What has led to NBA’s scoring explosion? 3 reasons why offensive stats have gone way up during 2022-23 season

Lauri Markkanen’s 49-point outburst, which he delivered in the Jazz’s win over the Rockets on Jan. 5, would have gone down as one of the highest-scoring performances in a typical NBA season.

But Markkanen failed to crack even the top 14 of the leaderboard — because 2022-23 is not a typical NBA season.

On any given night, it seems as though at least one player is flirting with a 50-point outing. As FanSided’s Ian Levy noted, fans are seeing 50-point games about five times more often than a decade ago. Nineteen different players have scored 40 or more points since Christmas Day.

What’s behind this explosion in outstanding individual showings? There isn’t necessarily one single theory that explains the sudden surge, but rather a few factors involved.

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More talent and higher usage rates

Pretty simple, right? There are just a ton of great players spread out across the league. The talent pool makes the task of choosing All-Star starters a huge challenge this year.

“Teams are defending. The skill level is just unparalleled,” NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony said. “You’re seeing things done on the floor that we’ve never seen before from a skill standpoint. How guys shoot, where they shoot from, the types shots that they can consistently make — it’s just otherworldly.

“A lot of the old heads and guys from different eras like to talk about how much easier it is. But the reality is these guys are shooting the basketball and playing the game in spots that we’ve never played it before. They just are.”

But it isn’t just the proliferation of talent — it’s also coaches leaning on their stars more often.

This season, there are 16 players with a usage percentage above 30. In 2012-13, only five players were above that mark. At their current rates, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Joel Embiid would finish with three of the top 10 single-season usage rates in NBA history.

Those two elements have led to some huge point totals.

Spacing, 3-pointers and lineup construction

The league’s top players also have the benefit of playing in this era. They have more room to work in isolation than ever before, and if help defenders attack the ball handler, a 3-point shooter is ready to punish them.

The Athletic’s Mike Prada has chronicled this revolution and illustrated just how dramatic the changes have been. You don’t even need to go all the way back to the 1980s.

With slow-footed big men becoming defensive liabilities in recent years, scorers don’t need to worry about rim protectors clogging up the lane. Sportico’s Lev Akabas pointed out that players are finishing at the rim with higher efficiency, and teams are grabbing more offensive rebounds.

Attempts from beyond the arc in 2022-23 have actually gone slightly down compared to the previous two seasons, but offenses are perfecting their styles of play and eliminating low-quality looks.

Transition defense

After Donovan Mitchell scored 71 points and Klay Thompson racked up 54 points on the same night, The Athletic’s Anthony Slater asked Warriors coach Steve Kerr for his thoughts on the rise in crazy individual performances.

While Kerr did mention skill level and 3-point shooting, he added another piece to the conversation.

“Transition defense is at an all-time low in this league,” Kerr said. “Every single night on League Pass, you see five guys standing there. Somebody shoots, somebody runs long and everybody goes, ‘Oh, that guy’s laying it up down there.’ And the coach calls timeout.

“We do it. Every team does it. So, I think the game has gotten really loose, and the players are so talented. It’s made for a lot of big scoring nights.”

(The removal of the “take foul” has certainly played a role, too. The Sporting News’ Stephen Noh went into more detail on that topic here.) 

Stars like Antetokounmpo and LeBron James have seen jumps in their transition scoring this season. Antetokounmpo is averaging nearly 10 points per game in transition alone, up from 8.5 points in 2021-22.

In his 55-point game against the Wizards, Antetokounmpo rampaged his way to 15 fast break points. 

And even when the star himself isn’t scoring, he is creating mismatches in a half-court setting. Opponents are often scrambling just to get in front of the ball, let alone land on the right assignment.

Put it all together, and you’ve got one of the most incredible scoring seasons that we’ve ever seen.

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