During the final decades of the 20th century, many players took advantage of the NBA three-point line. Their main goal was to propel their careers to another level. But, which was the first NBA team that took full advantage of the three-point line set by the league in 1979?
Back in the mid-1980s, NBA games were literally dominated by the inside presence of teams like Lakers and the Celtics. Other teams’ eagerness to win and succeed in their markets would look for an alternative strategy of how to get in the position to challenge the powerhouse teams on equal terms.
One of the teams also heading in that direction was the Knicks. The squad from the Mecca of Basketball was definitely keen to rebuild around a dominant inside player.
The vision of the Knicks becoming the force to be reckoned with around the league became realistic in the 1985 NBA draft lottery. Commissioner David Stern pulled out the envelope containing the card with the Kings logo, thus giving the Knicks the #1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft.
From there, it was a clear shot for the Knicks – they used the 1st overall pick to select the 1984 Golden Olympian, Georgetown University alumni – 7’0″ center Patrick Ewing.
With the rookie Ewing on a fast learning curve, soon becoming one of the most dominant inside players in the league, and longtime superstar Bernard King being released after the 1985/86 campaign, the Knicks seemed determined to open an exciting new era of New York basketball in the NBA.
New Knicks GM Al Bianchi, who took over in 1987, then looked for a head coach who could implement more of a team approach, building the team around their franchise player – Ewing.
The offer was presented to the University of Kentucky head coach Rick Pitino, who accepted it!
Bianchi and Pitino now looked for a major spark-plug, a player who could additionally ignite Ewing to a new level and energize the team on both ends of the floor.
The local hero from St. John’s University, 6’3″ point guard Mark Jackson, was a perfect fit for that role. ‘Jax’ did just what he was expected to do – he ignited the 1987/88 Knicks, helping Ewing to take his game to a new level, en route to winning NBA Rookie of the Knicks honors in 1988.
With Pitino on the sidelines, Jackson behind the wheel, and Ewing in the middle, the Knicks opened a new era in their history and soon became the young force to be reckoned with around the league.
Back in those days, the defense was the NBA’s basketball trademark all around the globe, and Pitino’s Knicks were known for their original defensive approach. Pressing defense all over the court making the opposing teams performing mistakes, thus forcing numerous turnovers and bad shots.
Knicks would also score many easy transitional baskets on the other end. When slowed down, they would get the ball to Ewing to get his thing done from the low post. If Ewing was double-teamed, the Knicks would use their newly installed ‘artillery’ beyond the arc.
After getting to know each other in 1987/88 and warming up, the Knicks used the full advantage of the line in 1988/89 when the sharp-shooting unit. Trent Tucker, Johnny Newman, Gerald Wilkins, and Mark Jackson, shot 1147 threes in a single season, recording a 50-32 season record!
The first team in NBA history that shot 1000+ threes in a single season did it with style, not forcing long-distance calls but trying to select the shots. The Knicks were hitting those with 33.7% accuracy! To shoot like that behind the arc is better than shooting 50% from inside the paint. Pitino knew that.
The magnitude of the 1988/89 Knicks’ number can be comprehended if you compare it with the next two teams that subsequently surpassed the 1000 three-point attempts milestone in a single NBA regular season – the 1990/91 Denver Nuggets with 1059 tries and the 1991/92 Milwaukee Bucks with 1005 tries!
Mark Jackson, who left the Knicks back in 1992, took over as the Warriors head coach in 2011. While rejuvenating the role of shooting specialist Stephen Curry, who became the team-leader and MVP, he also revolutionized the team’s style of play, sparking an entirely new era in NBA history. In many ways, he never lost his faith in launching the shot from beyond the arc.
That same shot, Pitino insisted he takes a quarter of a century earlier.