Inside the NBA’s Scoring Explosion
A look at what’s driving players to produce 30, 40, and 50-point performances
Even before Christmas day, fans had been treated to a flurry of high-scoring from around the league. There have been nine 50-point games this season — the highest coming from Joel Embiid, who had 59 against the Jazz on Nov. 13.
It’s not just the superstars getting buckets, though. Role players are getting theirs, too. Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado made NBA history with his 38-point outburst off the bench.
These outputs are part of a common theme that has captivated the NBA over the last few months: the amount of nets being disintegrated as a result of 30, 40, and 50-point performances around the league.
Theories Behind the Scoring Explosion
ESPN has gathered 100 instances of players scoring at least 35 points, a mere snapshot of how simple it has become to drop 30 like it’s nothing. Breaking it down further, StatMuse has a page tracking the most 30-point games by a player this season, and Luka Doncic currently leads that category with 23. He and Jayson Tatum are tied in 40-point performances with six apiece, and Booker and Embiid have each had two 50-bombs this year.
NBA YouTuber JxmyHighroller — whose real name is Grayson Anderson — analyzed a similar phenomenon from last season and concluded that it was a result of several factors, including Steph Curry’s influence and the league’s prioritization of shooting and scoring.
“Players are doing things that have never been done before, effort and intensity on the defensive end are at an all-time low, and points seem to be easier to come by every season,” Anderson said.
He also noted how gifted offensive players have become recently, with everyone — from stars to role players — being able to get buckets any way they want to. It has also contributed to the idea of “positionless basketball,” where players perform duties that are outside of their typical molds, whether it’s a forward bringing the ball up or a point guard taking catch-and-shoot threes.
“Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, most players filled a specific role,” Anderson said. “Ever since [positionless basketball came about] around 2015, most good players have taken leaps and bounds outside of their mold.”
Personally, I can’t remember a season starting this hot in recent memory. A player scoring 40 or 50 in a game used to come once every few weeks or months. Now, however, we’re seeing players drop 40 or 50 in three quarters, and while there have been no 60-pieces (at least at the time of writing), it feels like we’re bound to have one in the near future.
Impact on Teams
This era of explosive bucket-getting has also contributed to the number of high-scoring games. Anderson’s video ended with a graph of the most 130+ point games in a season from 2001 to 2021. While those feats were few and far between in the early 2000s (anywhere from 30 to 60 times a season), they skyrocketed in the last five years, with teams exceeding the 130-mark 177 times in 2017 and 179 the season after. There have been 30 instances where teams have scored at least 130 points in a game this month alone, according to StatMuse.
Tim Reynolds’s recent article for BasketballNews noted how this season is part of an anomaly for teams:
“Not since 1969–70 has the NBA seen a season where teams are averaging this many points per game. The league average this season is 113 points per contest; that’s up 13 points from eight seasons ago and up almost 17 points from 11 seasons ago. Much of that has to do with the league’s ongoing reliance on the 3-pointer — a record number of those (30.598) were made last season and this season is on pace for a similar total in that department.”
NBA coaches are beginning to realize such a shift in scoring as well, and it’s impacting how they see their defense. As Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley told Reynolds, “You say you’re scoring enough to get where you need to be, but then defensively, if you’re giving up the 120’s and the 115’s, that’s where it becomes tough. That’s two or three less turnovers, that’s one more rebound, that’s knocking down one more shot, that’s taking away one more 3. You talk about the small gains and the small things you can do to help your defense get better, those are the pieces.”
Time will tell if this explosion will fizzle out in later months, but for now, fans are relishing in the fact that these 30, 40, and 50-point performances are becoming barbecue chicken for players across the league.