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What difference does 21 inches make in the NBA?

Vertically, it's the margin which separates Muggsy Bogues from Bryant "Big Country" Reeves. Horizontally, the distance represents the league's most significant rule change for 1997-98.In an effort to open up the game, the NBA has moved its 3-point arc back to 23 feet, 9 inches - the original distance measured from 1979-80 when the shot was formally adopted through the 1993-94 season. Ironically, the line is being moved back for the same reason it was moved forward three years ago.

Offensive output had slumped to its lowest level since 1956-57 when the decision was first made to move the line, but the change simply accelerated the trend. NBA teams averaged 101.5 points per game in 1993-94 and just 96.9 last season.

"It seemed like the right thing to do at the time," said league vice president Rod Thorn. (But) a lot of people began taking 3-point shots that shouldn't have been taking them. And it was too easy to double-team in the low post."

Utah Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek, who had made 407 shots in eight seasons from the old mark, said the closer line just made things more congested.

"I've always been a proponent for moving that line back," said Hornacek.

"I think the thought process was that it would open up the game, but once you saw what happened, and as a player you saw it immediately, it just brought everyone closer to the basket.

"For guys who are shooters, we like the line back. It's a pretty good distance," he added. "I shot higher percentages out there than I did from closer because guys never left me."

League-wide, the number of 3-point shots escalated with the closer line, but percentages remained about the same. Players made 7,301 of 21,907 attempts in 1993-94 and 14,383 of 39,934 last season - percentages went from .333 to .360. The 3-pointer, however, has become an integal part of NBA scoring. More than 18 percent of points scored last season came from behind the arc.

"Moving the line back is a big deal but not for shooters," said Phoenix coach Danny Ainge, who is one of just four players to have made 1,000 or more career 3-point shots. "It will weed out the also-rans."

Dan Majerle led the league with 192 3-pointers made in 1993-94. He was one of just 18 players to make more than 100 that season. A year later with a closer line, 40 players exceeded the total. In 1996-97, six shooters equaled or surpassed Majerle's total. Indiana's Reggie Miller led the league with 229, while Glen Rice of Charlotte was the most accurate shooter at 47 percent.

The guards, however, weren't the only ones taking advantage of the shorter line. Meet the opportunistic Cliff Robinson. The 6-foot-10 forward made 51 3-pointers in the first five years of his career but connected on 441 in the three seasons with the shorter line.

"It was coincidence. It's just where I was placed in the offense," said Robinson, who is beginning his first season in Phoenix after eight with Portland. "I think I'll still get some 3-pointers up, but right now I'm playing center and enjoying it."

Robinson acknowledges that fewer 3-point shots will likely be taken this season and that several players did feel more comfortable shooting from the outside with the closer line - he just wasn't one of them.

"Now it's a different shot," he said. "It's tougher, but in a lot of ways it is still the same for guys comfortable from that distance."

Hornacek, however, said the line change will alter defensive coverages.

"I think our style of defense where we are digging the ball out from the big guys and helping out down low, it's going to make it harder for us guards to get down there and help out," he said of Utah's approach. "But we're not going to be penalized as much because guys will have to hit tougher shots. Before, you get a two-guard out there standing at that line and leave him open and it was pretty much automatic the guy was going to make it. It hurt us more with our style of defense when that line was closer."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is taking a wait-and-see approach. He said the NBA preseason failed to produce a markable difference and that it may take as many as 20 regular season games to determine how the new 3-point line will affect the game.

"It's going to be interesting to see," said Sloan. "I think it could possibily open up the game - if you are active."

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Additional Information

Threeplay

A look at how distance has affected the NBA's 3-point shot. In an effort to boost scoring, the league moved the arc from 23-9 to 22-0 after the 1993-94 season. The NBA has opted to return the shot to its original length this season.

Year Attempts Made

1993-94 21,907 7,301

1994-95 33,887 12,153

1995-96 38,159 14,000

1996-97 39,934 14,383

The 3-pointer and the Jazz

1993-94

NBA 7,301 of 21,907, 33.3%

Utah Jazz 179 of 559, 32.0%

Karl Malone 8 of 32, 25.0%

John Stockton 48 of 149, 32.2%

Jeff Hornacek 70 of 208, 33.7%

Bryon Russell 2 of 22, 9.1%

1994-95

NBA 12,153 of 33,887, 35.8%

Utah Jazz 301 of 801, 37.6%

Karl Malone 11 of 41, 26.8%

John Stockton 102 of 227, 44.9%

Jeff Hornacek 89 of 219, 40.6%

Bryon Russell 13 of 44, 29.5%

1995-96

NBA 14,000 of 38,159, 36.6%

Utah Jazz 377 of 1,013, 37.2%

Karl Malone 16 of 40, 40.0%

John Stockton 95 of 225, 42.2%

Jeff Hornacek 104 of 223, 46.6%

Bryon Russell 14 of 40, 35.0%

1996-97

NBA 14,383 of 39,934, 36.0%

Utah Jazz 334 of 902, 37.0%

Karl Malone 0 of 13, 0%

John Stockton 76 of 180, 42.2%

Jeff Hornacek 72 of 195, 36.9%

Bryon Russell 108 of 264, 40.9%