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Investigating the Huge Increase in Scoring in the NBA

October 25, 2018

   At the beginning of the NBA season, everything was looking normal, the same as it has been the last few years or so, at least as far as scoring was concerned. 

 

   The first two nights of basketball action went by without an extraordinarily high-scoring game, with most of the matchups having a cumulative score of around

200-215 points between both teams. This was about the average in the previous season and the few before that.

 

   By Thursday night, (the third night of regular-season play) NBA fans would see all three games played that night record a total score of 225 or higher. 

 

   While the high-scoring night seemed unusual, nobody expected the rise in total score to occur on a nightly basis. It has. The next night, the average total score from all nine games combined was 231 points, with the highest scoring game being a 278-point shootout between the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Pelicans that ended with a score of 149-129 in favour of the Pels.

 

   The first thing that likely comes to everyone's minds when considering a big rise in offence, is a complete lack of defence. Despite that, I can confidently say that that is not the case, due to the presence of defensive-minded players, like Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, etc. In addition to defensive-minded players, there are also defensive-minded coaches, guys like Detroit's Dwane Casey, Golden State's Steve Kerr, San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, and Boston's Brad Stevens.

 

   With the high-scoring trend continuing throughout the league over the past week, the question has been posed: what is causing this ridiculous spike in total scoring right now?

 

1. Referees Making More Calls 

 

   Outside of poor defence, the first thing that I associate with an increase in scoring is an increase in free throws attempted. 

 

   This could be due to league officials wanting to make the rules even more constricting than they already are, or if it's just an attempt by referees to set the tone for the season, an attempt which will likely taper down the further in to the season we get. 

 

   Regardless of why the refs are making more calls, it's certainly happening. Elite players like Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis are, albeit in a small period of time, averaging nearly a full free throw attempted per game more than last year's league leader, MVP James Harden.

 

   Through this increase in free throws, and obviously, with these guys being professionals, the players knocking them down at a high percentage clip, the scoring increase could be easily justified. 

 

2. Pace of Play Increase

 

   The speed with which teams are playing has hugely increased this year. Every single team is pushing the ball up the floor faster than ever.

 

   The Steve Nash-era Phoenix Suns, once considered to be the fastest team to ever play the game, would currently be good for bottom-two in the league when it comes to pace of play. 

 

   That style of play is hard to defend, no matter how good your team's transition defence may be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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