With the NBA’s unwritten rule forbidding squads to play defense until the playoffs, we have seen a regular season offensive explosion in recent years.
Some of the scores these days are reminiscent of the cocaine-crazed '80s, when triple-digit diamond-studded showcases were at a premium and high-flying, rim-rocking excitement was an NBA staple.
Twenty-eight players are averaging at least 20 points per game. I only went back as far as 2000, but the league hasn't seen this much scoring prowess since at least the turn of the millennium.
If you look at the NBA League averages dating back to 1993-94 season, the 38.4 field goals per game that teams are making now is the NBA’s highest average in 24 seasons.
The league is also averaging 103.8 points per game. That’s the most since the 92-93 season when the league scoring average was 105.3. And it’s 12.2 points higher than in the 98-99 season when the league scoring average was a paltry 91.6 points per game.
This season's boosted scoring averages don’t match the Showtime '80s when teams were hoisting an average of 43 shots a game and averaging between 107-110.8 points each night, but it is trending in that direction.
Ya pops would say the players were better back then, because we know the team defense, aggression and defensive intensity was. Generation King James would point to those numbers and credit the defenses of today with being better than basketball purists admit.
I think it all comes down to possessions. In the late '90s, the game raised its athleticism, but also slowed down a bit because of the defensive intensity and half-court styles that re-emerged. There weren’t as many shots being made or taken.
In the 1994-95 season, the league average was 38 field goals made per game. The league average didn’t exceeded that number again until 2015-16, when teams averaged 38.2 made field goals a game.
The results of years of rule changes sparked by increasing revenue and an expanding global platform, along with the transformation from an inside, “big man’s” game to a multi-faceted, perimeter game where guards control the rock, the tempo and the temperature, has led to these scoring barrages we are seeing.
The advent of the multi-skilled big man; the forward/center -- in the case of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis -- who can shoot long range, handle the pill, distribute the basketball with poise and accuracy and beast on the blocks, has taken center stage.
We are farther from the Detroit Bad Boys of the '80s and Knicks of the '90s style of play than we have ever been. Offensive leniency is at an all-time high. The greatest player in our game has made “the flop” a legitimate strategy. Refs don’t eat their whistles until June and we are seeing more players than ever filling up the bucket.
Some hoop heads say it’s a lack of defense and the inevitable effects of a multitude of philosophical and technical changes in the sport. Others will say that the players are simply better and more skilled than ever, that the potency of the three-ball has forced every superstar (except Dwyane Wade) to adapt it into their games.
Naturally, three-point shooting percentage the past three seasons have been below the league average of the previous 10 seasons, but the players are shooting an average of 26.3 treys per game, which is easily the most in league history and are taking more shots per game (85.6) than they have in any season since 1992-93.
So it all makes sense.
Just five players in the past 25 years have led the league in scoring by averaging more than 31.0 ppg.
Kevin Durant averaged 32.0 ppg in the 2013-14 season. Kobe Bryant averaged a robust 35.4 ppg in the 05-06 season and followed that up by averaging 31.6 ppg in 06-07. Allen Iverson led the league by averaging 31.1 in 00-01 and 31.4 in 01-02. Tracy McGrady poured in 32.1 ppg in the 02-03 season and of course, MJ averaged a typical 32.6 ppg in the 92-93 season.
Only once in the past 25 years have three players averaged over 30 points per game in the same season and that was in 05-06 when Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 ppg, A.I. averaged 33.0 ppg and King James averaged 31.4 ppg.
We haven’t had three immortal scorers at the top of the food chain like that in a long time.
Until this season.
We have several ballers who are sniffing at that 30 ppg plateau and two guys in league scoring leader AD (32.1 ppg) and Russell Westbrook (31.2) who are averaging over 31 points a night.
The scoring is insane and stat-stuffing is an official part of the game.
The NBA has 10 ballers who are averaging 25.5 ppg or more this season, which equals the total number of dudes who scored at that clip in the last three seasons combined. And going as far back as 2000, you won’t find more than eight guys flexing those scoring averages in the same season.
To put things into further perspective, James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins are tied for fourth in scoring at 28.7 ppg, just behind DeMar Derozan (28.9). Harden and Cousins' scoring averages would lead the league in four of the past six years.
The NBA is the Wild West again. Dudes are running and gunning and the fans seem to be eating it up.
Despite some top-heavy teams loaded with unmatched talent, at least every team in every market has a couple of superstars in today’s NBA because the style of play dictates that shots are going to go up and somebody has got to take them.