For seven seasons, Dennis Scott was an absolute nightmare for defenses in a Magic uniform.
Here was a kid — a bit of a knucklehead, by his own admission now — who had to absolutely change minds from the moment he stepped on a basektball floor. When Scott arrived at Georgia Tech in 1987, the 3-point line was still relatively new. It was only 11 years old when he reached the NBA. Nobody saw it quite yet as a tool to winning basketball games, it was still more of a gimmick to impress people at the All-Star Game.
Scott, who was never considered anything close to an ace defender, had to show the world that the 3-point line mattered.
"Rick Kamla, who I work with over at NBATV, calls me 'The Pioneer,'" Scott said. "At the time, I was saying, 'I didn't want that over my head. I wasn't the first person to make a 3-point shot.'
"He said, "No you weren't, but you were the first person to make the 3-point shot relevant." After I thought about it, I was like, 'You were kind of right. When you put it that way, I didn't think of it that way.'
"When I look back and when talk to Coach [Bobby] Cremins in college, first day of practice, come down, it's 3-on-2, fast break, I stop at 24 feet and let it fly, he goes, 'What are you doing? Oh, good shot.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' At first, I didn't know what you were doing. Now that you can make it, and you keep making it, he made it part of his fast break.
"Now you see guys in college and the NBA, we call it the rim run, either the power forward or center runs straight to the rim, the defense sucks in, you see other shooters fade out and [the point guard] kicks it. Every team now is looking for a guy or two who can stretch the defense. Now looking back, I guess I was kind of because most coaches didn't teach it in the late 80s and early 90s. But now coaches are teaching it."
And that is how Dennis Scott likely changed the NBA game and unlocked the 3-pointer as a viable weapon to build a strategy around.
Scott said it took Brian Hill some convincing that the 3-pointer would be the key to his team's success with Shaquille O'Neal at center. It was Matt Guokas who had Scott continuing to shoot.
"If you remember, there was a game in Philadelphia my rookie year, I was 8 for 31," Scott said. "After that game, they said, 'Is this rookie taking too many shots?' He said, no. Maybe three shots were bad shots. I just had a bad shooting game. That's when Matty said keep shooting the basketball. When you start taking bad shots, that's when I'm going to reign you in. That was the difference of learning what's a good shot and what's a bad shot."
That game Scott was talking about? It was a 22-point, 8-for-33 shooting performance in Philadelphia in March 1993. It certainly did not phase Scott. He would later go on to set the record for most 3-pointers in a game — even though the line was shorter, Scott wanted to make sure it was known he was taking shots well behind that line. Scott's coaches knew what a valuable weapon he coudl be and felt comfortable letting him hoist away when he was open.
Before the 1995 season, teams took on average fewer than 10 3-pointers per game. In 1995, the league brought the 3-point line in from 23-feet, 9-inches to 23-feet. It was was returned to its original distance for the 1998 season. Those three years indeed saw a dramatic increase in 3-point field goal attempts. The Magic were very much a part of that growth.
As the chart above shows, courtesy of Andrew Powell-Morse of Data Visualization, there was a large three-year bump in the 3-point shooting as the line was moved closer. However, it is also very clear that the NBA was moving in this direction with more and more teams taking this shot. That chart has a clearly positive slope.
The Rockets in 1995 and 1996 actually took the second and third most 3-pointers in NBA history through the 1996 season. The "Three Js" in Dallas teams had the most to that point. The Magic took the fourth most 3-pointers in NBA history to that point in 1996. These were truly revolutionary times.
Scott was never the best 3-point shooter — he finished in the top-10 in the league in 3-point field goal percentage just once in his 12-year career and was among the top-5 in 3-point field goal attempts three times.
Scott though remained the face of the 3-point revolution. He was on one of the fresh, exciting teams in the NBA and his job was simply to shoot and make 3-pointers. He did that extraordinarily well. And in the process changed much of the NBA's thinking.
"I must admit, now it is fun to hear people say you kind of helped changed how people look at the jump shot or how the transition break is being ran now," Scott said. "Most guys want to run, jump and dunk. There are many times on the 3-on-1 fast break, where people are like, what is he doing, and it's oh that's 3-D, let him shoot. That was something that even the fans started to appreciate and enjoy."
Dennis Scott will tell you he is the greatest shooter in the league. But every shooter will say that. Others have taken what he did and helped establish and expanded upon it greatly.
3-D's legacy though is firmly planted in the current game.