The great NBA offensive inflation of 2024

Will Jerome Powell raise the free throw rates?

Welcome to 2024! The world’s least frequent newsletter attempts yet one more revival and hopes you’re all doing well.

NBA stats this season sound like temperature records; they’re the hottest on record only until the next day. Seemingly every game produces some combination of points, assists, and rebounds that, instead of being Bob McAdoo’s greatest night in the office, becomes a footnote.

What does that phenomenon look like? To capture, I looked at the per game counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and turnovers) and simply aggregated them, subtracting out turnovers to approximate production. This scoring methodology (built by a dear friend for fantasy basketball glory and available at the best fantasy site in town, Ottoneu) neatly captures the “oh dang” box score impact.

Stat inflation hitting hard in 2024

We undeniably see that impact growing this year. I pulled season averages for the last decade from Basketball Reference and filtered for a games played minimum to identify per-game production levels by season.

These box plots show the distribution of production over the last ten years: each box demonstrates the 25% percentile (bottom of the box), average (line in the center), and 75% percentile (top of the box). Brackets above and below contain the rest of the distribution, with dots at the top highlighting outliers.

Zooming in a bit, you’ll see the little tan 2024 blob atop all four percentiles in the below view.

Everything shifted up and to the right this year, even compared to just last season.

Points scored drives the majority of the composite metric, but interestingly there’s little increase in the supporting stats. Each blob below represents an individual player’s season average. Comparing 2014 to this year, you’ll see fairly similar distributions across both seasons for rebounds and assists, with a very slight increase for assists in 2024.

Same story for blocks, steals, and turnovers, where there’s no meaningful spike in output on any stat.

Instead, we’re localized to pure scoring majesty. Commingling the two seasons, you’ll see the great orange pool at the right tail.

Zooming in to the end, you see the constellation of 2024 scorers washing out the 2014 results. Poor 2014 Kevin Durant alone in an orange sea.

League-wide excellence

A collection of overachievers combine to raise the entire offensive tide of the league, as the game itself metamorphosed in the last decade. Per Basketball Reference, when comparing 2024 to 2014, teams now take 6 more total shots, efficiency jumped twenty percentage points, and the composition of shots switched from 26% three points in 2014 to 39% this season.

Stats website Cleaning the Glass captures the offensive rating of every team in the league, calculated as the average points scored per 100 possessions. In 2014, the Lob City LA Clippers produced the best offense in the NBA with a 112.1 offensive rating, with the league average around 106.7. Now, the average team hits 116.2. Twenty-four of the thirty teams this year outproduce that Clippers team of 2014!

At this point through last season, Denver produced the best mark at 119.3; they ended at 118.3, while the Sacramento Kings broke the record with a season-long 119.7 rating. Six different teams would shatter that record this year, with Indiana leading at 122.7.

So what does this mean? Even with some slight regressions, we’re likely going to see several teams break offensive records. The upper bounds of efficiency and three-ball mania will be tested thoroughly. Every night will continue to light up the dozens of stat-based social accounts with revelations that Trae Young produced the first 60/20 game since Tungsten Arm O’Doyle. 

We’ll just have to adjust our “oh dang” calculus.