The start of the 2021-22 NBA season has been very interesting to watch. This season, shooting percentages, free throws, and several other offensive statistics have plummeted to levels we haven’t seen since the “Dead Ball” era of the early-mid 2000s. The league shooting average is at 44.7% as of today, which is the lowest since the 2003-2004 season. That season, teams averaged just under 80 field goal attempts per game. The pace was slower, more isolation-based offenses that resulted in a lot of inefficient basketball even for the league’s best scorers. The season before(2002-03), Tracy McGrady led the NBA in scoring by averaging 32.1 points per game, while shooting 45.7% from the field, 38% from three, and 79% from the free-throw line. Last season, the NBA’s top scorer Stephen Curry led the league with averages of 32.0 points per game while shooting 48% from the field, 42% from three, and 91.6% from the free-throw line. Now, even though the scoring averages and field goal percentages may be slightly off, the shot selection from the players is drastically different.
We see that McGrady took a lot more of his shots from the Midrange, which at the time was labeled a good shot. In today’s game, the Midrange isn’t neglected, or removed from the game, analytics just encourages players to either get closer to the paint, or take threes. Well, Curry is the best at shooting threes and it elite for his position at finishing at the rim.
This season though, the NBA has made some slight rule changes that has impacted the entire NBA, but most notably some of the game’s best scorers. Some players like Luka Doncic, Trae Young and James Harden have taken HUGE dips in their averages and efficiency. In years past, James Harden has made defenseles live in fear of fouling him. His style made defenders play very timid, and on their heels as they feared his step-back three and his ability to drive. Not with the rule change, players have been able to pla aliitle cloer to HArden’s chest and be more physical. The calls he got in the past are just not going his way anymore. Doncic and Young are facing the same issue as well. They all ranked top 3 in free throws attempted per game. The problem with those players are how they are going about trying to get fouled, instead of getting fouled, organically, if you will. Often times, these players try to bait defenders into fouling them, insead of just scoring. Now, referees aren’t rewarding players who pump fake at the three point line, then lunge into the defender. In the past, that was a guaranteed three points for some players. Now, it’s simply a no-call or even a offensive foul. The NBA are going to reward players like Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid who get fouled because of their aggression and the purpose to score, instead of playing to get fouled.
A lot of players have also been complaining about the new ball. This season, the NBA is switching from Spalding to Wilson for the official game ball. This is what Los Angeles Clippers Forward Paul George had to say:
George definitely has a major point with this statement. Back in 2006, the NBA changed the design of the game ball to a different material as well a different design of the seams. The league opted out of the traditional leather they used previously. The NBA didn’t consult it’s players, but did use former players like Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr to test out the ball. In their short time with the new design, they approved it, but once the ball made it to the rest of the NBA, it faced a lot of bad reviews. Players like Shaquille O’Neal, Ray Allen and Steve Nash spoke pretty harshly on the new design. Some players had splinters and paper-cuts in their fingers, which never happened before with the previous ball
Despite the league-wide negative reviews, the percentages didn’t see a dip. In fact, they ever so slightly saw an increase. Nevertheless, the NBA switches back to the classic standard leather Spalding ball.
Aside from that, other players have simply been bad. Portland Trailblazers Guard Damian Lillard hasn’t looked like the same player we’ve grown to love over the years. Lillard is averaging just 18.6 points a game, while shooting 34.9% from the field and a dismal 23.1% from three. Dame is still getting the same looks as he did in the past, it just seems like he is either still recovering from an abdomen injury he suffered during the Olympics or is just taking some time to get into a rhythm. Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics has also been in the dumps in terms of his shooting. even though he is averaging over 25 points per game, Tatum is shooting just 39% from the field and 27% from three. He also is shooting nearly 25 shots per game. That is not the efficiency you would want to see from a franchise player.
In conclusion, this may be just a blip on the radar for the NBA. We may see the shooting averages climb back closer to normal as the player get fully adjusted. The possibility of the horrid shooting is also very real as well.