While NBA games are increasingly high-scoring, defensive play is still significant. It’s just that it’s becoming increasingly harder to be great on that side of the hardwood. It’s something you’ve definitely got to factor into any free NBA picks.
Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, and other stars are making the task of stopping them more difficult.
There’s no denying that the game has changed. It’s faster, more athletic, and more dynamic than it was in the past. There are more players who can do just about anything on the court, and fewer can’t.
Surely one player will be named “Defensive Player of the Year” this spring, even though no defender has come close to dominating this season. More players are likely to score 20 points per game than ever before. Ten years ago, there were only a handful of players. There were 27 last go-round and 31 the one before that. This season, 50 is a possibility.
The rule changes that have been implemented over the last few years have made for a more entertaining product. Players score more, pass more, and play hard on both ends of the floor. There’s nothing wrong with that. But as fans have come to expect more from their teams, they’ve also gotten accustomed to seeing more possessions in games—and fewer stops.
When you stop and think about it, there are many reasons why this isn’t a good thing. It’s not just that the game has become less defense-oriented; it also leads to more injuries, more fouls, and less parity among teams.
The problem is that there’s too much emphasis on offense. This has been happening for years, and it’s only gotten worse as teams have tried to play faster. The league instituted changes to encourage more scoring back in 2001 when it started enforcing hand-checking rules more strictly.
Since scoring is what fans love and there’s nothing to contradict that, the NBA isn’t likely to change its rules — even though defenders need help.
“For me, a fan, the talent level is just off the charts, and that has a lot to do with what we’re seeing,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in Paris last week. “Of course, the enormous increase in 3-point shooting is going to lead to more scoring, too, especially when these guys, even the big men, shoot 3-point shots as well as they do.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a case that defense is not being focused on as it once was. I’ve been around the league long enough to remember when the claim was guys played no defense at all, and so there’s a fair amount of defense played.”
It has become a shooting league. And its best shooters are knocking down shots at record-breaking rates and getting to the line more often than ever before.
There are several reasons for the offensive explosion. A fast-paced game has been created that values scoring and puts an emphasis on three-point shooting. Players who can spread the floor with their shooting ability have become more sought after than ever before. More teams are playing small ball and spreading defenses out to create driving lanes for guards or open up space for big men to operate in the paint.
Rule modifications have also allowed for freer movement, so it’s no surprise that free-throw attempts are skyrocketing. With an average of 23.8 attempts at the charity stripe to this point, that number is on pace to be the highest in over a decade (24.4).
Teams are experimenting with a variety of defensive schemes in the hopes of stopping offensive stars. To no avail, evidently.
This month alone, the Cavaliers’ Donovan Mitchell bucketed 71 points on Jan. 2, Chicago’s Zach LaVine sank 11 treys on Jan. 6, and Miami’s Jimmy Butler hit all 23 of his free throws on Jan. 10.
Scoring has gone up in the league this campaign, with teams averaging more points (114.1) than they have at any time in the last half-century. Sacramento is out in front with 120 points per outing — with a half-dozen of their players averaging 12 or more apiece.