To say this NBA season has gotten off to a rocky start is an understatement. Overall, scoring is down league-wide and we seem to get some terrible shooting performances more often than not. This spell has also wreaked havoc on the NBA betting lines with at least 56.3% of totals going under, which is a sizable drop from the previous three seasons.
What is to blame for the bad shooting nights or the low-scoring games? We’ll look to examine some reasons as to why teams and players, even superstars, are struggling to put the ball in the basket this season.
NBA Totals Going Under: Examining Why?
As of Nov. 29, 56.3% of all NBA games have gone under the online sports betting totals. If we remove the games that went to overtime, this moves up to 58.8%, nearly three-fifths of all games this season.
If you love betting on high-scoring games, you may want to hold the cash when betting online in the meantime. While we still get the occasional shootouts, NBA games have trended towards a slower-paced and defensive-minded approach.
Don’t believe us? Let’s look at four key metrics from this season and compare them to the previous three along with the over/under result splits:
|Season||Avg. Total||Avg. EFG%||Avg. FTr||Avg. Pace||Over/Under%|
Based on these findings, NBA games this season have had a decrease in overall scoring, shooting accuracy (effective field goal percent (EFG%)), number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt (FTr), and pace (estimated possessions per 48 minutes).
Worse Shooting: New Ball, New Problems?
With an average EFG% of just 51.8%, this is the lowest for the NBA since the 2016-17 season. We even have five teams (Toronto, New Orleans, Orlando, Oklahoma City, and Detroit) who are all averaging below the 50% mark. In the previous three seasons, only one team per season hit this mark.
One reason to this poor shooting is the NBA’s new ball. The NBA switched from the Spalding balls to the Wilson balls in the offseason and it has led to plenty of players having to readjust at the expense of their shooting.
Several stars like Damian Lillard, James Harden, and D’Angelo Russell have seen their shooting and scoring take a hit. Clippers’ star Paul George assumed the ball was to blame for this new phenomenon.
Less Free Throws: New Rules and More Hacking?
The other part of the problems on offense can be attributed to a major change in the NBA’s shooting fouls. The NBA instituted a rule this off-season to crack down on fouls called as a result of “unnatural shooting motions” from the offensive player.
Players like Harden and Hawks guard Trae Young were notorious for constantly leaning into their defenders to draw the foul. It even caught the attention of Hall of Fame point guard and Brooklyn Nets coach, Steve Nash.
I think Steve Nash just said “it’s not basketball” to the ref in response to Trae Young picking up yet another “running up the back” foul. I’m inclined to agree.
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) December 31, 2020
The change in the rules has, however, led to defenders having a heyday on players like Harden and Young. Harden’s free throw attempts a game are down to just 6.8, which is his lowest since he was coming off Oklahoma City’s bench in 2012. Young’s are down to 5.7 after averaging nine for the past two seasons.
But it’s not limited to the two. Analytics show that free throw attempts are down league-wide, especially from the guard position. Bigger defenders can hack and hammer “little guys” with fewer consequences and it is affecting teams’ offenses.
Slower Pace: Less Possessions, Less Scoring?
For the previous three seasons, the NBA was averaging 100 possessions per 48 minutes, which is the highest average since Michael Jordan’s first “three-peat” days in Chicago in the early ’90s. This season, the pace has slowed down by a little. Not a lot, but enough to have one or two fewer possessions to cash under tickets.
This season, only five teams have a pace over 100 and only two of them are finding success doing it: Phoenix and Charlotte. Last season, there were at least ten. And the two seasons prior, half the league (15).
A reason why could be fatigue and injuries. The previous season had an unprecedented amount of injuries as the NBA played a condensed schedule coming off a COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. The NBA Playoffs saw almost every team lose a star player or two.
Teams are focusing more on controlling the pace and emphasizing getting the most out of their possessions. After all, seven of the eight slowest teams of 2020-21 were successful teams led by Atlanta, a Conference Finalist, and Phoenix, the runner-ups.
Will These Trends Continue?
Given that it’s only been a quarter into the NBA season, we can expect teams and players to start making adjustments particularly with the new ball and the new rules. Lillard and Russell have already started picking up the scoring and we can expect some other teams to follow suit.
Teams like Boston, Orlando, and Dallas have new coaches and are in the bottom-ten in the league in EFG%. Once players reacclimate to their new offenses, more efficient scoring may come. And with better scoring may come an increase in totals going over as many NBA betting previews would undoubtedly start touting.