HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Unless you’ve only watched Pacers games this season, you’ve probably noticed that offense is up from last year.
The league has scored 102.0 points per 100 possessions through Wednesday’s games, which marked the start of the second quarter of the season. That’s already higher than last season’s mark (101.8) and efficiency typically increases as the season goes on. But it’s also down more than two points per 100 possessions from where it was (104.1) at the one-quarter mark two seasons ago.
The big difference between now and two seasons ago is free throw rate, a number that may be affected more by how the officials have called fouls over the last two seasons than by how the players have played.
Despite the downward trend in league-wide efficiency, two teams are scoring at a historical rate this season, while a third has also been ridiculously efficient. The Thunder, Knicks and Heat have all regressed defensively this season, but they’re a combined 48-15 because their offenses have been so dominant.
How dominant? Well, when you compare a team’s efficiency to the league average, the Thunder and Knicks would each rank in the top four offenses of the last 36 years (since the league started counting turnovers in 1977). The Heat were also in the top 10 before Tuesday’s loss to the Warriors. Presently, they rank 17th.
Top 10 offenses (vs. league average efficiency) since 1977-78
|Season||Team||W||L||PCT||OffRtg||Lg. Avg.||Off. Diff.|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
The biggest key for all three teams has been 3-point shooting. They’re each shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc, a mark that only four teams in history have eclipsed in a season in which the 3-point line was at 23 feet, 9 inches. And when you look at some of the increases in individual percentages, you wonder if such efficiency can be sustained.
Of course, you can’t just shoot threes to have an efficient offense. And each of the three super-efficient teams supplements their 3-point shooting in different ways.
Top offenses, 2012-13
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA
The Thunder ranked second offensively last season, but they’ve taken it to a new level with a 5.7 percent jump from beyond the arc. James Harden was a good 3-point shooter (39 percent last season), but Kevin Martin has been off the charts (48 percent). Meanwhile, Kevin Durant (from 39 to 43 percent) and Russell Westbrook (from 32 to 37 percent) are also shooting much better from beyond the arc compared to last season.
Those numbers will be hard to sustain, but you could make the argument that the Thunder are shooting better because they’re sharing the ball more. Last year, they were the only team that assisted on less than half of its field goals. This year, they rank 13th in assist rate, recording assists on more than 59 percent of their buckets.
Most of that increase comes from Westbrook, whose assist rate has gone from 25 assists per 100 possessions used in 2009-10 to 18 last season and now back up to 26 this season.
Turnovers are still a big problem for the Thunder, but they make up for them somewhat by getting to the line more than any team except the Lakers. And then they make their opponents pay by shooting the highest free throw percentage in NBA history, 83.4 percent. They’ve attempted 64 fewer free throws than the Lakers, but have made 54 more.
The Knicks are scoring an incredible 9.0 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season, making them, by far, the most improved offensive team in the league. The eye test says that they’re are moving the ball better too. But they rank 28th in assist rate, recording assists on less than 54 percent of their field goals.
The Knicks have attempted just 38 percent of their shots from the paint, the lowest rate in the league, putting the sustainability of their offense in serious doubt.
Carmelo Anthony is shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc after shooting just 37 percent in his first season and a half with the Knicks. Jason Kidd‘s shooting has certainly improved since he started working with a shooting coach six years ago, but he’s shooting 53 percent on threes after shooting just 35 percent in his last two seasons in Dallas.
Still, another huge key for New York has been the lack of turnovers, something we addressed in this space a month ago. The turnover rate has barely moved since then, a sign that they might be able to keep this up, though keeping that number under 12 turnovers per 100 possessions would be a miraculous feat. Last season’s Sixers set an NBA record by turning the ball over just 12.1 times per 100 possessions.
While the Heat’s defense has regressed remarkably, their offense is stronger than ever, scoring 4.6 more points per 100 possessions than it did last season.
The Heat’s increase in 3-point percentage (from 36 percent last season) has been easier to explain than that of the Thunder and Knicks, because of the addition of one of the greatest shooters in NBA history to a trio of stars that creates countless open looks for its teammates.
Ray Allen has taken 20 percent of the Heat’s threes and he’s shooting them at a career-high rate of 46 percent. LeBron James (44 percent), Shane Battier (45 percent), and Rashard Lewis (47 percent) are also all shooting career-high marks.
Like the Knicks, the Heat have also improved in the turnover department, down 1.1 turnovers per 100 possessions from last season. Their free throw rate is also down slightly, but they’re still above average when it comes to getting to the line.