I recently sat down to watch the Lakers-Heat game. The NBA was billing it as the final showdown between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. I wish it was more of a rivalry matchup than the bro-mance that it was (Even their post-game hug-and-talk afterwards seemed so scripted and phony that I almost threw up), but, so are the ways of today’s NBA.
The Lakers eeked out the victory 108-105, behind James’ 28 point, 9 rebound and 12 assist effort. He also shot an efficient 10-19 from the field, including 4-7 from three-point land. Wade had 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 assists for Miami, shooting a putrid 6-19. He failed to connect on any of his seven three-point attempts, bringing down his career-high season average to 34.9%.
As a Lakers fan, if you asked me why the game was so tightly contested, my answer would be, TOO MANY THREE-POINTERS! Good Lord, there were so many times within the course of the game that the Lakers would be behind by a mere four points, or vice versa, and they would essentially be handing the Heat back the ball with a terrible three-point attempt in which no offensive set was even entertained. Granted, a hot streak from behind the arc by James and Kyle Kuzma are what gave the Lakers the victory, but there was a long period of time where fans were simply watching three after three being clanged off the iron (It also really bothers me that the Lakers won by three points. It’s almost too ironic).
As I watched the game, I kept wondering how Luke Walton could be sitting idly on the bench with his arms crossed, and not calling a timeout to chew his team out for squandering valuable possessions. I found myself calling into question his mettle as a coach. Does he have it in him to really lay it into his team when they are messing up? Could LeBron possibly be testing him to see just how much he’ll let him get away with? (Answers: No, and Probably).
Then, I stopped and took a hard look at the game that was being played, and I could see why Walton didn’t think anything was awry. Why Wade felt it necessary to huck up seven shot attempts from a distance he has never shot very well from. EVERYONE was shooting threes. 66 threes between both teams were hoisted up, in which the two teams shot 37.8% collectively, or, just slightly above Dwyane Wade’s current “career high” average. What’s funny about this is the Lakers are actually 6th best in the league at threes, and none of their active players even shoot above 40%, which reflects in their mediocre 35.0% team average (Rajon Rondo is currently shooting 42.9% from three, but we shall see if this continues).
Why? Why do NBA teams shoot so many threes? Some would say that today’s players are all marksmen. I can see this reasoning, to a degree.
Comparing last year’s numbers against the highest scoring season from the 90’s (1992-93), the league shoots on average 36.2% from deep, 2.6% better than the league average during the 1992-93 season of 33.6%. So, yes, this checks out. Players today shoot the three-ball better than they did back in the 90’s, barely. What’s shocking is players today even shoot 2-point field goals better, too, 51.0% compared to 48.9%.
Wow, so players are clearly better scorers today than they were 25+ years ago? Not quite. The league average today for field goal percentage sits at 46.0%, which is 1.3% lower than the 1992-93 average of 47.3%. So, how can today’s era shoot better from all areas on the floor, and still wind up with a lower overall field goal percentage? Answer: It’s all those damn threes! The league average was 9.0 threes per contest in 1992-93, which has since ballooned to 29.0 as of last year, allowing the law of averages to catch-up for the “mid-range” era, truly exposing how inefficient today’s basketball really is.
Because how many more points did all of those three-pointers allow last year’s NBA to outscore 1992-93’s NBA by?
The league last year (on average) took 20 more three-pointers to score one goddamned point more per game than in 1992-93.
Last night should have been an embarrassment, but, sadly, it’s become the norm for an NBA basketball game. Coach Popovich said as much when asked about the state of the game today. Even ratings are down this year for the NBA, but the narrative most have gone with is, “LeBron plays out west, now, so, the east coast has to stay up late to watch him”. Is a league with 29 other teams really this dependent on any one single player? Is the product on the floor not to blame for any of this?
Lets say that it is. What can we do to correct the product? Here’s my idea: Let’s meld the two eras together, shall we? Let’s take the better shooting of today (percentages), mixed with the efficiency of the 90’s (where the shots were taken), and see what we get:
3P: 3.0, 3PA: 9.0, 3P%: 33.6%
2P: 37.7, 2PA: 77.0, 2P% 48.9%
84.4 points total from twos and threes
3P: 10.5, 3PA: 29.0, 3P% 36.2%
2P: 29.1, 2PA: 57.1, 2P% 51.0%
89.7 points total from twos and threes
Our blend (92-93 attempts X last year’s shooting percentage)
3P: 3.3 = 3PA: 9.0 X 3P%: 36.2%
2P: 39.3 = 2PA: 77.0 X 2P%: 51.0%
88.5 points total from twos and threes
Shit, today’s NBA actually outscored our blend of the two eras by a full point. What did we do wrong here? Oh, that’s right! Because they would take so many shots in closer proximity to a defender, the 90’s shot more free-throws than teams do now. It just doesn’t seem like it because today free-throws are shot because someone sneezed on James Harden. Back in the 90’s, these freebies were earned with blood. Unsurprisingly, the league also shoots free-throws at a better percentage today than they did in the 90’s:
FT: 20.9, FTA: 27.7, FT%: 75.4%
84.4 + 20.9 = 105.3 points
FT: 16.6, FTA: 21.7, FT%: 76.7%
89.7 + 16.6 = 106.3 points
Our blend (92-93 attempts X last year’s shooting percentage)
FT: 21.24 = FTA: 27.7 X FT%: 76.7%
88.5 + 21.24 = 109.7 points
It doesn’t sound like much, but 109.7 points per game would equal the highest league average since the 1988-89 season (109.2 PPG). They didn’t shoot the ball better, they simply shot it more efficiently. If today’s offenses played like they did back in the 90’s, the product on the floor would become more watchable. This is because teams would be settling for more efficient shots, and the scores would remain as high or even higher because the players today are all fantastic scorers. Hell, if even one team figured this out, they might lead the league in scoring! By taking less threes! Who’d a thunk it?! (Me)
Now, I’m not advocating that everyone stop shooting threes entirely. Do we need the three-point shot? Yes, of course we do. Without the three, the game gets slogged and congested. The three-point shot provides spacing for which to operate your offense. Leaving someone open to double a big man with good position should be met with penalty; Therefore, teams should be rewarded for making shots further away from the basket, but that doesn’t mean they should rely so heavily on it. If it were up to me, a shot made from beyond half-court would be worth 5 points. But, I shudder to think what NBA offenses today would do with that rule change.
What’s getting lost in today’s game is the first rule in basketball: Put the ball in the basket. And it’s much easier to do that the closer you are to the hoop.
As it stands today, however, the NBA is playing an inferior style of basketball, and we now know are posting three less points (on average) because of it.
There’s that number again. Three…
Fuck it, I guess they could all just shoot one more bomb from behind the line to get there, right?
And that’s my old man rant for the day. Follow me on Twitter, or don’t, because I’m an old man now and Twitter pisses me off. I’ve actually taken a hiatus from the app and I’m sure I’m a much healthier and more complete person for it. Although, I have obviously adopted this “Get off my lawn!” mentality. I kinda like it, though, so we’ll see when I start tweeting again (if ever).