Points of emphasis: NBA taking steps to rein in scoring explosion after pendulum swings in offensive fashion

The pendulum has swung way too far towards offence in the NBA and the referees are finally doing something about it. 

After the three-point revolution has led to scores going up and up, the NBA has decided enough is enough and they’re actually empowering referees and the players to reward defence. 

The NBA will never go back to yesteryear when scores in the 70s and 80s were commonplace but fans have grown tired of 130-plus scorelines where neither side puts in much effort at the defensive end. 

That lethargy on defence didn’t just happen in a vacuum. 

Because the refs had been told to clamp down on any kind of contact, offensive players were given way too much latitude to score. 

Players like James Harden, Luka Doncic and Trae Young have games the system by milking fouls for the slightest of contact to inflate their already impressive offensive outputs. 

There has been a growing trend over the second half of this season to cut the number of defensive fouls handed out. 

The play is getting more physical, without being dangerous, scores are coming down and the contest between the player in possession and the defender is now just that again – a contest. 

This has repercussions for coaches with the line-ups they use – most teams are rolling with one dedicated defensive stopper on court at any given time and devoting their resources to players who can shoot, particularly from three-point territory. 

With the refs being more lenient with regards to contact, the he value of defensive-minded players will rise. 

While the brilliance of the likes of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard is often cited as the example of the effectiveness of the three-point explosion, the flip side is that pretty much every player now is encouraged to be or thinks they are a long-range threat. 

And that has led to average, and many below-average, jump-shooters jacking up deep bombs that clank off the ring, which is hardly what anyone would call attractive basketball. 

The average points per team this season is 114.8, the highest it’s been since 1969-70, according to Basketball Reference.

From 1995-96 to 2012-13, it hovered between a low of 91.6 in 1998-99 and 100.4.

Apart from a small step back in 2021-22, it has risen every year over the past decade, meaning on average there’s now about 30 more points scored per game than just 10 years ago (when LeBron James was at the mid-point of his career).

NBA executives are in the midst of negotiating their next broadcast rights deal, which is tipped to net the league more than $60 billion dollars over the course of seven years. That’s roughly three times what the previous deal was worth. 

Scoring has been inflated in recent years to provide a more entertaining product but it’s refreshing to see the NBA realising that there can be too much of a good thing by actively reducing the bias towards offence. 

Another option which has been floated is to get rid of the corner three. 

The current layout of a basketball floor allows for the three-point line to be 22 feet from the basket while it rises to 23.75 feet above the break at the top of the key. 

A possible counter ploy to the high proportion of corner threes in the game is to extend the arc of the three-point line until it reaches the sideline. 

This is a step too far. 

It would look weird for the three-point line to extend to the sideline on each side and the ability to be able to exploit the advantages that come with the corner three is a huge tactical manoeuvre for coaches to have in their plans at both ends of the court. 

As has been the case over the 75-plus years of the NBA, the league is cyclical. 

The defensive era of the 1990s and early 2000s has given way to an offensive mindset of the past decade that has been dominated by the rise of three-point attempts. 

Fans watch the NBA to see the stuff they could only dream about when it comes to athletic dunks and worldly shooting capabilities. 

But they also want to see genuine competition not just between the teams on the score of but an even battle between the player with the ball and the opponent trying to stop it from ending in the basket. 

Scores will naturally shrink in the playoffs when the rotations get smaller in each team and the intensity lifts. 

The NBA doesn’t need gimmicks or outlandish rule changes to stop teams continually chucking up shots with little regard for the defence. 

But it does need to strike the right balance and allowing a little more physicality and contact at the defensive end should fix that problem. 

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