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News » Scoring makes a comeback in the NBA

Scoring makes a comeback in the NBA

Scoring makes a comeback in the NBA
A quarter of a century ago, the year LeBron James was born, a running joke was NBA officials could save a lot of time if they put 100 points on the board for both teams, placed four minutes on the clock and let them play it out.

Oh, how times have changed.

The league hasn't averaged 100 points since the 1994-95 season, when Tim Duncan was a sophomore at Wake Forest and Allen Iverson was a freshman at Georgetown.

Scoring, though, is making a comeback.

Is this the year NBA teams finally average 100 points a game?

"I'd love to see it," said Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, who some give credit for igniting a renaissance. "I'd rather watch the old days than a grind-it-out game every night. We're closer to the balance of scoring and defense. To me, that game is more fun to watch."

For 38 consecutive seasons, NBA teams averaged more than 100 points. The all-time high was 122.0 points per team just over 40 years ago. The low point was a decade ago when the league average bottomed out at 91.6.

"In 1988, when I first got in the league, if you scored 105 points you were near the bottom of the league," said Thunder interim coach Scott Brooks. "You were a slow team."

Why did scoring fall off so dramatically? Why is scoring now making a comeback?

First a history lesson.

In the 1960s and 1970s, back when it was common for teams to average 110-plus points, it wasn't run-and-gun Basketball. Teams simply attempted more shots. A lot more shots.

Most NBA teams this season will average between 80 to 85 shots a game, which is up significantly from a decade ago. To provide some context, the 1960 NBA champion Boston Celtics averaged 120.

"Guys usually played four years of college and understood spacing and timing," said Minnesota coach Kevin McHale, who played in the 1980s. "Teams played with more flow. There were more transition baskets. There was a pace without a lot of coaching."

A new breed of coaches changed the NBA. They devised help defense for inferior players who struggled in man-to-man.

"Innovative coaches from the ABA like Hubie Brown and Larry Brown ran more sophisticated defenses," said Sam Smith, a longtime NBA writer for the Chicago Tribune who now works for "The game slowed. As a result it was allowed to get too physical.

"The NBA eventually admitted it was a mistake by celebrating the Bad Boy Pistons, who actually were scoring more than 100 points but setting a bad precedent. It reached the nadir with Pat Riley's Knicks and that awful New York/Houston Finals in 1994."

Other teams tried to copy the Pistons' and Knicks' success. Scoring plummeted, bottoming out a decade ago when Sacramento was the only team to average 100 points. The Kings barely made it, averaging 100.2.

NBA officials cringed.

In 2001, the NBA scrapped the illegal defense rule. Zone defenses were allowed. When it didn't have the desired effect, four years later league officials announced referees would whistle defenders who hand-checked an offensive player above the free-throw line.

"The way they're now calling the game now it opens the floor more," Brooks said. "The game is more free flowing. There's not as much grabbing and wrestling. It was becoming physical to a dangerous point."

Free throws increased. The court opened up. Quick guards had more room to operate. Scoring increased.

Thirteen teams, nearly half of the league, averaged 100 points last season. Only 10 teams are at the century mark this season, but 18 are averaging 98.0 or more. And scoring usually increases the second half of the season.

While rule changes handed the game back to electrifying, athletic guards, others say the European invasion also played a key role.

Plodding centers are almost extinct. Seven-footers like Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas and Pau Gasol with the Lakers are more comfortable shooting 15-foot jump shots than using back-to-the-basket power moves. It has opened the court.

"A lot of Europeans learned how to play outside," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "They weren't just stuck in the middle where you said, 'OK, you're a center. Don't get out of the paint.' Now if you're 7 feet you need to play outside to be effective."

Centers no longer are among the league scoring leaders. Many feel that's a good thing. There's a reason ESPN shows fast breaks, 3-pointers and dunks. That's what fans crave. The old saying 'defense wins championships' has merit. But that argument loses steam when you realize:

The Bill Russell-era Celtics won 11 titles in 13 seasons and led the league in field-goal attempts seven straight years, all championship seasons.

Magic Johnson's "Showtime Lakers" and Larry Bird's Celtics combined for eight NBA titles in the 1980s. Both teams were always near the top in scoring.

Oklahoma City's buzzer-beating 122-121 win over Golden State last week was viewed as a shootout. Years ago that type of final score was common.

"I call it the 'Steve Nash Effect' when Phoenix first started it," said Thunder guard Earl Watson. "More and more teams are going small and are playing fast. You even see San Antonio doing it some. That's amazing. It's fun to watch."

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: January 28, 2009


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