Supersonic NBA – Why Pace And Scoring Are So High This Season?

Updated: December 16, 2018
golden State Warriors Pic

We’re 354 games into the new season – a perfect sample size to make some reasonable conclusions, and at the same time, let our imagination go wild.

We’re all witnessing some interesting trends in the NBA this season, and naturally, it’s time to take a look at the numbers and videos, and come up with some reasonable conclusions.

Let’s start with some interesting observations that will serve as the main discussion points:

– On a league average level, teams are playing at the fastest pace (100.0 possessions per 48 minutes) over the last 30 seasons

– For the first time since the 1985/86 season, teams are averaging over 110 points per game (110.4)

– League’s offensive rating is the highest (109.7 points per 100 possessions) ever since it has started being recorded in the 1973/74 season

From these facts, this NBA season can be mainly associated with these words: Speed, pace, and scoring.

People love to watch dynamic, fast-paced basketball with lots of movement, shooting and running. So far, NBA teams are delivering the goods on a historic level. If Boban can run the floor, everyone can:

While the apparent reason for this trend could be because of the rule changes that were made before the season started (more about this later), some pieces don’t fit entirely into this puzzle.

For example, although teams are having more possessions than last year, the turnover rate is on a historic-low level (12.6 turnovers per 100 possessions) since it’s been measured (73-74 season). In fact, the league turnover average is the same as last season, despite having more possessions.

Also, although the 3-point percentage is a bit lower (35.1%) than last season (36.2%), overall field goal percentage is at the same level (46%).

This leads to the conclusion that it’s not only the rules that govern the change but also that teams and players are well adept to play super-fast paced game.

Let’s analyze this a bit deeper.

1. Evolution of players physics

The main reason why teams can play this fast with high efficiency is that the players are physically adept for it. First of all, there is a small ball effect – last season, the height difference between NBA centers and point guards was the closest in the last 42 years.

Furthermore, over the past eight years, while the average height in the league remained around 6’7”, average weight took a downward shift, after constantly growing since the 80s.

average height pic

As a result, players today are skinnier, significantly more mobile and agile, which allows teams to play at a constantly high pace with lots of movement. We haven’t reached positionless basketball yet, but we’re getting close (just look at point-Boban again).

Counterargument could be that, because of the increased agility of players, defenses should be more efficient also.

However, there have been some changes in the way referees officiate defending teams this season, which made defenses a bit more vulnerable. But we’ll get to this in a bit.

2. Rule changes

This is something that seems like an apparent reason for a scoring spree this season. Of course, we’re talking about changes in shot-clock time after the offensive rebound, which is moved from 24 to 14 seconds.

Simply put – less time for offense leads to a faster game, more possessions, and more points scored.

There are already lots of articles and videos that cover this aspect, and it’s pretty obvious reason for increased pace and scoring.

However, the reason why it’s on number 2 on the list is that it couldn’t be as effective if teams wouldn’t have the personnel to run up&down the court more frequently. It’s the player’s evolution that made this effective.

3. Defensive adjustments

Another possible reason could be changed criteria of the referees calling fouls this season: all the small, unnoticeable things a defender can do to slow his player down, like pulling his man’s jersey or grabbing his arm, are watched closely and called by the referees more frequently.

As a result, teams are committing more fouls (21.9 per game on a league level), and allowing easy free throw buckets at a higher rate (23.5 FTA) than last season (21.7).

It’ll take some time for defenses to adjust to the referee criteria, but even then, as a result of more fluid offense without “dirty” defensive plays, the game should continue to be high-scoring.

Final words

Whichever the reason you find the most influential for this season’s super fast game style, we can all agree that we’ve been watching some entertaining basketball so far.

For us fans, it’s always fun to watch players score the basketball, so we can hope this trend continues as the season progress.

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