73 points in a game by a single player in a mere 45 minutes. A score of 157 to 152 in a game that did not even extend to overtime. For National Basketball Association fans 25 years ago, these statistics would seem otherworldly. They would appear so significant that they would dominate news headlines for weeks. However, this is now the reality and norm in the 2023-2024 NBA season. 

Dallas Mavericks superstar, Luka Dončić, poured in 73 points in his team’s 148-143 victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 26. This tied for the fourth-highest individual scoring performance in NBA history, and it occurred on the same night that Phoenix Suns guard, Devin Booker, scored 62 points. What’s most shocking? A 70-point game from Philadelphia 76ers center, Joel Embiid, and a 62-point explosion from Minnesota Timberwolves forward, Karl-Anthony Towns, happened just the week prior. These performances have been both record-breaking and highly entertaining. Where did this exponential scoring boost come from? Why are players reaching new heights with their ability to put up stat-stuffing performances at rates never seen before? Some believe they have the answer to these questions. There is debate over whether or not this trend is beneficial for the NBA product as a whole.

The NBA’s increase in scoring is a polarizing topic among fans, players and coaches. Detractors lament that the boom in scoring is indicative of a greater problem: teams no longer put in enough effort defensively. They also cite that players are unable to be as physical defensively to stop scorers. Players in previous eras were able to handcheck and guard their opponents with more intensity without having to worry about a referee’s whistle disrupting their efforts. 

15-year NBA veteran and current Golden State Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, echoed this sentiment, saying, “The NBA has really slanted the rules towards the offensive player…I think it’s become almost impossible to play defense in a lot of cases.” Kerr’s thoughts are supported by the league average in scoring being on a path of exponential growth. According to Basketball Reference, in an NBA game in the 2013-2014 season, the average team scored 101 points per game. This number has now ballooned to an astronomical 115.6 this season.

Supporters of the NBA’s offensive revolution do not believe that defenses have declined, but rather that offenses are now reaching new heights in terms of efficiency. Teams have moved away from shooting a variety of inefficient mid-range jump shots to shooting three pointers and layups (which guarantee higher offensive output) at a frenetic pace. This style of play, termed “pace and space,” has transformed NBA offense. 

The influence of Stephen Curry and other elite outside shooters is also evident with how many more three pointers NBA teams now shoot. According to Basketball Reference, the average NBA team this season shoots 35 three-pointers per game. This number in the 1999-2000 season? 13.7. No matter how stifling the opponent’s defense is, the average NBA team is almost guaranteed to score more because of the emphasis on three-point shooting. 

So, how do these players feel after their gigantic scoring performances? Do they feel validated for their achievements or do they think that there is an asterisk because of the NBA’s current state? Dončić, for one, seems to believe that the rule changes restricting defense make his scoring outputs much higher. On JJ Redick and Tommy Alter’s podcast, The Old Man and the Three, he said, “Scoring 30 points in a Euroleague game, it’s harder than in an NBA game, 100% percent. I’m just saying this because of the rules.” Dončić then goes on to cite how with the presence of a defensive three-second violation in the NBA — the defense can only stand in the paint for 3 seconds if an offensive player is not in the paint — “you can have 10 more points easily.” This is where I believe the NBA needs to make some swift changes in regard to defensive rules. You cannot have superstars in the world’s best league admitting to a lack of defense.

Regardless of your position on this scoring explosion, I guarantee you that it will not permanently damage the NBA as a product. There is nothing to worry about for NBA fans who tune in for defensive intensity and physical play. While the past few years have seen offense dominate defense at unprecedented levels, the defense is bound to catch up eventually. Great offensive talents matched up against defensive stalwarts have always made the NBA the electrifying brand it remains. For every Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, there will always be a Gary Payton or Ron Artest willing to stop scoring at all costs. The game does not decline or diminish, it only moves forward and evolves.