Prior to the 2009-10 NBA season, when Kevin Durant first emerged as a generationally environment friendly scorer, solely 4 gamers averaged 30 or extra factors per recreation on 60% true shooting or higher: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Adrian Dantley, or the three most prolific scorers of the league’s first 67 years and a man so expert at manufacturing free throws that proliferation at the line turned “The Dantley.”
Through the first month of this season, eight gamers scored higher than 30 factors per recreation, and 7 of them owned a real shooting share greater than 60%. The one who didn’t, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has a profession true shooting share of 60%. A ninth participant, Ja Morant, may be part of their membership in quick order.
If the NBA hasn’t maximized shooting efficiency, the previous three seasons have plateaued at a degree we by no means may’ve imagined earlier than the league’s 3-point boon, and it will take one other revolution to lift the bar once more.
The Dallas Mavericks scored 116.7 factors per 100 possessions throughout the 2019-20 marketing campaign, setting the NBA normal, in keeping with Basketball Reference. Seven groups eclipsed that determine in empty arenas the following season. Another matched it final season, and three extra are on tempo to match or eclipse it this season. That record contains the Boston Celtics, at present scoring a report 119.5 factors per 100 possessions.
Seven of the 12 groups on that record featured both Durant, Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum or Donovan Mitchell — 5 of the eight aforementioned gamers averaging 30-plus factors a recreation this season:
Luka DoncicDallas Mavericks: 34.4 PPG (54.6 eFG%, 60.4 TS%)
Joel EmbiidPhiladelphia 76ers: 32.3 PPG (56.0 eFG%, 63.9 TS%)
Jayson TatumBoston Celtics: 31.9 PPG (57.5 eFG%, 64.1 TS%)
Donovan MitchellCleveland Cavaliers: 31.6 PPG (60.8 eFG%, 64.9 TS%)
Stephen CurryGolden State Warriors: 31.5 PPG (64.7 eFG%, 69.2 TS%)
Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderOklahoma City Thunder: 31.5 PPG (56.4 eFG%, 63.3 TS%)
Giannis AntetokounmpoMilwaukee Bucks: 31.3 PPG (54.5 eFG%, 58.4 TS%)
Kevin DurantBrooklyn Nets: 30.3 PPG (56.6 eFG%, 65.1 TS%)
Should Curry keep these numbers, his season would rank as the best high-volume scoring season ever, two ticks higher than his unanimous MVP marketing campaign. Mitchell’s season would rank third, and collectively this group would account for six of the 16 best high-volume scoring seasons in historical past.
It is not any coincidence that Antetokounmpo, Embiid, Doncic, Durant and Tatum type the high 5 for free-throw makes an attempt this season, every averaging not less than 9 a recreation (greater than Jordan did at any level in the Nineteen Nineties).
Antetokounmpo, Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander rank in the high seven in field-goal makes an attempt per recreation at the rim, the place every shoots higher than 70% (roughly the equal of a main Shaquille O’Neal season).
Curry, Mitchell and Tatum rank in the high 9 for makes an attempt per recreation from 3-point vary, the place Curry and Mitchell are each shooting 43% (and all three are making extra triples per recreation than Ray Allen ever did).
They have all however perfected the recreation’s best photographs and dialed up their quantity from every location to 11 — fairly actually. Curry’s 11.5 makes an attempt per recreation from 3-point vary lead the league for a 3rd straight season. (Only James Harden, who hit the 30 factors per recreation and 60% true shooting thresholds 3 times from 2017-20, has averaged extra in a season.) Antetokounmpo is averaging 11.6 makes an attempt at the rim per recreation, the second most (behind Zion Williamson’s 13.4 in 2020-21) since the NBA started monitoring the information in 1996. Doncic, Embiid and Antetokounmpo may turn into the first trio to every common not less than 11 free-throw makes an attempt in the identical season since Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson in 1965-66.
It is not simply that they’re taking the proper photographs. The accuracy with which they’re changing them creates area to make tough photographs simpler. Teams are taxing themselves to defend the rim and the perimeter, so the mid-range opens sufficient to make these makes an attempt manageable. Kobe Bryant took a league-leading 12.2 mid-range photographs per recreation (nearly half his nightly complete) throughout his 2005-06 marketing campaign, when he averaged a career-high 35.4 factors, and made simply 42.4% of them. That is an terrible lot of work to get 10 factors a recreation.
Nobody is trying greater than 9 mid-range photographs per recreation this season. Only two gamers are taking greater than seven, and each are changing higher than 50% of them. Only 13 gamers are taking greater than 4 mid-range photographs per recreation this season, and 11 of them are making greater than 45% of these makes an attempt.
This speaks to the league-wide ability degree and self-discipline. It is not simply the stars, both. Seasons previous have seen a smattering of largely specialists who shot higher than 45% on not less than three 3-point makes an attempt per recreation. You can most likely identify off the high of your head half the record of 35 gamers who’ve ever accomplished it for greater than half a season. JJ Redick, Steve Nash, Kyle Korver, Joe Harris, Dale Ellis, Hubert Davis, Stephen Curry, Seth Curry and Brent Barry are the solely ones to have accomplished it a number of occasions. Beyond them, a Brandon Rush, Eric Piatkowski, Steve Novak, Troy Murphy or Anthony Morrow would possibly catch fireplace for a 12 months.
This season, 18 gamers are on tempo to hitch that membership, albeit early in the season. The Celtics boast three of them: Grant Williams, Al Horford and Sam Hauser, who’re shooting a mixed 46% on a dozen 3-point makes an attempt per recreation. The Celtics have weaponized the roster round Tatum. Defend their shooters, and Tatum assaults the rim. Close in on Tatum, and he picks his poison round the arc. (No NBA duo is scoring extra factors per possession than the 1.34 the Celtics are scoring when Tatum and Hauser share the courtroom.) Try to defend each, and Jaylen Brown steps into the mid-range, the place he is shooting 60.5% this season.
Just how far can gamers and groups take this math? There is just a lot tempo and area to generate.
The final three seasons have seen the highest common offensive scores in NBA historical past, peaking earlier this 12 months at 112.3. That is 4 factors higher than the heydays of the Nineteen Eighties, when final the league performed at an common tempo of 100 possessions per recreation. Regulation scores are reaching the 120s and 130s on a nightly foundation, and the Sacramento Kings scored 153 factors towards the Brooklyn Nets in 4 quarters on Tuesday, when their tempo for the recreation (109 possessions) would have set a report if averaged over a full season.
Obviously, the enhance in 3-point makes an attempt has had a profound affect on this efficiency. A group’s common makes an attempt per recreation didn’t attain double digits till 1995 and solely eclipsed 20 in 2013. That quantity rose steadily annually till 2020, when it plateaued round 34 per recreation, identical as the place we stand this season. The league-average conversion fee on 3-pointers has stayed round 35%-36% all through the final 25 years.
The final time the league’s common quantity of 3-point makes an attempt held regular was from 2007-12, when groups shot 18 per recreation. Around that point, then-Houston Rockets government Daryl Morey escalated the model of basketball we see so usually as we speak. His groups topped out at a report 45 makes an attempt per recreation from 2018-20. The Rockets peaked at 114.9 factors per 100 possessions once they shot 35.6% from distance in 2018-19, and their offensive ranking dropped to 112.5 when their 3-point shooting share as a group fell to 34.5%.
There is proof of diminishing returns on open and wide-open 3-pointers as the Rockets elevated their makes an attempt from 26.6 in 2013-14 to 45.4 in 2018-19. Defenses acquired hip to Houston’s scheme, and Harden needed to work even tougher as the heliocentric core of the offense. There is just thus far you may push the restrict, and we shouldn’t be stunned the league common has settled at the median of Houston’s escalating makes an attempt.
There is comparable proof that tempo has its restrict earlier than the toll will get taken on efficiency. No group has ever maintained a tempo of greater than 103 possessions per recreation, shot not less than 36% from distance and scored higher than 1.13 factors per possession (an offense that will rank outdoors the high 10 this season). Dial the tempo again a handful of possessions per recreation, and 33 groups have hit these marks — 30 of them since the 73-win Warriors did it in 2015-16. A report eight groups are on tempo to exceed these figures this season.
Maybe we’ve got hit the ceiling for the pace-and-space era, and it has resulted in a report quantity of 30-point scorers and the highest offensive ranking in NBA historical past. Or perhaps gamers will proceed to turn into much more expert than they already are. That is actually asking somebody to turn into an amalgam of Antetokounmpo and Curry — hitting these 11 photographs apiece at the rim, 3-point line and free-throw line at 70/45/90 splits, which might translate to the recreation’s first 40 point- per-game scorer since Chamberlain.
Whether that is doable or not, NBA offenses — and the stars that drive them — have by no means been higher.
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Ben Rohrbach is a employees author for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or observe him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach