Fast Pace, Three Point Chuckers, and the Death of Low Totals

Fast Pace, Three Point Chuckers, and the Death of Low Totals

This ain’t the NBA of yesteryear. We’ve entered the “Steroid Era” of basketball, but instead of musclebound meatheads swatting 500 foot monster dongs, we have every player on the court chucking up threes with 15 seconds left on the shot clock…even centers!


Though I do own two Gerald Green jerseys, I wouldn’t call myself an NBA expert. I don’t know all of the different styles of play, I don’t know why Al Horford “spacing the floor” is worth a max contract, and I don’t know why the standard five positions we grew to love are seemingly becoming a thing of the past.

While I’m not your regular John Wooden, I’m not stupid, either. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that scoring has gone wayyyy up.

NBA Average Score By Year

SeasonAverage PPGPaceEffective FG%
2004-05194.490.948.2%
2005-06194.090.549.0%
2006-07197.491.949.6%
2007-08199.892.449.7%
2008-09200.091.750.0%
2009-10200.892.750.1%
2010-11199.292.149.8%
2011-12192.691.348.7%
2012-13196.292.049.6%
2013-14202.093.950.1%
2014-15200.093.949.6%
2015-16205.495.850.2%
2016-17211.296.451.4%
2017-18212.099.851.1%
*2017-18 season through OCT 24

It’s pretty clear to the naked eye that scoring has gone up, but the statistics are rather alarming. The increase in points per game coincides with an increased pace, which is the number of possessions a team averages per 48 minutes, and an increase in effective field goal percentage, which weighs three pointers more than two pointers. Basically, teams have figured out that they can score more by taking a ton of threes. Hence the reason we’ve seen the death of the mid range jumper (don’t tell DeMar DeRozan, though.)

Though it’s still early, we’re already off to a blistering start to the 2017-18 season. Though eFG% is slightly below the all-time record of 51.4% set last year, teams are averaging more than three more possessions per game—an eye-popping amount that could potentially lead to even more than the current 212 average score.

This a gambling blog, so you may be wondering how this scoring explosion has impacted totals. Below, you’ll find a table that shows how often certain total ranges have occurred in each of the past seasons dating back to 2004-05. For example, there were 1230 games last year and 426 of them (34.6%) closed with a total between 200 and 209.5 at Pinnacle.

Percent of Games Per Total Range

Year<190 190-199.5200-209.5210-219.5220+
2004-05*30.2%36.8%25.2%5.4%2.6%
2005-0637.8%33.3%23.6%4.7%0.6%
2006-0732.1%32.2%21.6%10.8%3.3%
2007-0824.4%29.4%25.8%14.7%5.6%
2008-0922.3%34.7%24.1%11.7%7.2%
2009-1012.9%38.4%29.1%14.0%5.5%
2010-1119.1%33.1%30.2%14.3%2.4%
2011-12**40.7%40.8%15.6%2.9%0%
2012-1324.3%45.1%23.9%6.1%0.7%
2013-1412.7%32.8%36.8%15.6%2.1%
2014-1510.8%38.6%35.9%13.6%0.3%
2015-163.0%24.5%45.1%22.9%4.4%
2016-171.8%11.3%34.3%34.6%17.8%

*Data Begins 1/1/2005

**Strike shortened 66-game season.

Other than the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, which leaves me nonplussed, we see a rather linear trend with low totals declining and higher totals on the rise. I honestly have no idea what happened that year…I guess the players all got tired due to the crammed-in schedule from playing 66 games in ~120 days instead of 82 games in ~180.

Back in the mid-late 2000s, it was rather rare for a game to close with a total above 210. This past season, a total of 210+ occurred more than half the time. Very low totals of 190 or below are practically extinct now, while a sub-200 total may only be seen once on an eight game slate.

I didn’t include this season in the chart because the percentages would probably be a bit whacky due to the small sample size. However, of the 54 games played as of Tuesday, none have closed under 196 and there have only been three games to close below 200.

This isn’t the whole story, though, as we have to see if oddsmakers have been doing their job and keeping up with the trends. The chart below shows the percentage of games in which the over has hit for each total range.

Over Cover Rate Per Range

Year<190190-199.5200-209.5210-219.5220+Total
2004-0549.2%47.2%48.5%53.5%65%48.9%
2005-0652.1%48.6%51.2%51.7%33%50.6%
2006-0759.3%48.7%49.8%52.6%50%51.4%
2007-0847.0%51.0%47.4%51.7%55.1%49.4%
2008-0954.1%48.7%51.2%44.4%53.4%50.3%
2009-1051.0%51.3%47.7%46.5%44.1%49.1%
2010-1145.9%50.6%46.2%45.1%56.7%47.7%
2011-1252.6%45.2%44.7%53.6%N/A48.4%
2012-1353.7%49.7%50%48.6%37.5%50.6%
2013-1440.9%56.3%50.9%49.5%40%51.4%
2014-1554.2%49.2%45.1%50.9%25%48.4%
2015-1655.6%51.3%48.4%49.8%48.1%49.6%
2016-1757.1%52.5%47.8%50.6%49.8%49.8%
Total51.2%49.9%48.4%49.7%50.1%49.7%

So how have books done adjusting to the scoring spike? Pretty flipping excellent. The average game had 5% more points in 2016-17 than it did in 2014-15, but oddsmakers manged to be within 10 games of a .500 record in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. They’re good for a reason—to keep us from taking their money.

A couple individual ranges in recent years seem to stick out, though. Games have gone over the very low totals at an exceedingly high clip over the past three seasons, while games have gone under at a decent rate in the 200 range.

Honestly, sportsbooks are probably very happy with their results over the past two seasons. Unders (which are less popular) are hitting more often than not, especially in games with higher totals—which often garner tons of over bets from public bettors.

I believe we’re in for another record breaking season, folks. How much longer will we go until scoring begins to dip again, though? And when that day comes, will oddsmakers be ready?

Follow us on Twitter @SportsInsights and @ActionNetworkHQ for more basketball analysis throughout the season.

Mark Gallant

I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.

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