Don’t look now, but NBA teams are scoring like it’s 1985
If you loved that high-scoring era of the NBA three and four decades ago, you’ll love what’s happening now.
Consider these results from the first nine days of the season:
New Orleans 131, Houston 112. … Utah 123, Sacramento 117. … Memphis 131, Cleveland 123. … New Orleans 149, Sacramento 129. … Golden State 124, Utah 123. … Dallas 140, Minnesota 136. … San Antonio 143, Los Angeles Lakers 142. … Detroit 133, Philadelphia 132. … Golden State 144, Washington 122.
Those are like 1970s ABA scores or early- and mid-1980s NBA scores. But they're not.
Teams are averaging 112.4 points, up from 105.8 through the same number of games in 2017-18 and up from 106.3 for all last season. If teams maintain that pace, it will be the highest scoring per game average in nearly five decades. Teams averaged 112.4 points in 1970-71.
Scoring has been on the rise since 2011-12, but rarely has it been by more than two or three points per season. From 2016-17 to 2017-18, the scoring average increased less than a point to 106.3 from 105.6. It was 102.7 in 2015-16.
This season, teams have scored at least 130 points in a game 15 times. They reached 130 points 64 times last season. The league is on pace to surpass that mark by the end of November.
Within these scoring outbursts this season are individual 50-point performances on consecutive nights. Detroit’s Blake Griffin scored 50 on Tuesday and Golden State’s Stephen Curry had 51 on Wednesday. Fifty-point games aren’t uncommon – it happened 13 times last season and 14 the season before – but with these high-scoring games, 50-point games could be more common.
Factors that play a role in the scoring outburst:
Three-point shooting. It’s no secret the NBA loves the three-ball. Its importance has continued to grow, and this season, teams are making (22.5 per game) and taking (63.4) more threes than they did last season (21 makes and 58 attempts per game). As teams continue to spread the floor, create mismatches and look for open shooters at the three-point line, this trend isn’t declining any time soon. Big, small or in between, you better be some kind of three-point threat in today's NBA.
Aside from three-point shots, teams are taking and making more shots in general. The percentage isn’t up, but the increase in both makes and attempts had led to more points.
Pace. The number of possessions per team per 48 minutes – called pace – is rising. The breakneck pace is 103.2 this season, up from 98.5 last season and 97.4 in 2016-17, according to nba.com/stats. Through the same number of games (62), pace was 101 last season and 98.2 the season before. For comparison's sake, in 2012-13, pace was 93.3. Teams with depth love to get up and down the court and wear down an opponent.
Alongside spacing, pace is another factor offensive-minded coaches push as they try to take advantage of early offense before the defense sets up. The rule change this year in which the shot clock resets to 14 seconds instead of 24 after an offensive rebound also creates more possessions.
Freedom of movement. That’s one of the NBA’s points of education for referees and players this season. The league wants referees to call fouls when a player’s freedom of movement is impeded. Its direct impact is hard to quantify, but free throws are up early this season (37.1 makes/49 attempts per game) compared to last season (33.3 makes/43.4 attempts per game).
Talent. The league is loaded with gifted scorers, from point guards (Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Trae Young) to shooting guards (James Harden, Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal, DeMar DeRozan, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler) to small forwards (Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo) to power forwards (Griffin, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge) to centers (Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns).
All those players have at least one 30-point game this season, and the list doesn’t include LeBron James, who soon will pass Dirk Nowitzki and Wilt Chamberlain and move into fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
So sit back and enjoy as the scoreboards light up. Just don't ask the defensive purists what they think.
Follow Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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