 inches to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches, the new line used by FIBA in international play. This is the second time the WNBA has moved the line; in 2004, the league went back from 19 feet, nine inches, the line for amateur women’s basketball, to match what was the FIBA standard at the time.
As WNBA Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations Renee Brown noted in the release announcing the moves, three-point shooting actually went up then, though my analysis found attempts went down. This change is more substantial – 19 inches as compared to seven – but also matches what players are used to when they play overseas or for national teams.
In the short term, I would anticipate both lower three-point percentages and fewer attempts, though I eventually expect the trend toward more three-point shooting to continue. The change will not be felt equally by all players; those that have practiced shooting precisely from the former line could suffer, while players who already like to shoot well beyond the line (I can think of one example) should be just fine.
- For the first time, the WNBA will enforce a defensive three-second rule like the one the NBA enacted when zone defenses were legalized in 2001. The implication here is obvious: In presumptive No. 1 pick Brittney Griner, the WNBA is getting a presence in the paint unlike any before in league history, with the possible exception of the late Margo Dydek. For most centers, camping out under the rim hasn’t proven effective, even within zones, which is why the league has never had a rule. Griner could be the exception that forces the rule.
The other thing worth watching is how this affects teams like the Storm that use help-heavy defensive systems while playing man-to-man defense. Brian Agler’s defense asks weak-side defenders to be in the paint to provide help. They’ll now have to make sure they either stay no longer than three seconds or are within arm’s reach of an offensive player, which could require a bit of an adjustment.
- Lastly, the league will follow the NBA’s lead in cracking down on flopping. So far, the results seem to be nothing but positive, with a little less acting – at least of the egregious variety – going on. No complaints here, as with expanding the use of replay to determine the severity of flagrant fouls.