Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's the most ... wonderful time ... of the year ...

... and I ain't talking about Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any other official holiday, although they all rock. Nope, I'm talking about hoops season, both professional and college, getting underway. The NBA is going on three weeks now, with the really good teams already separating themselves from the pack, and its collegiate brethren get going this week. Most everybody will have played at least their opener by this weekend.

Good times.

Now, any loyal follower of this blog (Hey, Tim!) will recall my fascination with the Grinnell Pioneers and coach David Arsenault. Not so much the school, or the team, or the coach, but the system employed at that Division III school to light up the scoreboard. It's what makes basketball exciting.

There aren't many other teams out there that score points the same way, and that is a shame. Particularly in the NBA, where offensive superstars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant would flourish in fast-paced systems. Imagine those three in the open court nearly every trip, using their creative athleticism to score the ball.

FYI, I hate that expression, not sure where it came from, but the first time I hear a hockey player talking about "Scoring the puck," I might throw up. It would be like a NASCAR driver talking about "Racing the car," or something similar. But I digress.

For some reason, and I'm betting it the coaches, the game has slowed down so much over the years. Everyone wants to control each possession, protect the ball, and try not to lose. They run sets, or set plays, or some type of motion offense to try to get the perfect shot every time. Think I'm wrong?

So far during this NBA season, the Phoenix Suns lead the league by averaging 110.9 points, with the Golden State Warriors slightly behind at 110.7. You're thinking not bad, right? You're thinking that sounds like a lot of offense, right? The Suns have reached this total with an average of 81.3 shots a game, mainly because they make 50.2 percent of their shots, a league high. The New York Knicks (coached by former Phoenix leader Mike D'Antoni) take 88.3 shots per contest, tops in the NBA. Again, sounds like a lot, right?

Well, what if I told you that if the Knicks maintain that average, they will take, on average, about 31 shots less than one of the greatest teams in NBA history? Yep, that's right, 31 shots less. I'm talking about the 1959-60 Boston Celtics, who won the championship that year after finishing 59-16 during the regular season. They beat the then-St. Louis Hawks in seven games in the finals to claim their second consecutive title on their way to a run of eight in a row.

That year, the Celtics of Red Auerbach took 119.6 shots each time out, on their way to averaging 124.5 points. You read those numbers correctly, and this was before the 3-point shot came into existence. Boston hardly was alone, however. Each team in the league (only eight strong at that point) took more than 100 shots a game, and all scored at least 107.3 points. Again, this is without the benefit of the 3-pointer.

Pretty amazing, right? And before you start the whining of "No defense," remember this was a team featuring Bill Russell, most often called the greatest defensive player of all-time.

Even more incredible is that the Celtics scored all these points despite making only 42 percent of their shots. The league as a whole made about 41 percent of its shots that year, compared to last season's NBA average of 46 percent.

To put this into perspective, if the Boston team of that year played in the current environment, making the average amount of shots and getting the same 18 percent of its field goals from beyond the 3-point arc (don't worry, I've done the math), it would have averaged slightly more than 144 points a game. Wouldn't that be exciting?

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