Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NBA Shooting At Historic Highs; Scoring Cracks 100

My sense is that the perception lingers among casual sports fans that the NBA game is lacking in basic basketball fundamentals, especially compared to NCAA ball. Subjectively, it's a somewhat comical sentiment to anyone who watches the game with a truly critical eye. Objectively, the numbers say at least this: the quality of shooting in the NBA has never been better.

It's time for us to once again examine the overall league statistics, as we did after the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Once again, the stats show that offense continues to be on the rise in the NBA, continuing a decade-long trend.

1. Scoring cracks the 100 ppg mark! (Well, pretty much.)
On a wild final night of the 2008-09 season, Daniel Gibson and Michael Finley sent games to overtime with last-second shots in regulation. Among the effects of those buzzer-beaters is that the subsequent OTs allowed enough points to be scored for the NBA to crack the 100 ppg per team mark for the first time since 1994-95, according to totals gathered on Basketball Reference.

By my calculation, there were 245,879 total points scored in 1230 games, for an average of 99.95 per team. Round that baby up to 100.0!

Subtract Devin Harris connecting on a fumbling half-court three in midseason and the total was 245,876, which equates to just 99.949 per team!

Here are the annual ppg numbers dating back to 1994-95:
    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
    08-09: 100.0
Of course, as "Dave" Hollinger wrote on in 2004, the slowdown in the pace of the game was easily the biggest factor in the two-decade decline of raw points per game to that point.

Basketball Reference shows that Pace Factor was actually down slightly this year, from 92.4 to 91.7 possessions, which meant that Offensive Efficiency (points per 100 possessions) was actually up from 107.5 to 108.3, which was also the highest number since 1994-95.

2. Three-point shooting again better than ever.
One of the major evolutions in the way the game is played that's occurred over the last generation is that the number of three-point attempts has continually increased over time - and three-point percentage has, too (with some aberration in the three years in which the line was moved in).

Three-point field-goal percentage took a big jump for the second straight season, up from .358 in '06-07 to .362 in '07-08 to .367 in '08-09.

This season's mark of .3667 was just short of the all-time mark of .3670 in 1995-96, which was one of the three seasons in which the line was moved in, so this season's shooting percentage is easily a more impressive feat.

Average threes made and attempts were once again at record levels of 6.6-18.1 per game.

Here's the evolution of three-point shooting per game per team averages over time (thanks to Basketball Reference):
    79-80: 0.8-2.8 .280
    80-81: 0.5-2.0 .245
    81-82: 0.6-2.3 .262
    82-83: 0.5-2.3 .238
    83-84: 0.6-2.4 .250
    84-85: 0.9-3.1 .282
    85-86: 0.9-3.3 .282
    86-87: 1.4-4.7 .301
    87-88: 1.6-5.0 .316
    88-89: 2.1-6.6 .323
    89-90: 2.2-6.6 .331
    90-91: 2.3-7.1 .320
    91-92: 2.5-7.6 .331
    92-93: 3.0-9.0 .336
    93-94: 3.3-9.9 .333
    94-95: 5.5-15.3 .359 (line moved in)
    95-96: 5.9-16.0 .367 (line moved in)
    96-97: 6.0-16.8 .360 (line moved in)
    97-98: 4.4-12.7 .346
    98-99: 4.5-13.2 .339
    99-00: 4.8-13.7 .353
    00-01: 4.8-13.7 .354
    01-02: 5.2-14.7 .354
    02-03: 5.1-14.7 .349
    03-04: 5.2-14.9 .347
    04-05: 5.6-15.8 .356
    05-06: 5.7-16.0 .358
    06-07: 6.1-16.9 .358
    07-08: 6.5-18.1 .362
    08-09: 6.6-18.1 .367
To update a comparison we ran last season, in 1985-86, Michael Cooper ranked 7th with a percentage of .387; in 2008-09, he would have ranked 58th with that mark.

Isiah Thomas ranked 19th that season with a percentage of .309. In 2008-09, that would place Zeke 125th, ahead of just six players who qualified for the league leaders (including Baron Davis and his shameful .302 mark).

We said it last year, and we'll reiterate it now: Today's players are the greatest outside shooters in the history of basketball, period.

3. Free-throw shooting at a near all-time high.
Foul shooting was up to .771 in '08-09, second-best in NBA history, just a fraction behind the .771 mark in 1973-74.

This year's .771 was somewhat of a surprise, considering the percentage had been .755, .752, and .745 in the last three seasons, and had not even been above .759 since 1990-91.

The individual FT% marks were incredibly impressive as well, led by Jose Calderon's staggering .981, which shattered Calvin Murphy's single-season record of .958.

Not far behind were Ray Allen (.952, 4th best ever) and Steve Nash (.933, 15th best ever). Chauncey Billups (.913) and Mo Williams (.912) were also above 90%.

4. Field-goal efficiency at an all-time high.
Finally, field-goal percentage was up slightly, from .457 last year to .459 in '08-09, the highest FG% number since .462 in 1995-96.

Of course, with the proliferation of three-point attempts in today's game, Effective 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 an increasingly valuable metric - a more accurate measure of field-goal shooting than raw FG%.

Effective Field-Goal Percentage was up from a record .497 in '07-08 to a new record of .500 in '08-09.

No matter how you slice it, shooting in the NBA was better than ever in 2008-09.


At 9:10 PM, Anonymous grover said...

Any easy way to analyze the midrange game? I'd be interested to see the comparisons once we remove dunks and 3s from the mix.

It seems whenever people talk about the "good ol' days" they mean the days when the game focused on the 12-18 foot jumper.

At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Ryne Nelson said...

I'm loving the scoring as well as the defense the League is showing at this point. As compared to the offense-heavy seasons of recent past, there seems to be a renewed interest in playing both ends of the court. Thanks for these detailed data!

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