The NBA’s scoring boom is still going strong, and some wonder if that’s a good thing

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) goes up for a dunk during the first half of an NBA All-Star basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes up fro a dunk during the second half of an NBA All-Star basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS — There was a week in January unlike almost any other in NBA history. Joel Embiid scored 70 and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 62 one night, followed four days later by Luka Doncic scoring 73 and Devin Booker scoring 62.

That’s four 60-point games in five days — something the league hadn’t seen since 1962. There had been entire decades where the NBA didn’t see that many 60-point outings by players.


“That’s just where the state of the league is right now,” said the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis, one of the top contenders this season for defensive player of the year.

Defense wasn’t really played in the All-Star Game, which explains why the Eastern Conference scored a record 211 points and the game saw nearly 400 points combined on Sunday night. Points couldn’t have been easier to come by.

But in the regular season — although some might dispute this — defense does get played. And points just keep piling up anyway with the NBA on pace to see its highest-scoring season in more than 50 years with teams averaging more than 115 points per game, up about 1% from last year and up a staggering 15.5% from where it was a decade ago.

“It makes the layperson look back and say, what’s going on? In one year, did they get that much better or is it harder to defend or are they not playing defense?” Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers said. “And I can tell you the guys are playing defense. But it is harder to defend with the rules.”

Rivers, Minnesota coach Chris Finch and others in the league expect that the NBA will try to help defenses next season by allowing them to do a little bit more. It has been discussed at the league level. What that means, nobody really knows for certain.

But many of the rule tweaks in recent years — giving offensive players more freedom of movement is the one most players cite — seem to have made the task of scoring a bit easier.

“I hate to say it,” Cleveland guard Donovan Mitchell said, “but we’re really good at what we do.”

Boston’s Jaylen Brown said part of the problem is with how the media and others talk about the game. In his view, offense is all that anybody seems to tout.

“It kind of seems like it’s hard to guard anybody these days,” Brown said. “That’s why I give such respect to the ones who are committed to that side of the ball, because right now we just pay attention to the ones who can score the ball. Those are the ones who are considered our best players. We completely ignore defense like it’s not even a part of how good a player is.”

Commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t see it that way. He and other NBA executives have insisted that the league wants competitive games and hasn’t prioritized huge offensive numbers.

Silver said that’s the feedback the league gets from fans as well.

“I think there’s a lot happening here, and I’ve talked to a lot of coaches and a lot of players about it. I think, first of all, the skill level is off the charts,” Silver said. “I think what we’re seeing is now in this league, every player at every position has to be able to shoot the basketball. You’re seeing this global pool of talent coming into the league, some of the best athletes in the world, who can, frankly, just shoot the lights out.”

The 3-point craze in the NBA has been going on for years, and the league is on pace to break the record for both 3s made in a season — and 3-point accuracy as well. That doesn’t mean the great scorers are only the ones who can hit from deep; Embiid was averaging 35.3 points and running away with the scoring title yet again when he got hurt.

He was averaging just over one made 3-pointer per game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Giannis Antetokounmpo are two of the other three players averaging 30 points this season and neither of them are 3-point savants, either. Doncic is the other player averaging at least 30; he makes nearly four 3s per game.

“We can really see the shifts the past years, decades, in the game,” San Antonio rookie Victor Wembanyama said. “I think physical bigs are going to be more and more dominant in the game.”

Big nights are happening every night, or so it seems. Last season saw 203 instances — a league record, by far — of players scoring 40 points in a game. This season is on pace to see 179 such games, which would be the second-most in NBA history.

This season has even seen six instances of 60-point games. That’s the third-most from any season in NBA history; the other two seasons were 1961-62 and 1962-63 when there were a combined 26 games of 60 or more — 24 of them from Wilt Chamberlain alone.

Booker was 20 when he scored 70 points in a game. He did it for Phoenix on March 24, 2017 — and it was one of only four games of 70 or more in a span of nearly 50 years. The only others in that span: Kobe Bryant scored 81 in 2006, David Robinson scored 71 in 1994 and David Thompson scored 73 in 1978.

It’s happened four times in the last 14 months. Mitchell and Damian Lillard each had 71-point games in 2023, Embiid and Doncic did it last month.

“It was harder to get 70 back in my day, man. Now everybody gets it,” Booker said, laughing. “This is crazy, man. People are scoring the ball at a high level. The talent’s at an all-time high. You know the evolution of the game. People just keep getting better and better — 80, 90, yeah, 100 is possible.”

No player has seen the scoring level change as much as the Lakers’ LeBron James. When he was a rookie, the NBA average per team was 93.4 points per game.

This season, there have been 483 instances of teams scoring 93 points — by the end of the third quarter.

“You’ve got so many great talents in this league,” James said. “Would I sit here and say I think guys can score 80 or 90? Yeah, why not?”

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