If the pace and rate of scoring doesn’t make a drastic change in the next couple of months, despite the fantastic seasons of Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, the NBA will have the fewest number of 20-point-per-game scorers in nearly 50 years.
As of now, there are 11 players averaging more than 20 points per game this season – the four we mentioned above, and also James Harden (26.1), Kyrie Irving (23.5), Russell Westbrook (22.6), Stephen Curry (21), Dwyane Wade (21), LaMarcus Aldridge (20.9) and Tony Parker (20.8). David Lee and Jrue Holiday are the only other players averaging more than 19 points per game. The last time only 11 players averaged more than 20 points per game? The 1965-1966 season, when the NBA had only nine teams. Wilt Chamberlain with 33.5 led the league. Jerry West and Oscar Robertson scored more than 30 as well. No one is above 30 this season, and no one has been for the past two as well.
Last season, for example, 12 players averaged over 20 points per game; Six more scored more than 19. In the 2010-2011 season, 19 players averaged more than 20 points per game. In 2009-2010 there were 16; in 2008-2009 there were 20. In 2007-2008, the year Durant entered the league, the top 20 NBA scorers all averaged above 20 points per game.
What happened? Defenses improved. There’s a lot more focus on team defense in the NBA these days, with teams crowding specific sides of the floor in order to stop individual scoring. There are less isolation-oriented offenses, believe it or not, leading to a more balanced point-sharing. The super-team issue, like the Miami Heat, is also something that has curbed individual scoring, with someone like Chris Bosh limited to 17-18 points a night, because he doesn’t need to carry the offensive load. Bosh averaged at least 22 points in five seasons before signing with Miami, where he has seen his average drop from 18.7 points to 17.7 points in his three seasons with the Heat. Same goes for someone like Kevin Martin with the Thunder, or Amare Stoudemire with the Knicks.
There’s also the decline of former greats, while there’s not enough players picking up the slack. There are 11 active players with a career average above 20 points per game. Kevin Durant, LeBron James,Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant are the only ones on par with that level of scoring this season. Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Amare Stoudemire, Vince Carter and Tim Duncan are all below that level this season – mostly due to age and injuries.
There are also season ending injuries that are keeping big-time scorers from contributing. Kevin Love has missed almost the entire season so far due to his injuries after averaging more than 20 points per game the previous couple of years. Derrick Rose, averaging 21 points per game during his career, might not play a single minute in 2013.
Again, we get to defense, and no longer having specialized players. With rule changes helping to establish zone defenses and eliminate hand-checking, the game is also focused more on perimeter players who can break down defenses off the dribble and through pick-and-roll sets. Not having reliable go to guys in the paint is another issue – LaMarcus Aldridge is the only player 6’11 or above scoring more than 20 points per game this season. The “death” of the great NBA center is also a direct cause for the drop in scoring.
Some might say it’s talent. Rasheed Wallace things it has something to do with it. Wallace entered the NBA in 1995, when it was a completely different thing.
There were more bonafide one-on-one scorers, because they were seasoned. Now, you have a lot of young guys, AAU guys, and in AAU you can get 30 or 40, but on this level, it’s not that easy. I would say it’s half on defense and half on some guys lacking skills. Hopefully it won’t be like this for long.
According to Joe Dumars, the 2004 Detroit Pistons team, that one with Rasheed Wallace on it, set a blueprint for NBA teams today. No superstar, and no 30 or 40 points scorers.
The way teams attack now, it’s more a spread around; we’d rather have four guys with 16 points than one with 40 and the other three with 10. I do think our ’04 team did create a path for teams; a blueprint for putting together a real balanced attack and that you could win that way.
Maybe scoring 20 points a game, even if you put up 24-25 shots like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are often criticized for doing, isn’t such an easy thing to do. Maybe it’s actually a lost art form they’re trying to save from extinction.