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Scoring by ones and twos is a big problem for Olympic 3x3 basketball. It’s just simple math. 

By Khadrice Rollins
July 24, 2019

The Olympics were so close to getting 3x3 basketball right.

Alas, like most of us who play halfcourt pick-up games, the scoring system being used is trash.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics (which begin in exactly one year) will be the first to feature 3x3, a disctinct form of basketball sanctioned by FIBA where scoring is counted by ones and twos. All shots inside what is traditionally the three-point arc will count as one, and all shots from behind will be worth two.

Seems simple. And, many of us play games using that same scoring system. I, for one, grew up playing ones and twos and expect each pick-up game I play to use that same scoring system because its what I'm used to. But just like my firm belief going into the 2012 Finals that Kevin Durant was the best basketball player in the world and not LeBron James, I'm wrong.

A few years back, Kirk Goldsberry wrote a piece on Grantland that broke down the problem with using ones and twos instead of twos and threes in pick-up and it's simple: it throws off the math of basketball. In every other organized setting with twos and threes, three-pointers have increased value, but only 50% more value than a two. With ones and twos, shots from behind the arc are now 100% more valuable.

Now, in a traditional pick-up game, the issue here is that even bad three-pointer shooters are overly incentivized to shoot from distance, because even though they are going to shoot worse—much, much worse than the pros most people are emulating—the math will come back in their favor since the shots are worth double the points.

In the Olympic setting, this shouldn't be as much of a problem because there will be much better talent than at your local run. However, shooting from deep is still improperly inflated and will likely lead to many of these games just becoming "three-point" shooting contests. And that isn't basketball. It's a part of basketball, but just launching as many shots from deep because math isn't what James Naismith intended.

In fact, he wanted all shots to be the same in value, and that's what the Olympics should have done as well.

Making the scoring all ones would have been perfect for this setting, especially considering they are offering foul shots. Make every single shot in 3x3 worth the same, and the game becomes about who can play the best basketball in the 10 minutes, not who can get hot from behind the line first. There's too much value in twos in this format for teams to not be structured around shooting as much as possible, and that creates for a less fun game.

It's amazing to see Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson launching from deep in the middle of a game and seeing how back-breaking a three-pointer can be at practically any moment. But the game would not be as fun if neither of them ever had a reason to try any other shot simply because there isn't as much value.

If the 3x3 Olympics games were played with twos and threes, that would also be acceptable. They would have to play to a score higher than 21, but that's not a big adjustment. But playing with a shot worth twice as much as any other shot is.

The BIG3 understands this and plays games with twos and threes. Yes, there is also a four-point shot in that league, but that's because they wanted to add that element to the game to spice things up. And it's a shot that is harder than a traditional three-point shot, thus making it more of a factor in how to approach shooting, not a fatal flaw in the scoring system.

Playing ones and twos isn't a way to create more tension and drama within a contest, it's just a way to hinder the quality of a basketball game.

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