I was watching some footage of the 82′ Sixers playing the Boston Celtics in the playoffs and the game looked noticeably different compared to today. Players seemed slower, less fancy moves, more defense, less 3’s and obviously more passing. This got me thinking to compare some of the stats of games in the 80’s to the present day. What I found was pretty interesting. Here are the league leading teams and their totals for the year. Take into consideration this is just the highest total of that era and not the average, thus making these numbers meaningless.

  • Total Points 82′ Nuggets 10,105, 11′ Nuggets 8,811 – I think this is pretty interesting that in 82′ they were scoring almost 15 points more per game. I guess my less defense claim is out of the question. Perhaps the Nuggets are just always run and gun?
  • FG % 82′ Lakers – 52.8%, 11′ Celtics – 48.6% – Higher shooting % makes sense considering they are scoring more points and taking better shots.
  • Asst 82′ Lakers- 2,519, 11′ Rockets – 1,953 (Heat had 1,639 this year) – This is pretty amazing in my opinion. A 566 difference means almost 7 assists more a game. This is essentially 7 easy buckets a game that were coming from good passes in the old days. Players were obviously not as selfish compared with “trying to get theirs”.
  • 3 pointers 82′ Spurs – 308 Attempted, 94 Made. 11′ Magic – 2103 Attempted, 770 Made – How the game has changed. In 2011, the team shooting the most 3’s are attempting 7x more then almost 30 years ago. These numbers are really startling and I guess this explains why FG% is down. Notice how the 3 point line doesn’t necessarily lead to more points put on the board. I think someone needs to clue the players in on this fact.
  • Blocks 82′ Hawks – 665, 11′ 502- Wizards – I’m not sure if this is relevant to anything.
  • Rebounds 82′ Sixers – 3930, 11′ TWolves – 3641 – I think this proves it was a faster paced up and down game with more shots being taken. Funny how Kevin Love’s O board’s swing this to the Wolves.
  • Steals 82′ Nets – 911, 11′ Grizzlies – 771 – More possessions I’m guessing.
  • FT% 82′ Nuggets – 80%, 11′ Thunder – 82% – No noticeable difference in shooting caliber.
  • TO 82′ Dallas – 1348, 11′ 76ers 1063 – More possessions led to more turnovers.
  • Attendance 82′ Lakers 648,244, 11′ Bulls 893,462 – Bigger arena’s is my guess as it seems the popularity of the NBA has actually gotten weaker.
  • So what’s the conclusion? It seems a bit counter intuitive that the addition of the 3 point line has led to less points being scored. However when a team is shooting 1800 more 3’s in a season and they make roughly 33% (in reality its 36% but for the example), they score 1800 points. With those extra 1800 possessions a team shooting twos will score roughly 1800 points (50% FG%). HOWEVER, the team shooting twos are more likely to get fouled whereas the team shooting 3’s almost never gets fouled. On 1800 possessions, you may get found 1 once every 7 possessions. This leads to getting fouled 257 times. This could be an additional 450 points? I think that may be some explanation why they scored more points 30 years ago. Anyone’s guess on how often they go to the line on a possession basis would be welcome.

    Blocks, steals and rebounds are all down comparably in present form. This is just because of more possessions by each team. The game back then must have taken shots earlier in the possession or ran the fast break more often. I think this makes sense as to why points per game are higher and FG% is up too. Notice TO’s are way down which pretty much proves the less possessions. I think people preferred basketball back 30 years ago because it was more run and gun. I’m sure the game was more physical due to teams constantly attacking the rim. I think the talent was also a little more diverse. Meaning the better players were much better than some of the scrubs on the roster. This maybe added to the excitement of having a “star” on the team.

    The only thing wrong with this analysis is that I could look at a year ahead or a year behind and the numbers could be completely skewed (I doubt it though). I still think its interesting to see how the game has evolved. The 3 point line is obviously the biggest change to the game. I think a fair answer to the question “what is the biggest change in basketball 30 years ago compared with today” is the 3 point line. After reading this post, now you can argue that with conviction. Comment if you enjoyed this.