The State of Defense in the NBA

November 08, 2004

John Hollinger: Breaking Down the Scoring Drop

Whither offense? It's difficult to remember, but in 1984--85 every team in the league scored at least 102 points per game. The Nuggets and the Lakers averaged more than 118. For a bit of perspective on how far things have sunk, consider this: The world champion Pistons achieved that total once last season.

There are only two ways scoring can decrease: Teams can play slower, reducing the number of possessions they have over the course of a game, or they can get fewer points out of each possession. In '84--85 the average NBA team had 104.8 possessions in a 48minute game. By last year the league had come to a screeching halt, with just 92.0 possessions per game. But while a slower pace is the main culprit, that doesn't let offenses off the hook. Regardless of the speed with which the game is played, teams have become less efficient on the offensive end.

• The rest of John Hollinger's column appears at si.com/nba. He weighs in with his Insider column every week.

Jack McCallum: Following the Leader

What turned the NBA into more D than O? Michael Jordan. Under coach Chuck Daly, the Pistons adopted an if-you-can't-beat-him-beat-him-up strategy. Detroit's defensive-minded Bad Boys won back-to-back titles in 1989 and '90, and since no team had the offensive hardware to match Jordan, many decided to adopt the Pistons' defense-first strategy.

• Check out Jack McCallum's NBA Insider column, which appears every Wednesday at si.com/nba.

Marty Burns:

Fouling Things Up

The league has instructed refs to crack down on defenders. The idea is that limiting hand checks will give offensive players more freedom of movement. But it has led to confusion and taken the flow out of many preseason games, turning them into glorified free throw contests. As Shaquille O'Neal notes, "To call ticky-tack fouls is not a way to speed up the game."

• Marty Burns's NBA Power Rankings, Insider and Burning Questions can be found every week at si.com/nba.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)