When Jabari Parker said, “they don’t pay players to play defense,” after signing $20 million-per-year contract with Chicago last offseason; he wasn’t kidding.
Between 2014 and 2016, only three times did an NBA team eclipse 140 points in regulation play in a regular season game. In 2017-18, it happened eight times as NBA rules changed to permit more scoring. Through just a month of play in the 2018-19 season, teams have surpassed 140 points in regulation six times already, and it is going to keep happening.
Rules Changes History I After the Michael Jordan era, NBA fans were treated to NBA Finals games between 2003 and 2005 in which teams failed to break the 70-point barrier. As a result, television ratings fell and the league needed a change. The result was an end to hand-checking which opened up the era of the driver. In the first season after hand-checking was outlawed, Allen Iverson led the NBA in free throw attempts and was the league’s scoring champ. The following year, Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 points per game.
Defensive Changes As the game changed to feature players who could penetrate, defenses adapted. The approach was known as “shrink the floor” which basically cut off penetration to the basket and forced drivers to pass. San Antonio was excellent at the “shrink the floor” tactic often holding opponents to under 100 points per game.
More Offense Because defenses were essentially “packing it in” or collapsing defenders into the lane, offensive coaches like Houston’s Mike D’Antoni started to change their tactics as well. Erik Spoelstra even studied now-UCLA head football coach Chip Kelly’s version of the spread offense to get an idea of how pace and space can make a difference on the basketball floor just as it does for Kelly on the football field.
The result is something that many offenses display today in the “stretch the floor” offense. Offenses create space for players – some even now called “stretch 4s” or “stretch 5s” – to make plays. The NBA has seen a revolution in the number of 3-point shot attempts now taken. This can be attributed to the changes in offensive philosophy brought about by changes in defense.
Rules Changes History II The NBA changed the rule regarding the resetting of the shot clock after an offensive rebound prior to this season. Teams now have 14 seconds – instead of the regular 24 – after they grab an offensive rebound to make a shot attempt. The rule change has speeded up play and has contributed some to the increase in points production this season.
The Next Wave The new defensive ploy to combat the changes on offense is to switch. Defenders will switch responsibilities to make up for the “stretch the floor” approach to offense. The problem is that switching a 7-1 center on a super-quick 6-2 guard isn’t always the answer. You see many more teams now playing “small ball” with guys who can defend a big forward but also fare well against the smaller, quicker point guard. The athletic wing is in high demand as a result.
Most defenders these days are not very good at switching either. Most come from systems where they do not teach the switch and, therefore, are not coached to switch in proper fashion. As NBA teams try to use the switch, you see that many of them are not very good at it. It will take time but for now, offenses will continue the revolution in scoring.