On Wednesday, five teams broke the 120-point mark. Two of those teams needed triple overtime. (If we're being honest, it's a minor upset that the Bulls hit 120 even in triple overtime.) But for three teams to hit 120 in regulation on one day is pretty extraordinary. That's a whole lot of scoring!
It's not an aberration either. Last season, teams averaged 98 points per game. That's up two points to the century mark this season.
Are NBA teams doing better on offense this year compared to last? There were no major rule changes or points of emphasis pertaining to how players or teams can defend in the offseason. In fact, per-possession scoring (1.054) is down slightly compared to last season (1.059). But this season, not even at the official midway point, has already seen a team break 120 in a regulation game 46 times. In all of last season, that happened 67 times.
The explanation for the scoring outbursts of late isn't effectiveness of offense. It's in the volume of offense. NBA teams are, on average, playing at a faster rate than at any point since the 1993-94 season.
No one team is really driving the renewed interest in speed, though the 76ers under Brett Brown have seen a wild swing from the Doug Collins days. Philadelphia is averaging a league-high 100 possessions per game, up from 91 a year ago (which was 11th lowest figure in the NBA in 2012-13). It seems more like a collective mindset to speed up the game by a range of teams.
Teams coached by Rick Adelman and Mike D'Antoni are Nos. 2 and 3 in pace, which is hardly a surprise. Adelman, along with Don Nelson, was the star of that pace spike you see in 2000; D'Antoni regularly had one of the fastest teams in the league in the Aughts. The built-for-speed Warriors and Nuggets round out the top five this season. Two big-time contenders -- the Thunder and Clippers -- follow. (This is the first season ever in which Chris Paul is playing in an up-tempo offense. Doc Rivers typically led slow attacks in Boston, but note that Alvin Gentry is currently his top lieutenant in L.A and Gentry is as devoted to pace as D'Antoni.)
We have those seven teams all ahead of the team we thought would be the in-vogue high-pace team, the Houston Rockets. Headed by a general manager who scouts for speed and led by James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin on the wings, Houston is built to fly. (The entire organization, that is.) In fact, Houston had the top pace in the league in 2012-13 at 96.1 possessions per game. The addition of Dwight Howard hasn't slowed them much, as they are averaging 95.6 possessions per game this season. (Remember, Howard supplanted Omer Asik. Not exactly a hippo replacing a gazelle, you know?) It's just that so many other teams have decided to play even faster than Houston.
As so many hack teams have taught us over the years, pace alone is not an answer. Let us never forget Sam Mitchell's short-lived 100-FGAs-or-bust Raptors, or Marc Iavaroni's confused, confusing high-octane Grizzlies. Offense doesn't rely on having a high pace; one of the best offenses of this era was the 2008-09 Blazers, led by Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge and coached by Nate McMillan. That team scored 114 points per 100 possessions -- a huge number, the 19th-best in NBA history -- but had the league's lowest pace, at fewer than 87 possessions per game.
(Interestingly enough, the current Blazers are right there in terms of efficiency with the 2008-09 Blazers. The only common player is Aldridge. Also, the current Blazers average 95 possessions per game. Same efficiency at almost a 10 percent increase in pace as the '08-09 Blazers.)
But it's nevertheless interesting that more teams are looking for the answer by picking up the pace. Whether this season will resemble a 2000-like aberration in the long-term or the spark of a trend upward remains to be seen.
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