February 6, 2004

My Basketball Manifesto

POST #    749

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I am one of many people who think that the NBA is in decline and the game itself has actually deteriorated. So during the holiday season of 2002, I had a little time on my hands and I decided to test out my theory for the decline of the game (not only my theory, but the one I believed in). I contended that the NBA game has declined because of the proliferation of the 3 pointer and the dunk as well as the deterioration of the mid-range jumper.

Naturally, with time on my hands, I had to try and prove this theory correct. I searched around on the internet and found Doug's NBA & MLB Stats Home Page, which gave me all sorts of juicy basketball stats to look at. With these stats, I did some work in Excel and it churned out some tables, I looked at the numbers, and did a write up.

I was recently clearing out my e-mail and stumbled upon my research, and thought that I would share it with you (don't you feel so lucky?). I should update it with the stats from the 2002-2003 season, but that would take work.

What follows is my analysis, which may have some critical flaws in it, but that's why I'm not an analyst.

Posted by tien mao in Sports at 9:30 AM



The two seasons that I will draw my main comparison from are the 1991-1992 season and the 2001-2002 season, a period of 10 years that saw tremendous changing in the way the game is played and who plays it. It was my original contention that the NBA game has declined because of the proliferation of the 3 pointer and the dunk as well as the deterioration of the mid-range jumper. The increased popularity of these two methods of scoring might be linked to several reasons - cable television becoming more popular and beaming SportsCenter highlights into the home, "street-style" ball making it to the NBA, etc. This analysis, however does not look to find why the 3 and dunk are becoming more popular, but seeks to show that they are more popular now than they were in the past. While this can not lead us to the conclusion that the game is worse off, the statistics will show that the game certainly has not improved under the current trend.

First, the statistics...
FG%: 47.244
FG att: 193,631
3pt%: 33.063
3pt att: 16,898
2pt%: 48.599
2pt att: 176,733


FG%: 44.505
FG att: 193,263
3pt%: 35.361
3pt att: 35,075
2pt%: 46.533
2pt att: 147,218

Looking at these numbers, one can see that FG percentage is down about 2.7% in 10 years with a very small decrease in FGs attempted. 3 point percentage has actually increased about 2.3% in 10 years and 2 point percentage has decreased about 2%. The most difference between these two years is the number of 3 point shots attempted. The number attempted has more than doubled! When hearing this initially, officials at the NBA offices would surely be pleased because this would obviously mean an increase in scoring. The truth is that scoring has fallen drastically since the 91-92 season where each team averaged 105.4 points per game. In the 01-02 season, teams averaged 95.48 points per game. During this 10 year period, the percentage of total shots that were 3 point attempts has also ballooned. In the 91-92 season, only 8.73% of the shots were 3's while in 01-02 18.15% of the shots were 3 point attempts. (During this period, percentages of 18.78, 20.01, and 21.17 were recorded for the 94-95, 95-96, and 96-97 seasons when the 3 point line was closer to the basket).

From the statistics above, it is obvious that the 3 point shot has become more popular and frequent in the professional game today. One would be hard pressed to find a person that says that dunking has not also increased or remained at the same levels which leads to the conclusion that the increase in 3 point attempts has decreased the number of mid-range jump shots for there would be no other type of shot to decrease.

While those attempting the 3 pointer today are on the whole making them at a higher rate than their peers ten years ago, what is this costing the game? Is a 3 pointer with a 35% chance of going in better than a 2 with at 45% chance of going it? If one were to totally eliminate the 3, scoring would actually go down about 2 points. If it were possible to combine seasons by taking the 2 point percentage of 91-92 and the 3 point percentage of 01-02, scoring would have actually been higher by about 3 points.

By looking at these numbers, it is apparent that overall, NBA players are shooting more poorly than they were in the past. Three point percentage has improved, but we see in the statistics that 2 point percentage has decreased. It is my contention that because of various factors, players do not practice the mid-range jumper anymore.

Has this been the sole reason for the decline in the product the NBA puts forth, probably not. There has been a steady trend of scoring decreases since the late 80s. Factors that might influence this include improved defenses and league expansion. The change in the rules for the 3 point did not even increase scoring when it took effect in the 94-95 season. That season witnessed an increase of about 12,000 attempts with only a 2.5% increase in accuracy. 3 point accuracy now is only 1.3% less than it was during the 95-96 season. While scoring is also down from the period with the shortened 3 point line, scoring also decreased within that three year period. The percentage of total shots that were three point shots in 01-02 neared the percentage of 94-95, which was the first season with the shortened line.

Further analysis of this decline in scoring in the NBA is needed to truly determine the cause, but it does seem that because of the 3 point shot and the dunk, there are less mid-range jump shots taken. While this difference cannot and is not the only reason for the decline, it is likely a contributing factor.

oh, some of you may remember me sending this to you after i finished it.

Posted by: tien at February 6, 2004 9:42 AM

i caught part of the sixers/lakers game last night and wonder: "since when did the lakers change their colors?"

Posted by: el at February 6, 2004 10:52 AM

Also see Easterblogg today (http://www.tnr.com/easterbrook.mhtml?pid=1296) for another perspective on why the NBA is now near unwatchable.

Posted by: JK at February 6, 2004 5:05 PM

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