After the NBA introduced the three-point line in 1979, it would have been be intuitive to assume that guards, who shot a disproportionate amount of the new and more efficient three-point shots, benefitted most from it. But a new study from the Journal of Sports Economics claims that after the three-pointer was introduced, big men actually made more gains in offensive productivity than guards.
The authors examined data for five seasons prior and five seasons after the three-point line was introduced. Points per field-goal attempt was used to gauge offensive productivity.
After the three-point line was introduced, centers (+0.03) and forwards (+0.042) saw their points per attempt climb, while guards' points per attempt declined slightly (-0.01). When put a different way, the authors found that players of average height (6.5 feet) saw their points per attempt climb by 0.03 and completion rate increase by 1.6 percent. But taller players (those who were at least 6 inches taller than the 6.5 foot mean) saw roughly double the gains in offensive productivity (points per attempt increased 0.064, completion rate increased 3.2 percent). Defensive productivity wasn't addressed in the paper.
Their big takeaway is big men made more gains in offensive productivity because the three stretches defenses. It also stemmed from players generally sucking at the shot; the league shot 28 percent on threes in 1979-80, and 36 percent last year. The NBA has always been a big man's league, but the change to get guards more space to operate coincidentally created a vacuum where the bigs just had more space to do what they already did well, and the guards were Jedi mind tricked into shooting insane shots they couldn't hit.
We've actually known that this was the case for some time, but here are the numbers that back it up.