With February now upon us, I want to update the yay-scoring hallelujah I posted at ESPN.com a few weeks back. Here are the changes we’ve seen in major-conference play since 2013, in order of magnitude…
1. Scoring’s up 12.3 percent
There are exactly eight more points scored per 40 minutes of major-conference play than there were in the 2013 season. You can now expect a team to put 73.3 points on the board. (Well, not literally. On average.)
2. Three-point attempts are up by 9.4 percent
Changes Nos. 1 and 2 are correlated. (Ahem, coaches.) Note that both major-conference play and Division I basketball as a whole are more perimeter-oriented than they’ve ever been. This statement specifically includes the 2007-08 season, back when it was widely said there were “too many threes” and the three-point line was therefore moved back a foot. Now there are more threes than there were when there were too many threes. Personally I’m fine with it.
3. Three-point accuracy is up 8.4 percent
Maybe Jay Wright started sharing the secret of how to make your players make their shots, but for some reason players in the top six conferences are now connecting on 36.3 percent of their threes in league play. That is pretty good shooting. If we see a high-volume shooter doing that, we say he’s a good scorer. Speaking of good scoring, let us bestow our heartiest collective fist-bump upon the Pac-12, which has: a) moved past the three-phobia that characterized the league up through last season (that torch has now been passed, oddly, to the Big Ten); and b) is hitting a sizzling 37.8 percent of its tries from beyond the arc in conference play.
4. The pace of play’s 7.1 percent faster
We should have done the 30-second shot clock sooner.
5. Effective field goal percentage (eFG) is up 6.9 percent
See Nos. 3 and 6.
6. Two-point accuracy’s up 5.7 percent
I find this one intriguing. Once you get to two-point accuracy you are really meddling with the primal forces of nature. Yet it’s conceivable that, either this season or next, the major conferences as a whole could break through the magic 50 percent barrier on two-point shooting in league play. Indeed, the Big East is already there with both feet (51.6).
Partly this is due, no doubt, to teams recognizing that two-point jumpers are a low-efficiency sinkhole to be avoided. That would account for the multi-year trend, certainly, but the weird thing is we’ve seen a notable jump in two-point accuracy just this season without any correspondingly seismic year-to-year decrease in the two-point jumper numbers tracked so assiduously by Jeff Haley. Nevertheless, the accuracy continues to climb. Henceforth I shall call this the Markkanen-Patton Effect.
And shot volume?
Steady as she goes. Today’s new birth of scoring freedom has been driven by shot selection, pace, and accuracy, period. Since 2013 turnovers and offensive rebounding have dropped by almost identical amounts in major-conference play, thus canceling each other out.
You don’t need more free throws to have more scoring
The major-conference free throw rate is exactly where it was in 2013. This is a good thing. (Now get with the program, SEC.)
Here’s how it has played out, from 2013 through last night.
Major-conference games only Pace PPP Pts eFG% TO% OR% 2FG% 3FG% 3PA% 2013 64.7 1.01 65.3 48.1 19.0 31.9 47.0 33.5 32.0 2014 65.1 1.05 68.5 49.2 17.4 31.2 47.9 34.4 32.9 2015 64.1 1.03 66.2 48.8 18.0 31.4 47.3 34.5 33.7 2016 68.5 1.05 71.7 49.8 17.6 30.3 48.4 35.1 34.5 2017 69.3 1.06 73.3 51.4 18.2 30.4 49.7 36.3 35.0
If you had told me in 2013 I could get a faster-paced and more perimeter-oriented version of the sport with more points and the same free throw rate, I would have taken that. NCAA, I salute you.