The Hidden Truth Behind the NBA’s Recent Scoring Binge Is a Bad Look for the League

The NBA has seen an explosion of scoring stats in March (it’s only March 16). LeBron James has scored 50-plus points twice, and Kyrie Irving and Karl-Anthony Towns just went for 60 on consecutive nights.

In total, seven players have scored at least 50 points since LeBron posted that number against the Golden State Warriors on March 5. That means the league has seen seven 50-plus-point performances in 10 days.

It proves the NBA is in good hands, for sure, with gluttony of talent.

But there’s a hidden truth lurking behind this recent scoring trend that seems to have gone unnoticed, and it doesn’t bode well for the league’s future.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant are leading a historic NBA offensive surge

The NBA's recent scoring stats, including Kyrie Irving's, are problematic of a bigger trend across the league.
Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets in NBA action against LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers. | Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In order from March 5-15:

  • LeBron James, March 5: 56 points on 61.3% shooting (19-of-31), 54.5% from three (6-of-11), 12-of-13 from the free-throw line
  • Jayson Tatum, March 6: 54 points on 53.3% shooting (16-of-30), 53.3% from three (8-of-15), 14-of-17 from the free-throw line
  • Kyrie Irving, March 8: 50 points on 78.9% shooting (15-of-19), 75.0% from three (9-of-12), 11-of-13 from the free-throw line
  • James, March 11: 50 points on 72.0% shooting (18-of-25), 66.7% from three (6-of-9), 8-of-8 from the free-throw line
  • Kevin Durant, March 13: 53 points on 51.4% shooting (19-of-37), 30.8% from three (4-of-13), 11-of-12 from the free-throw line
  • Karl-Anthony Towns, March 14: 60 points on 61.3% shooting (19-of-31), 63.6% from three (7-of-11), 15-of-16 from the free-throw line
  • Irving, March 15: 60 points on 64.5% shooting (20-of-31), 66.7% from three (8-of-12), 12-of-13 from the free-throw line

Seven NBA games of 50 points or more, five different players, incredibly efficient stats from every area of the floor. In a week and a half.

But there’s a catch.

Looking closer, there’s a significant problem behind the league’s scoring binge

All seven of those incredible outbursts came against teams that are a combined 45 games under .500.

LeBron scored his 56 against the Warriors (47-22 record on March 15), and Tatum scored his 54 against the Brooklyn Nets (36-33).

Take away the two of those seven games that came against above .500 teams, and that number drops to a combined 73 games under .500. Seventy-three.

Sure, the numbers are wild. And the fact that they’re coming over and over again in such a short period is crazy. But they’re coming against teams that, for the most part, won’t sniff the playoffs and are playing out the rest of the 2021-22 season for a better draft pick.

Therein lies the hidden issue for the NBA: The gap between the best teams in the league and the worst teams is significantly wide. And at the end of the year, it gets voluntarily wider.

This year, the Phoenix Suns have the best record in the NBA at 55-14. The second-place Memphis Grizzlies and third-place Warriors are within a half-game of each other, but 7.5 and eight back of the Suns, respectively.

The Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Denver Nuggets appear to be locked into the 4-6 seeds entering the playoffs and they’re all at least 12.5 games behind Phoenix.

The Houston Rockets — the worst team in the league by record — are 37.5 games back of the Suns. They’re even 12 games worse than the much-ballyhooed Los Angeles Lakers.

The Eastern Conference has been a muddled mess at the top all year. The first five teams in the standings are within 4.5 games of each other.

But get to the bottom of the conference, and the Detroit Pistons are 27.5 games behind the first-place Miami Heat, and the Magic are 28 games back.

The good teams in the league are good. The problem is that the bad teams are really bad. And when the good teams — with the best players — play the really bad teams that have given up on a winning season — things get out of hand, as we’ve seen in the last 10 days.

How does the NBA solve the problem? Is it even fixable?

It’s not just the early part of March, though. NBA offensive stats are up across the board.

The pace of play, the relatively recent emphasis on the three-point shot, the league’s rules that favor offense — they all factor into this equation.

But the top teams dwell on the bottom feeders, and when the end of the season approaches and teams know their year is all but over, the race to tank begins, and things worsen.

The NBA tried to fix that by restructuring the lottery, and it’s had some effect, but clearly not enough. The longer the draft positioning goes on and the more talented the league gets offensively, the more months like this we’ll be seeing in March and April.

And there’s no clear answer as to how to fix it. Maybe the more important question, however, is do we even want to?

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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