A history of NBA scoring trends

With the 72nd regular season of the NBA having wrapped up last week, let’s take a look at how scoring trends have changed over the course of the sport’s history. From the sport slowing down in terms of points scored to the impact the addition of the three-point line has had, the NBA has changed a lot over half a century.

NBA scoring over time

The highest scoring season in NBA history was the 1961-62 season, in which the league averaged 118.8 points. Unsurprisingly, the lowest scoring year was the first season (1946-47), with an average of 67.8 points.

Points per game

The 13 season stretch from 1995-96 through 2007-08 is the longest stretch in NBA history in which the league averaged under 100 points. However, scoring has been up in recent years. This past season (2017-18) saw an average of 106.3 points, the most since the 1990-91 season (106.3 points).

The NBA seasons that have seen the most field goal attempts are also some of the highest scoring years in league history, which all came before the advent of the three-point line.

1960-61: 109.4 shots, 118.1 points (2nd all time)

1959-60: 108.7 shots, 115.3 points (T-7th all time)

1961-62: 107.7 shots, 118.8 points (1st all time)

1966-67: 103.1 shots, 117.4 points (3rd all time)

1965-66: 102.4 shots, 115.5 points (6th all time)

Points vs Shots

The NBA has not seen a season with over 100 shots attempted since 1967-68 (100.8). The league has not seen a year with over 90 shots attempted since 1979-80 (90.6), which was the first season the three-point line was introduced. In fact, from 1983-84 until 2015-16, the NBA averaged under 85 shots attempts per season until the past two years (2016-17, 85.4 and 2017-18, 86.1).

PPG vs leading scorer

From 1959-60 until 1971-72 every season in the NBA saw at least 110 points be averaged per season. This span was also when the 9 of the top 12 top scoring seasons by a player in NBA history happened.

Player Year PPG Scoring Avg. Shots per game
Wilt Chamberlain 1961-62 50.36 118.8 (1st) 107.7 (3rd)
Wilt Chamberlain 1962-63 44.83 115.3 (T-7th) 101.2 (8th)
Wilt Chamberlain 1960-61 38.39 118.1 (2nd) 109.4 (1st)
Wilt Chamberlain 1959-60 37.60 115.3 (T-7th) 108.7 (2nd)
Michael Jordan 1986-87 37.09  109.9 (17th)  88.8 (29th)
Wilt Chamberlain 1963-64 36.85 111 (11th) 99.1 (12th)
Rick Barry 1966-67 35.58 117.4 (3rd) 103.1 (4th)
Kobe Bryant 2005-06 35.40  97 (49th)  79 (62nd)*
Michael Jordan 1987-88 34.98  108.2 (T-23rd)  87.8 (34)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1971-72 34.84 110.2 (T-15th) 95.5 (17th)
Elgin Baylor 1960-61 34.77 118.1 (2nd) 109.4 (1st)
Wilt Chamberlain 1964-65 34.71 110.6 (13th) 99.8 (10th)

*Only seasons with less shot attempts were 1998-99 (78.2), 1952-53 (77.1) and 1953-54 (75.4).


The battle of two-pointers vs. three-pointers 

In the 1979-80 season, the NBA introduced the three-point line, which has had a profound impact on the league in recent years. While it took over a decade, the three-pointer really exploded in the middle of the 1990s and has risen across the league ever since. The 2017-18 season almost saw more three-pointers attempted (29), then two-point field goals made (29.1).

Shots taken and attempted

shot percentage

Although fewer two-pointers are being taken since the three-point line was introduced, the rise of the three has seen an increase in the percentage of two-point shots made. The last two seasons, 2016-17 (50.30%) and 2017-18 (51%), saw the first time over half of two-point attempts had been made.

Meanwhile, the NBA’s overall field goal has suffered as more three-pointers are being attempted. Despite the increased significance of the three, the NBA as a whole has not gotten better at making them. Since the 1991-92 season, the three-point percentage for each season has been between 33.10% and 36.70%.

The NBA’s embrace of the three-point shot

The most successful teams over the past few seasons have embraced an increase in three-point attempts, in no small part due to data analytics which has taken over much of the league.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and the Golden State Warriors often get credit for ushering in this three-point revolution, In the last six seasons, Curry and Thompson have accounted for six of the top seven seasons in NBA history in terms of made threes.

However, it appears as if the Houston Rockets are taking it to the next level, led by GM Daryl Morey, head coach Mike D’Antoni, and All-Star James Harden. In the last two seasons, Houston has averaged 41.3 three-point attempts per game, 6.5 more on average than the next closest team.

To see the full extent of the change lets look at the Minnesota Timberwolves, who attempted the least threes per game (22.5) this year. Even the team taking the least threes is shooting more then what the league average was in 2014-15 (22.4), only three years ago.

It will remain to be seen how much higher this three-point revolution could go. Next season could possibly be the first to see more three-pointers attempted per game then two-point field goals made.

The rise of the three-pointer has revitalized scoring in the NBA to levels it has not seen in over two decades. If this rise in three-pointers continues at its current pace, it is possible the NBA could see 1960s levels of scoring.


Info and sources:

Featured Image: “Wilt ‘The Stilt” Chamberlain, 1967, Philadelphia, PA., 1967” by Cliff is licensed under CC BY-2.0

https://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/BAA_1947.html (analyzed league stats for average points, two-pointers, three-pointers, shooting percentage and the league leader in points for each season up until 2017-18)



Charts and graphs made using Google Spreadsheet in Google Docs


How common is a 30 PPG season in the NBA?

MVP favorite James Harden finished the 2017-18 season averaging over 30 points-per-game (PPG). This poses the question, how common a feat has this been throughout NBA history? The information in this article was all compiled using Pro Basketball Reference’s player season finder and only counts qualified players (those who played a minimum number of games).

The first season where a player averaged at least 30 PPG in a season took place in 1959-60. That year saw Wilt Chamberlain (37.6) and Jack Twyman (31.2) be the first to accomplish the milestone. Since then it has happened 65 more times, with Harden being the latest.

A history of 30 PPG seasons 

Below is a timeline of how many players have averaged at least 30 PPG in a season since the first occurrence back in the 1959-60 season.

Seasons with 30 PPG

Below is a chart of the players with the most 30 PPG seasons. As you can see, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson combined have accounted for 21 of the 67 times a player has averaged at least 30 PPG in a season.

Players 30 PPG

*Dominique is Dominique Wilkens.

The average age of a player when they have reached the 30 PPG milestone is 25.88. The two youngest players to average 30 PPG are LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The only players to average 30 PPG being 30 or older are Rick Barry (30), Allen Iverson (30), Jerry West (31) and Michael Jordan (32).

30 PPG age

Best statistical numbers for 30 PPG seasons

Finally, let’s take a look at the best statistical numbers put up in a season where a player has averaged at least 30 PPG.

Most points per game Wilt Chamberlain: 50.4 1961-62
Most made 2pt field goals per game Wilt Chamberlain: 20.0 1961-62
Most made 3pt field goals Stephen Curry: 5.1 2015-16
Most made free throws per game Jerry West: 10.6 1965-66
Most rebounds per game Wilt Chamberlian: 27.2 1960-61
Most assists per game Oscar Robertson: 11.5 1964-65
Most steals per game Michael Jordan: 3.2 1987-88
Most blocks per game Bob McAdoo: 3.3 1973-74
Least turnovers per game Michael Jordan: 3.0 1989-90
Least personal fouls per game Wilt Chamberlian: 1.5 1961-62
Highest field goal percentage Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 57.7% 1970-71
Highest three-point percentage Stephen Curry: 45.4% 2015-16
Highest free throw percentage Stephen Curry: 90.8% 2015-16
Highest effective field-goal percentage Stephen Curry: 63.0% 2015-16
Highest true shooting percentage Stephen Curry: 66.9% 2015-16

*Three-pointers were not implemented in the NBA until the 1979-80 season
*Blocks and steals were not kept track of until the 1973-74 season

Notes and Info:

Featured Image: “Michael Jordan” by Kip-koech is licensed under CC BY-2.0

All info is from Pro Basketball Reference

Charts and graphs made using Google Spreadsheet on Google Docs

A look at triple-doubles in the NBA since 1983-84

The 2017-18 NBA season was yet another year where triple-double milestones were set. In November, Lonzo Ball became the youngest player to ever record a triple-double, only to have it broken by Markelle Fultz on the last day of the season. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Ben Simmons finished with 12 triple doubles, the most by a rookie since Oscar Robertson.

Nikola Jokic recorded the fastest triple-double in history, doing so in only 14 minutes, 33 seconds.  Finally, Russell Westbrook became the first player to ever average a triple-double in two seasons.

A history of triple-doubles since 1983-84

With all the triple-doubles taking place over the last two seasons, I decided to take a historical look at how common they are. I started with the 1983-84 season, as that is the first year that Basketball-Reference.com’s database has full regular season game logs.


As one can see, the last three seasons have been historical in terms of the number of triple-doubles produced around the NBA. Three of the four years that saw the most triple-doubles have happened during this time. A lot of this has to do with last year’s MVP Russell Westbrook, who has produced the three seasons with the most triple-doubles since 1983-84.

Here is a representation of the graph above so that the leader for each season can be seen.

Season Triple Doubles Triple Doubles Leader
2017-18 108 Russell Westbrook (25)
2016-17 117 Russell Westbrook (42)
2015-16 75 Russell Westbrook (18)
2014-15 46 Russell Westbrook (11)
2013-14 46 Lance Stephenson (5)
2012-13 42 Rajon Rondo (5)
2011-12* 18 Rajon Rondo (6)
2010-11 37 LeBron James (4)
2009-10 23 LeBron James (4)
2008-09 30 LeBron James (7)
2007-08 40 Jason Kidd (13)
2006-07 32 Jason Kidd (12)
2005-06 37 Jason Kidd (8)
2004-05 32 Jason Kidd (8)
2003-04 32 Jason Kidd (9)
2002-03 42 Kevin Garnett (6)
2001-02 29 Jason Kidd (8)
2000-01 45 Jason Kidd (7)
1999-00 38 Jason Kidd (5)
1998-99* 18 Jason Kidd (7)
1997-98 22 Grant Hill, Jason Kidd (4)
1996-97 50 Grant Hill (13)
1995-96 50 Grant Hill (10)
1994-95 28 Jason Kidd (4)
1993-94 36 David Robinson (5)
1992-93 43 Charles Barkley (6)
1991-92 25 Four tied at 2*
1990-91 42 Magic Johnson (13)
1989-90 61 Magic Johnson (11)
1988-89 78 Magic Johnson (17)
1987-88 53 Magic Johnson (12)
1986-87 62 Fat Lever (16)
1985-86 37 Larry Bird (10)
1984-85 50 Magic Johnson (14)
1983-84 32 Magic Johnson (11)

* 1991-92 Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson
* 1998-99 (50 games) and 2011-12 (66 games) were both shortened due to lockouts

Triple Double leaders.png

Rusell Westbrook still has a ways to go to catch Jason Kidd for the most total seasons leading the league in triple-doubles. However, in his four seasons, Westbrook has a total of 96 triple-doubles (avg. of 24 per season). In his 11 seasons, Kidd had a total of 85 triple-doubles (avg. of 7.72 per season), 11 less than Westbrook had produced in the last 4 years.


Sources and Tools:

Featured Image: “Russell Westbrook” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/pgl_finder.cgi (used to find triple-double numbers from 1983-84 until 1998-99)

http://www.espn.com/nba/statistics/player/_/stat/double-doubles/sort/tripleDouble/year/2000 (used to find triple-double numbers from 1999-00 until 2017-18)


Charts and graphs made using Google Spreadsheets

How often does the best NBA team win the championship?

The Houston Rockets have finished the 2017-18 NBA season with the best record in the NBA. So what does history say about how this affects their chances of taking home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy this June? I took a look a few days ago to see how the top team fares in the NHL playoffs, so let’s do the same for the NBA.

In the last 71 seasons of NBA basketball, 78 teams have finished with the best record in a season. This accounts for teams tying to finish with the best record in a season, which took place in 1954-55, 1974-751980-811997-981998-992002-03 and 2011-12.

How often does the best team make and win the finals? 

Odds of making Finals 45/78 (57.69%)
Odds of winning Finals at start of playoffs 35/78 (44.87%)
Odds of winning Finals once in Finals 35/45 (77.77%)

Interestingly, enough there have been two occasions in NBA history where the two teams who finished in a tie for the best record met in the finals. In the 1955 NBA Finals, the Syracuse Nationals defeated the Fort Wayne Pistons 4-3. In the 1998 NBA Finals, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz 4-2.

Besides the two aforementioned occasions above, there have only been eight other times when the team with the best record made the Finals and lost. This includes the Syracuse Nationals (1949-50), Boston Celtics (1957-58) and 1984-85), Milwaukee Bucks (1973-74), Washington Bullets (1974-75 and 1978-79), Phoenix Suns (1992-93) and Golden State Warriors (2015-16).

Decade Breakdown

A quick by decade breakdown of how often the best team made and won the NBA Finals. This also accounts for ties as the best team, hence why not every full decade is out of 10.

Decade Made Finals Won Finals
1940s (47-49 Finals) 0/3 (0%) 0/3 (0%)
1950s (50-59 Finals) 9/11 (81.81%) 7/11 (63.63%)
1960s (60-69 Finals) 7/10 (70%) 7/10 (70%)
1970s (70-79 Finals) 6/11 (54.54%) 3/11 (27.27%)
1980s (80-89 Finals) 8/11 (72.72%) 7/11 (63.63%)
1990s (90-99 Finals) 7/12 (58.33%) 5/12 (41.66%)
2000s (00-09 Finals 3/11 (27.27%) 3/11 (27.27%)
2010s (10-17 Finals) 5/9 (55.55%) 4/9 (44.44%)

How the best of the best have fared

What does this all mean for the Houston Rockets, who finished the 2017-18 season as the best team in the NBA? Finishing with a record of 65-17, the Rockets became only the 21st team in the history of the league to win at least that many games in a season.



Won Championship:

Golden State Warriors (2015-16)


No, lost in Finals (4-3)

Chicago Bulls (1995-96)



Los Angeles Lakers (1971-72)



Chicago Bulls (1996-97)



Philadelphia 76ers (1966-67)



Boston Celtics (1972-73)


No, lost in ECF (4-3)

Boston Celtics (1985-86)



Chicago Bulls (1991-92)



Los Angeles Lakers (1999-00)



Dallas Mavericks (2006-07)


No, lost in WC 1st Round (4-2)

Golden State Warriors (2014-15)



*San Antonio Spurs (2015-16)


No, lost in WC Semi-Finals (4-2)

Golden State Warriors (2016-17)



Milwaukee Bucks (1970-71)



Boston Celtics (2007-08)



Cleveland Cavaliers (2008-09)


No, lost in EC Semi-Finals (4-2)

Miami Heat (2012-13)



Philadelphia 76ers (1982-83)



Los Angeles Lakers (1986-87)



Los Angeles Lakers (2008-09)



Houston Rockets (2017-18)



 *Only team to win at least 66 games in a season and not have that year’s best record.

Out of the previous 20 teams to finish with at least 65 wins 16 (80%) of them reached the NBA Finals. 15 of those 16 teams (93.75%) who reached the Finals ended up winning, with the notable exception of the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors.

The Rockets aren’t fully guaranteed to make the Finals as the best team but history says that their outstanding 66-win season gives them an already greater chance than the average best team. It also shows that a team of their caliber should win the Finals if they made it, even more so then your typically best team, barring a historic collapse.


Sources and Tools:

Featured Image: “James Harden” by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/    (went through each season taking note of best team)



Charts made using Google Spreadsheets

How NBA playoff teams historically perform based on seeding

With the 2017-18 NBA playoffs starting up soon, let’s take a look at how teams have historically performed in each round based on their seeding. Our starting point will be the 1983-84 season, as this was the first year that the NBA playoffs featured 16 teams.

NBA seeding results from 1984 to 2017 playoffs

Seeding 1st round 2nd round Conf Champ Finals
1 seeds 63-5 (92.64%) 58-5 (92.06%) 38-20 (61.51%) 23-15 (60.52%)
2 seeds 63-5 (92.64%) 37-26 (58.73%) 19-18 (51.35%) 6-13 (31.57%)
3 seeds 51-17 (75%) 27-24 (52.94%) 7-20 (25.92%) 4-3 (57.14%)
4 seeds 31-37 (45.58%) 5-26 (16.12%) 2-3 (40%) 0-2 (0%)
5 seeds 37-31 (54.41%) 4-33 (10.81%) 0-4 (0%) N/A
6 seeds 17-51 (25%) 3-14 (17.64%) 1-2 (33.33%) 1-0 (100%)
7 seeds 5-63 (7.35%) 1-4 (20%) 0-1 (0%) N/A
8 seeds 5-63 (7.35%) 1-4 (20%) 1-0 (100%) 0-1 (0%)

As one would imagine 1 seeds breeze through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs and have historically domianted the finals. 5 seeds have historically had the advantage defeating four seeds.

Out of 34 Finals that have taken place since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams, 1 seeds have won 23 of them. While 1 seeds have lost 15 finals, 11 of those have come against other one seeds. Since the expansion to 16 teams, only the 1993, 1995, 2001 and 2002 NBA Finals saw 1 seeds lose to non-1s.

Out of the last 34 Finals, only six of them have featured no top-seeded team. Oddly enough this happened four Finals in a row, from 2004 to 2007, while also happening in back-to-back Finals in 2011 and 2012.

Comparison across decades

For further comparison, let’s see how each seed does in the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs when comparing by decade since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams starting with the 1983-84 season. I left out the NBA Finals since the aforementioned amount of times that one-seeded teams play each other would skew any comparison.

1st round

In the 2010’s, 3 and 5 seeded teams have won more often than in the past. There have also been 2 wins by 8 seeds, compared to 3 in the previous decades combined.

2nd round

The second round of the NBA playoffs in the 2010s has so far seen a large jump in the amount of 2 and 4 seeded teams winning their games. However, not a single 6, 7 or 8 seed has advanced beyond this round in the decade.

Conf Champ

A 5 or 7 seed has never won a Conference Championship game. The only 6 seed to win in this round was the 1995 Houston Rockets, while the only 8 seed was the 1999 New York Knicks. The only 4 seeds to do so were the 2006 Dallas Mavericks and the 2010 Boston Celtics.

Last 5 seed to reach the conference championship: Memphis Grizzlies (2013)

Last 6 seed to reach the conference championship: Houston Rockets (1995)

Last 7 seed to reach the conference championship: Seattle SuperSonics (1987)

Last 8 seed to reach the conference championship: New York Knicks (1999)

Have there been fewer upsets since the first round format was changed? 

While we’re on the topic of seeding, has the NBA switch from a best-of-5 first round to a best-of-7 first round change the number of upsets that take place. The short answer is not really, as the number of 1, 2 and 3 seed that has lost in the first round isn’t noticeably different. Meanwhile, 4 and 5 seeds have split their matchups since the change.

First Round seeding 5 game 1st round (1984-2002) 7 game 1st round (03-17)
1 seeds 36-2 (94.73%) 27-3 (90%)
2 seeds 34-4 (89.47%) 29-1 (96.66%)
3 seeds 28-10 (73.68%) 23-7 (76.66%)
4 seeds 16-22 (42.10%) 15-15 (50%)
5 seeds 22-16 (57.89%) 15-15 (50%)
6 seeds 10-28 (26.31%) 7-23 (23.33%)
7 seeds 4-34 (10.52%) 1-29 (3.33%)
8 seeds 2-36 (5.26%) 3-27 (10%)


Sources and notes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_NBA_Playoffs (went through noting victories by each seed up until the most recent playoffs in 2017)

Charts and graphs made using Google Spreadsheets