Freedom of movement a big factor in NBA scoring spike

Stephen Curry digs it.

“I really don’t exactly what the cause is, but it’s great for the offensive-minded guys.”

Patty Mills is amazed by it.

“Night after night, it seems to be 120, 120, 140. It’s pretty amazing to see.”

And Trevor Ariza understands why.

“Anytime you see an increase or decrease, it has to do with the rules.”

The NBA is experiencing a rise in scoring from last season that seems to be a direct correlation with freedom of movement being a point of emphasis this season.

“The freedom of movement has really changed the game,” San Antonio Spurs forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge said. “That’s what the fans want to see. More up and down. More shots. More scoring.”

Way more scoring.

Going into Friday night’s games, teams are averaging six more points this season (112.5) than last (106.3). Fourteen teams are averaging 112.5 or more with the top three (Golden State, New Orleans and the Lakers) in the 120s.

Last season, only Golden State and Houston averaged more than 112 points.

“I remember when I first got into the NBA, it was hard to get to 100, but things have changed,” said Ariza, who came into the league in 2004. “A lot of scoring, a lot of 3s. A lot of fouls.”

Coaches and players throughout the league point to freedom of movement having a lot to do with the increase in scoring.

NBA referees made the trek throughout the league in the preseason to talk with players about this point of emphasis that doesn’t allow players to grab or hold the offensive player, even if the player is stationary.

When referee Marc Davis came to Phoenix before the Suns played Portland, he showed a video providing examples of what would be a no-no this year.

There Ariza and the rest of the Suns saw Ryan Anderson, in a Houston uniform, with his right arm around the waist of Anthony Tolliver, who was standing still.

“That wasn’t a rule last year,” said Anderson at that time. “Obviously, you can’t slow your man down or hold him back, but just kind of resting my arms on him to feel if he’s going to go or not. If he’s going to go under a screen. It’s different now. You’ve got to get used to new officiating every year. It’s obviously at a new level this season.”

Anderson said that drew laughs from his new teammates, but players are finding out early the referees weren’t playing around with the freedom of movement.

“It’s definitely real,” Suns wing Josh Jackson said. “They’re enforcing it.”

The fouls don’t lie.

Nearly three more fouls (22.7) are being called per game going into Friday’s games than last season (19.9), thus leading to more points. 

“You can’t hold,” Aldridge said. “Can’t grab. Can’t chuck. So, then that creates more offense. Guys can cut better. Cut faster. More free throws.”

The NBA is emphasizing freedom of movement to address the grabbing and holding that had become a regular part of the game in recent years. Player like Aldridge see this as taking some of the physicality out of the game, but at the same time, acknowledged defenders must play “smarter.”

“It’s all about technique now,” Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You used to be able to take shortcuts by reaching out and grabbing a guy and holding on to them. Now you really have to focus on the technique.”

Still, more fouls are being called and Mills is noticing perhaps an overlooked aspect of that as part of the NBA scoring spike.

“A lot of teams that I’ve seen get to the free-throw line earlier in the quarter and shoot free throws for the rest of the quarter,” Mills said.

Mills also believes the shot clock resetting to 14 seconds instead of 24 on offensive rebounds has led to even more of the NBA’s most valuable shots being taken.

“Almost all of those lead to, well, the majority of those lead to 3-pointers,” Mills said. “Looking for 3-pointers.”

Oh, the 3-ball is on the rise, too.

Going into Friday’s games, teams have been averaging 31.4 shots from distance per game, nearly three more than last season (29).

Teams are shooting a slightly lower percentage from a season ago, but the increase in attempts and total made shots make up for that.

“I think every year, there’s an increase in not just the number of 3s, but more players having the ability to shoot them,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “And then you add this adjustment in the rules and people are even more free to beat people, and when you beat people, help comes and creates a lot more uncontested shots in other areas.”

Suns coach Igor Kokoskov has noticed how the freedom of movement has led to an increase in scoring, but also points out how this is all part of a trend established by Curry and the Warriors.

“The winner dictates trend and that’s the trend right now,” he said. “Whoever the winner is, that’s Golden State. Small ball. A lot of 3s. Open lane. No bigs. That’s (the trend) we’ve got to follow.”

No wonder Curry’s digging it.

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