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Wednesday Cup of Canis: A Furious Pace

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The League is playing at an absurd pace to start the year, and more free throws and threes are adding to very high scores

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning friends.

The NBA season is now a week old, and what stands out is the huge number of points being scored thanks to a spectacularly high pace of play, more free throws thanks to refs calling games tight to start the season, and once more an increase in three point shooting.

Through Monday’s games (all stats will be through end of day Monday,) the league is averaging 112.9 points per team per game. Last season the average was just over 106 points per. It’s been noticeable, with a bunch of absurdly high scoring contests such as the Wolves 140-136 loss in Dallas the other night.

One huge reason for the increase in scoring is pace of play. The San Antonio Spurs are last in the league this season in pace, at 98.0. That would have been 12th in the league last season. I expect things to slow down considerably as the season wears on; it’s hard to imagine teams keeping up this pace over an 82 game season. One nice thing to see is that comparatively, the Wolves are playing much faster. They are 13th in the league this season in pace, whereas they finished last year 23rd. Hopefully they can continue to push, because it’s leading to better looks for them.

Free throw attempts are also up. Referees are calling more fouls especially off the ball, the so-called “freedom of movement” rules. As a result, team per game FTAs are up from 21.7 per game to 24.8. Three point attempts are also up from 29 to 31.7. The latter has been an ongoing process that makes me wonder where the inevitable end point is. Will we reach a point when teams are taking too many threes, and it’s having a negative effect on offensive efficiency? It isn’t clear that we’ve hit that point yet, though I do wonder if the inherent variance in three point shooting ultimately is a negative for teams that rely on it very heavily.

Of course the pace of play means more possessions, which is another reason free throws and three point attempts are up—there are more opportunities. I suspect things will settle down as we continue on through the season, but a significant league-wide jump in pace of play over the course of the season is certainly not impossible.

Overall, it’s been a fun start to the NBA season. Next week we’ll start to look at trends among specific teams and players, but it’s a little early for that now.

It’s never too early to look at a couple of Wolves stats though!

Here’s one: Wolves are 14.5/100 better on defense when Josh Okogie is on the court. They force a lot more turnovers and rebound like an NBA team (as opposed to like a high school team trying to rebound in the NBA.)

I like him—he does stuff. If he works on and improves his shot, he’s going to be a very good player. He’s already an NBA level defender.

The bench guys have the best on/off ratings on the team by and large. Each member of the regular starting five is a net negative, while the reserves are positves, led by Tyus Jones at +22.9 per basketball reference. He’s a net positive on both sides of the ball, and I think maybe he should play more.

I expect this to shuffle around a lot until things settle down after a couple of months.

We’ll be back with a preview of tonight’s game in Toronto. I’m very excited to see the Raptors, who have looked like one of the two or three best teams in the league so far. Kawhi Leonard is playing at a high level again after his year off, and Kyle Lowry is playing fantastic basketball as well. It should be a fun one.

What’s on your mind?