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Stars who score with a vengeance: are there too many points in the NBA?

Klay Thompson is no longer chasing individual distinctions. His place in history is generally assured, he the eminent member of the Golden State Warriors, alongside Stephen Curry who will have harvested the most logically of the world most of the laurels braided to the two friends. Nevertheless, on January 2, without Chef Curry, Klay raised the sauce against Atlanta and stuck 54 points on the head of the Hawks (143-141, after two overtimes).

The San Francisco shooter had been waiting for such a flight for a long time. She arrived almost a year after his return to the courts, he who had missed two and a half seasons of competition due to a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament of the left knee during the NBA Finals 2019 then another rupture, in the tendon of Achilles, in 2020.

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Anyway, it should have been Klay’s party. However, the explosion of the rear almost went unnoticed. Because Donovan Mitchell, an indelicate Cleveland, had seen fit to plant 71 points on the head of the Bulls a few hours earlier (145-134). Since Kobe Bryant and his 81 points in January 2006, no one had hit this high. An evening at 125 points for two, not bad. Remarkable, even. But less and less isolated acts in the NBA.

The talent ? Yes, but not only

This season is off to a flying start. Halfway through the season, the league’s worst attack – Miami – scored 108.4 points per game. Last season, she would have ranked 23rd. The best attacks? Sacramento and Boston, 120.3 and 117.6 units per game. Last year, Minnesota reaped the prize with 115.9 points. This season, 115.9 points makes you the 11th offense in the League.

Jayson Tatum against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 25.

Credit: Getty Images

If the offensive explosion is not new, if the NBA had already been moved by ample and above all unbalanced scores a few seasons ago, the trend has dramatically increased in 2022/2023. Thanks to whom ? To the talent of the players, we hear here and there. Is right. At least in part.

Currently, six players hover above the 30-point average barrier: Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks, 33.8), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers, 33.6), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, 31), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks, 30.9), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder, 30.7) and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers, 30.2). Behind these gentlemen, Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets) and his 29.7 units flirts with this bar.

The list is beautiful. But is it more prestigious than what we could line up during the Jordan years, in particular? The answer is no. Just look at the identities of MJ’s fellow Hall of Famers at the time. Nevertheless, it is true that the “skills” of the interiors, in particular, have evolved in the right direction. If Olajuwon, Robinson and company were not penguins when they peaked at 2.13m or 2.16m, technical finesse has now spread among the big guys. It has been democratized, almost. The basketball player of 2023 is undoubtedly more complete, to put it simply, and therefore better armed technically and offensively.

Nikola Jokic durant Denver Nuggets-Boston Celtics

Credit: Getty Images

The perception and role given to stars has also greatly evolved, with stratospheric usage rates. The usage rate, kezako? It is a mathematical formula that calculates the influence of a player on the offensive game of his team when he is on the floor, with the stats of his shots, his lost balls and his free throws obtained.

The ball to the stars

Take MJ, again him: in 1993, he peaked at a usage rate of 34.7%. It was already a lot and it is the highest we have recorded for a player crowned NBA champion at the end of the season. But today it is only the 43rd highest usage rate in history. The record holder of the genre? Easy: Russell Westbrook in 2016/2017 (41.65%), the year of his triple-double MVP title and his 47 victories with the Thunder.

This season and if they keep up this pace, Giannis, Doncic and Embiid will suddenly enter the historic Top 10, in 6th, 7th and 8th places. In recent years, the game has therefore mainly individualized. But if the stars have the ball in their hands, they still have to do something about it. Good, if possible.

Their talent helps them greatly, the evolution of the game and the rules wanted by the NBA is a non-negligible help, too. Like the last rule, introduced this season, of giving a free throw and possession to a player who is fouled on a counter-attack. Above all, do not break the fluidity of the match. Everything is done to promote attacking play (and the show that goes with it).

In recent years, the game has become horizontal, too. Is it because the great talents have disappeared over the 21st century? Or is it the evolution of basketball that made them disappear? One thing is certain: fewer big players, more speed, more rhythm and therefore fewer attacks on half-courts. The era of dominant pivots that slowed down the game has given way over time to shooters at eight or nine meters who (d)extend the defenses and have outdated the mid-range shot.

This era of the three-point king, which took off at the turn of the 2010s, has been validated and magnified by the Golden State Warriors, four titles since 2015, and a major imprint on the game. Steve Kerr, happy coach of the The San Francisco Bay Area team is a front-row seat to witness this. And savor. However, up to a certain limit

“I think there’s been an evolution over the last five or six years and part of that has to do with the pace of play. Everyone has decided to play faster”he told NBC. “Some of it is due to the influence of Stephen Curry, who shoots from everywhere. Today you see a lot of guys going through midfield and shooting from the logo. It’s pretty common to see that in n “any game. It’s also due to the rules (…) I think we went a little too far and took power away from the defence.”

Is this galloping inflation of points scored a good thing for basketball? For marketing, image and highlights, yes, definitely. But for the game? What does League honcho Adam Silver think? Passing through Paris for the meeting between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons, the NBA commissioner was not moved. Even if he ensures to follow this evolution of the game.

“The current talent is enormous and largely explains what we see today, he assures. The increase in the number of three-point shots also means that we score more, the interiors also shoot. It’s not just a defense issue. defenses are not affected. At one time, we said that there were too many dunks…”

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