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NBA stars are stuffing stat sheets like never before. but why?

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It’s usually a special occasion when LeBron James has one of his patented stat blasts. In Monday’s win over the Houston Rockets, James A High efficiency 48 points, to go with eight rebounds, nine assists and no turnovers. It was a remarkable production to help hold the Los Angeles Lakers short-handed – even from a player who continues to defy the father.

But this NBA season – and the modern NBA in general – LeBron’s blowout was just another piece in the league’s big puzzle. Several weeks ago, Luka Donjic posted The NBA The second 60 points double triple ever, then followed that up with a 51-6-9 statistical streak four days later. Two nights later, the Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell He poured 71 points (!) Against Michael Jordan’s former team – more than MJ himself mustered in any game – tallying eight rebounds and 11 assists. A day later thatMilwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo He went for a relative tame 55 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

These are just a few of the flashy performances that seem to be on a dime in the NBA this season… and it’s not clear when they will stop. In fact, we can explain it visually. Using Basketball-Reference.com Game score scale (which measures single-game statistical output using all player point numbers), you can see that the team captain’s average game-by-game performance per 100 possessions hasn’t been stuffing the stat sheet better in modern NBA history:

Crucially, at this point in the season (more than halfway through), this overall score suggests that it’s not just one-off superhero performances like those from James, Donči and Mitchell, spoiling our perception that single-player output is getting bigger and bigger. And it’s not just about scoring: Although points have the most weight in a game’s point counting, they also account for a number of other stats, including rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers and more.

So what might explain all of these individual stat explosions sweeping the league? Is it sustainable?

The easiest and most obvious answer to this recent uptick in the raw production of top players is that the NBA offense, as a whole, has never looked better. league Collective Offensive Efficiency 114.0 It is the highest since at least the merger, as teams have moved to cut fat from their diet for scoring, with an emphasis on select shots both inside and outside the 3-point arc. Outside accidental rule breakersNBA teams have found that winning basketball doesn’t just lie behind the three-point arc…but inside it as well.

to me cleaning the glassesHowever, teams take only 30.8 percent of their shots from middle range, including just 9.4 percent from long middle range, the latter being the lowest number since at least the 2003-2004 season. But it doesn’t appear that the latest increase in offensive efficiency has been due to teams hitting more threes. 3-point aggregate try rates have leveled off in 2023, but teams take A larger share of their attempts on the edge – and earn more – than they did last season.

What that might mean for the NBA stars, then, is that they have more space to work in and make more use of it. Like the athletic Mike Prada recently observedHowever, the impact of the 3-point revolution wasn’t just on three points, but on all of the other shots that became easier with defenses needing to focus on the arc. The Superstars still get the same shots they did in seasons past, but they’ve never been improved better to convert them efficiently.

From a player usage perspective, too, it seems clear that teams are asking their stars to burn brighter than ever before – an unsurprising development in the game. The age of heliocentric basketball We live in – to hit three of the top 10 gaming scores since the merger that took place during the first half of the 2022-23 season alone. Not coincidentally, Antetokounmpo, Donči, and Joel Embiid are on track this season to own three of the top 10 utilization rates in recent NBA history as well.

Playing time may also help explain why someone like Dončić excels – he’s #2 in minutes per game he’s played this season – but even he doesn’t play absurdly high minutes by historical standards, as his mark is 37.4. It will not crack the top 200 minutes per game played this century. It’s more about what Dončić and players like him are asked to do during those minutes, and how many numbers they still put up on a nightly basis.

Of course, it is not at all clear that this increase in the strength of individual chest points is associated with helping the team win. One of the leading opponents of the heliocentric era, perennial candidate for the best player in the party Nikola Jokic, He didn’t quite catch the eye A traditional stat-stuffing metric this season. Despite leading the league FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR beats above replacement, Jokić’s points-per-game average comes in just a hair below 26.0 per game, well below the average NBA star this season. Nor is the track record of teams built around high-utilization stars. Michael Jordan, who recorded a usage rate of 34.7% (Good for 43 all time) during the 1992-93 season with the Chicago Bulls, is the player most used to win a championship since the merger. So, with three of the game’s superstars posting otherworldly USE rates — Dončić and Antetokounmpo at 38.2 and Embiid at 38.0 — we’re about to get a real test of whether the modern heliocentric basketball paradigm can finally win in a year. 2023.

But on a certain level, maybe none of that matters. As the saying goes, big box scores don’t lie, and we’ve undoubtedly been treated to the NBA’s biggest stars in the most groundbreaking collegiate performances in league history so far this year. When the 48-point barrage at the age of 38 before Arguably the greatest player of all time Treated as an afterthought, you know individual excellence has been elevated.

Neil Payne contributed research.

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