Jan 19, 2023 - Sports

The NBA is experiencing a points explosion

Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals

The NBA is experiencing a points explosion amid the most prolific offensive environment in half a century.

By the numbers: Scoring is way up this season at both the team and individual level.

  • Points per game: Teams were averaging 114.1 points per game entering Wednesday, the highest mark since the 1969-70 season.
  • 20-point scorers: 43 qualified players are averaging at least 20 points per game. The all-time record is 31.
  • 40-point games: A player has scored 40+ points on 106 separate occasions already, including 24 times this month alone. The record of 137 such games (2018-19) is set to be demolished.
  • 50-point games: The 50-point mark has been hit 16 times, on pace to break the record for most in a non-Wilt Chamberlain season (23 in 2019-20).
Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Basketball Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Scoring and offensive efficiency have been steadily rising for years thanks largely to the three-point revolution.

  • Teams are making (12.3) and taking (34.3) nearly twice as many threes per game this season as they did just a decade ago (6.4 and 18.4).

Yes, but: Three-point volume is actually down slightly over the past two seasons, so that can no longer be the simple explanation for what's happening.

Between the lines: One theory that could explain the scoring surge is that (a) the NBA has never had more talent, and (b) that talent has never been used at such a high rate, notes Sportico's Lev Akabas.

  • Small-ball lineups mean fewer rim protectors, making it easier for those high-usage stars to score at the rim or get fouled. To wit, free throw attempts are at their highest mark in a decade.
  • Leaguewide pace (possessions per 48 minutes) is also up from last season, so players and teams simply have more scoring opportunities.

Plus: You can't discount what's happening — or, in this case, not happening — on the other side of the ball.

  • "Transition defense is at an all-time low in this league," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said recently.
  • "I think the game has gotten really loose and the players are so talented, it's made for a lot of big scoring nights."
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