If you have not noticed, it is the Golden Age of offense in the NBA. Per 100 possessions this season, NBA teams are averaging 110.1 points. That is 1.3 points per 100 possessions more than the previous high of 108.8 during the 2016-17 season. While scoring is up, that’s not the latest revolution in professional basketball. It’s not the rise of the 3-point shot either. It’s the turnover, or more specifically, the lack of turnovers.
Yes, teams are shooting more 3-pointers and the institution of the new 14-second shot clock after an offensive rebound has had an effect on scoring. The lowest-scoring team in the NBA is Memphis and they still average well over 100 points per game (104.1). What many may not realize is that teams are not turning the ball over as much. Memphis, for example, is among the top 12 teams in the NBA turning the ball over an average of 13.3 times per game. San Antonio leads the NBA turning the ball over just 12 times a game.
So, why are NBA teams turning the ball over less? Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has no idea. It’s not like teams do any “let’s not turn the ball over” drills. It’s not something that is consciously practiced. So, how is it that teams are turning the ball over at a rate almost a full four percentage points less than teams of the 1980s?
The Pull-Up 3-Pointer NBA teams will often push the ball up the floor in an attempt to score early in their offensive possession. There has been an increase in the number of pull-up 3-point attempts. What this means is there are fewer opportunities for the ball to cross the 3-point line. By crossing the 3-point line, the ball moves into areas that have more traffic. More traffic means a greater opportunity for a turnover.
Switching Defenses The defensive philosophy of most NBA teams involves the “switch” when a player is screened. Defenders simply switch men in a screen situation making it easier – presumably – on the defense. Because teams like to switch, more isolation plays are called on offense. These are go-to plays in crucial situations like the end of a game. One of the big reasons why they are go-to plays is because the likelihood of a turnover is much less. More isolation plays mean fewer turnovers.
The Offensive Rebound It would seem that gaining an offensive rebound is an important part of any basketball game. For Popovich though, an offensive rebound is far less important than keeping possession of the basketball. Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown, a former Popovich assistant coach, commented once that his mentor did not care if a player ever grabbed an offensive rebound. What was more important was the basketball.
Interestingly, as the turnover rate has declined, so has offensive rebound percentage. Teams are gaining fewer offensive rebounds than ever before. In the 1980s, offensive rebound percentage was near 35 percent. The number now is well below 25 percent. Whether that has anything to do with a decrease in turnovers is unknown. The decrease in turnovers has surely offset the reduction in the number of offensive rebounds continuing the scoring onslaught we see in today’s Golden Age of Offense.