NBA’s Competition Committee Reviewing Offense/Defense Balance

Amid a record-setting offensive season across the NBA, the league’s competition committee has formally launched a review into whether it needs to implement rule changes to achieve a better balance of offense and defense, according to Tim Bontemps and Kevin Pelton of ESPN.

“It is a topic that we’re monitoring,” the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations Joe Dumars told ESPN. “We’re diving in right now to make sure that we’re on the right side of this.”

According to Basketball-Reference, NBA teams are averaging 115.4 points per game so far this season, which is the highest mark since 1969/70.

Scoring has steadily been on the rise since teams averaged just 93.4 points per game during the 2003/04 season. As Bontemps and Pelton detail, the NBA cracked down on defensive hand-checking after that season, which resulted in an immediate increase in scoring, albeit a relatively modest one compared to today’s numbers.

ESPN’s duo suggests that the recent inflation in points per game is more about teams getting smarter about how they attack defenses. The NBA record for effective field goal percentage has been broken in eight of the past nine seasons as teams focus on taking higher-percentage shot attempts.

“More high-percentage shots, which are shots at the rim and three-point shots, are going to lead to more points,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said last month. “Most everybody’s kind of got that as their theme of how they’re playing.”

According to Bontemps and Pelton, the league-wide free throw percentage is at an all-time high this season (78.3%), while turnovers per game (13.6) are the lowest they’ve been since the league began tracking that stat in 1970/71. This season’s three-point percentage (36.7%) is also tied for an NBA record.

Speaking earlier this month to Shaun Powell of, commissioner Adam Silver disagreed with the premise that teams’ effort on defense has waned, suggesting that it has simply become more difficult than ever to slow down “the most skilled athletes on the planet.” Silver didn’t rule out the possibility that minor rule tweaks may be necessary.

“Some of that might be minor adjustments in terms of how much physicality is allowed by defensive players,” Silver said. “Even though some of the very people who are complaining about too much offense are the first in many cases to say, ‘My guy isn’t getting the calls he deserves.’ The good news is the game has never been better. These are addressable issues.”

Although the NBA is looking into the subject, the league office will be wary about introducing any changes that swing the scale too far in the other direction. Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups, who was a member of the Pistons team that lost a low-scoring, low-rated 2005 NBA Finals against San Antonio, suggested last month that the league would prefer a little too much scoring as opposed to not enough.

“When defense was prioritized like that, the game wasn’t as popular. It’s not fun to watch that,” Billups said. “(The 2005 Finals) changed the game. Because if you get to the pinnacle like that, and the ratings are that poor, something has to change. Well that’s what we’ve seen. And that’s why offense is so elevated. And that’s what sells tickets.”

For what it’s worth, Dumars tells ESPN that the league is simply examining the issue for the time being and isn’t on the verge of making any changes.

“It’s not to that point yet,” Dumars said. “We’re diving (into the data) right now and just a ton of film and putting together a ton of reels to be able to look at this and go, ‘OK, yeah, we do have a problem.’ But you don’t make changes like that just on an anecdotal call.”

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