With scoring up less than 1% over last season, the NBA is not seeing cause for alarm

Boston Celtics' Derrick White (9) drives past Denver Nuggets' Nikola Jokic (15) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan 19, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Joe Dumars went to a game a couple of weeks ago that came down to the very last shot, and he thought it was one of the best games of the season to this point. Final score: Denver 102, Boston 100.

It was a reminder that defense still can get played in the NBA.

Amid a flurry of big individual performances — Luka Doncic scoring 73, Joel Embiid scoring 70, Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns each scoring 62 — in the last two weeks alone, Dumars said Wednesday that NBA officials aren't alarmed by such numbers because the league's scoring average is up only slightly compared to last season.

“It's where the game is today,” said Dumars, the NBA's executive vice president and head of basketball operations. “It's the pace of the game. It's the amount of 3s guys are shooting now. You're going to have some offensive eruptions like that.”

There hadn't been an instance since April 1978 of two players scoring at least 60 points in the same day. That is, until it happened twice last week: Embiid and Towns had their huge games on Jan. 22, Doncic and Booker put on their scoring shows on Jan. 26.

Having those events happen twice in the span of a few days is a statistical oddity, for certain. But the numbers show it's not really much more than that.

Scoring leaguewide this season is up just 0.78% over last season entering Wednesday, from 114.7 points per game to 115.6 points per game. The jump was far bigger last season, when scoring rose 3.7% over the rate of 110.6 points per game that the league saw in 2021-22.

There have been more high-scoring games, but the averages suggest things also tend to balance out. Entering Wednesday, there had been 78 instances of teams scoring at least 135 points in a game this season — already the second most for a full season in league history and on pace to smash the record of 112, set last season. The previous mark was 74 games of 135 or more, done in 2019-20.

“We're going to see offensive eruptions with this kind of pace and the amount of 3s people shoot,” Dumars said. “But there's no push here at the league office from me or anyone else that we want to see a certain score. I left that Boston-Denver game saying, ‘wow, great game.’ That's what fans want. Fans want to leave a game or watch a game and at the end say, ‘that was incredible.’ The score is secondary to that. Fans just want to see great games.”