Friday, April 25, 2008

Offense Up Again in '07-08

We did a post back in October about how offensive numbers had been trending upward for the past few years, and the trend largely continued in 2007-08.

Here's an update on this year's headlines:

1. Points per game: Oh so close to 100!

Scoring was up to an average of 99.92 ppg per team, so tantalizingly close to cracking the 100 ppg mark for the first time since 1994-95.

Here's how ppg numbers have plummeted and climbed back up since that season:
94-95: 101.4
95-96: 99.5
96-97: 96.9
97-98: 95.6
98-99: 91.6
99-00: 97.5
00-01: 94.8
01-02: 95.5
02-03: 95.1
03-04: 93.4
04-05: 97.2
05-06: 97.0
06-07: 98.7
07-08: 99.9

2. Three-point shooting better than ever

Three-point shooting jumped from .358 on '06-07 to .362 in '05-06. The only time that number's ever been higher was '95-96 (.367), one of three years that the line was moved in.

The average team went 6.5-18.1 per game from behind the arc, both of those numbers improved upon records set last season (6.1-16.9). As you can see, that number for attempts shattered the mark from last season. That jump of 1.2 attempts/game was the biggest jump (other than when the line was moved in) since '92-93, when the number went up by 1.4 attempts/game (7.6 to 9.0) from the previous season.

We carped on this in our post from last year, but I'm going to bring it up again: this story of improved offense/shooting is criminally under-reported after all the stories a decade ago about how scoring/shooting numbers were going down and how that was a sign of a) players not caring about fundamentals and b) deterioration of the league in general (all the while ignoring how better defense than ever was being played).

Where are all the stories in return now about how outside shooting is better than ever? It's not even close: outside shooting has taken a quantum leap over that of previous generations. Today's players are the greatest outside shooters in the history of basketball, period.

In 1985-86, the average team went 0.9-3.3 from three for a robust .282 percentage. Michael Cooper ranked 7th with a percentage of .387; in 2007-08, he would have ranked 47th.

Isiah Thomas ranked 19th that season with a percentage of .309; in 2007-08, he would have ranked 114th. Only five players who qualified for the league leaders this season shot worse from downtown (interestingly, two of those were Tracy McGrady and Kevin Durant).

3. Field-goal shooting was sort of down slightly, sort of up slightly

FG% was down slightly from .458 in '06-07 to .457 in '07-08, though that was still the second-highest number since 1995-96.

However, I still believe that Adjusted Field-Goal Percentage (i.e., granting an extra .5 FG made for each three-point shot made, to account for how many points are scored per field-goal attempt) is a more accurate number of field-goal shooting than raw FG% in this era of voluminous three-point attempts.

In 2007-08, the Adjusted FG% went up slightly, from .496 to .497, which is as high as this number has ever been, when the record number of three-point makes is accounted for.

Free-throw shooting was up from .752 last season to .755 in '07-08, the third-highest number since 1991-92.

Also, the 81.5 field-goal attempts per team per game were the second-highest since 1993-94, and up from 79.7 last season.

4. Assists were up slightly, but still down historically

Assists per game went up from 21.3 in 2006-07 to 21.8 in 2007-08. Most of that rise was due simply to more field goals being made, as the percentage of assists per field goal was about 58.5%, as opposed to 58.4% last season.

Both of these assist numbers are down from a generation ago - there were 26.0 assists per game, on 61.0% of FGs, in 1986-87.

That assist/FG pct held steady even as raw numbers dropped - it was at 60.9% in 2003-04. It seems like the crackdown on handchecking has cut down on assists a little bit as it's opened up more lanes for dribble penetration.

Thanks to Basketball Reference for all the numbers: