Why are scores so high in the 2018-19 NBA Season?

144-122. 143-142. 140-136. No, these are not the scores of middle school bowling league matches. These are actual scores of games in the 2018-19 NBA season. So, why are scores so high this year?

So far this NBA season, teams have erupted offensively. As of November 4 (all statistics going forward will be based on this date), the league points per game average is at 111.7 -- more than five points higher than last years average. Of the 20 basketball nights already played this season, 80% of them have had a team score at least 130 points. So why has scoring soared this year?

  Field Goal Attempts 3PT Attempts 2PT Attempts Free Throw Attempts Points Per Game
2015-2016 84.6 24.1 60.5 23.4 102.7
2016-2017 85.4 27.0 58.4 23.1 105.6
2017-2018 86.1 29.0 57.1 21.7 106.3
2018-2019 89.4 31.3 58.1 24.4 111.7

Shot Clock on Offensive Rebounds Changed to 14 Seconds

During this past summer, the NBA adjusted the amount of time a team is given after an offensive rebound from 24 to only 14 seconds. This rule was adopted by the league in order to pick up the pace of the game and eliminate stagnant possessions. Viewership is ultimately what drives revenue into the NBA, and long, static possessions aren't quite as exciting as pull-up three's or half court alley-oops.

The league was correct that this change would increase the pace of the game, and the stats back it up.  No team is averaging under 100 possessions per game, contrary to last season when 11 different teams had sub-100 averages. This increase in possessions ultimately is leading to more shots attempted. Five players are currently averaging 20+ field goal attempts per game, whereas last season only two players reached that mark. 14 players are averaging 25+ points per game this year where only eight were able to achieve this feat last season.  Virtually every major offensive category has gone up this year largely due to the shot clock change.

Team free throw attempts last year dropped by about two attempts per game on average due to the infamous "Harden rule," stating that if a player has not yet gathered the ball when contact occurs, it is called a common foul and not a shooting foul.  This average has actually jumped back up this season due to the increase in possessions the shot clock change has caused. Teams now average 24.4 free throw attempts per game this year, which is the highest it has been in the past four years.

Increased Pace of Play

As the league has made changes to increase the pace of play, it’s no secret that coaches are also changing their game plan to push the pace on offense.  The Warriors were the pioneers of this style of play, and their success has largely been due to Steve Kerr and his strategy to play a positionless brand of basketball.  Gone are the days of prioritizing feeding the ball into the post and having your sub-par center spend eight seconds trying to back down his defender.

Big men, of course, are now expected to shoot from beyond the arc and put the ball on the floor.  I was watching the Sixers-Bucks game a few weeks ago and witnessed Brook Lopez attempt nine three-pointers during the first half.  Brook Lopez. I looked this up and found that Lopez had attempted just seven three-pointers in his first six years in the league!  Players like Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid have set the standard for this new era of big men who are able to do it all on the court.  Just imagine Shawn Bradley trying to make a stepback three or Shammgodding (yes, this is a verb) the opposing center.

During crunch time of their season opener against the Bucks, my hometown Hornets (who WILL make the playoffs this season) mounted a 16-point comeback with a lineup of Kemba Walker, Tony Parker, Malik Monk, Nicolas Batum, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  Three of these players are shorter than 6’3 and none are taller than 6’8. Bear in mind that this is against a team who can keep at least two seven-footers on the court at all times, including an MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo (this was my first time typing out his full name and my fingers are going numb).  This caused a mismatch on every possession during the time that lineup was on the court, but Hornets coach James Borrego was willing to sacrifice length in order to have four offensive weapons on the court at the same time. Though the Hornets ultimately lost this game by one point thanks to an unnamed max-contract player air balling a wide-open game-winning three-pointer, their comeback was largely due to coach Borrego emphasizing a positionless, up-tempo game rather than the outdated one through five lineup.

Could Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant both average 30 Points Per Game this season?

Early this season, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant were both averaging above 30 PPG.  Currently, Curry is averaging 32.5PPG while Durant is sitting at 28.3PPG.  In the 1961-62 season, the Lakers became the first and only team to have two players, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, that averaged at least 30PPG. Could Steph and KD do the same?

I really wanted to be bold and make this hot take, but this simply isn’t realistic given the following factors:

  • The Warriors will likely blowout half the teams they play and bench their starters for the fourth quarter, if not earlier.
  • Both players’ field goal attempts will go down when DeMarcus Cousins comes back.
  • Klay Thompson is inevitably going to have his handful of games where he’s hotter than a fresh batch of Bagel Bites.
  • The Warriors just don’t seem to really care about any of these records at this point.

Conclusion

Both the league front office and coaches are emphasizing an increased pace of play which is ultimately causing scores to skyrocket this season.  There likely will be multiple teams that hit 150 points this year, and players will have an easier time getting 30 in a game. Since I wasn’t able to make a hot take on the KD/Steph PPG average, I’ll make this one instead:

A team will score 175 points this year.

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