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The Numbers Game: Give the offense some time

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Dec 3 2008 1:00PM

I've read a couple of published articles in the last few days either praising teams for taking a lesson from the Celtics and strengthening their defense this season or lamenting the lack of offense that we have seen across the league so far.

Comparing the league-wide offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) through October and November of this season (107.3) to the league-wide rating from last season (109.1) would tell you that offense is down. Last week, in looking at which teams had improved or worsened on either side of the ball, we noted that only six teams had improved over their offensive rating from last season.

Maybe, in general, teams have decided that they need to be better defensive teams in order to compete in today's NBA.

Not so fast.

If you break down last season's numbers month by month, you will see that the league started out slowly and became more efficient offensively as the season went on. And when you compare this season's first-month rating of 107.3, it's actually up from last season's first-month rating of 106.5.

2007-08 Offensive Ratings
Month Offensive Rating
October-November 106.5
December 107.8
January 109.0
February 109.8
March-April 111.3
Season 109.1

Of the 30 teams, only four (Dallas, Memphis, Milwaukee and San Antonio) had higher offensive ratings on Dec. 1, 2007 than they did at the end of the season. The other 26 all became more efficient after the first month.

Further, in every season since the lockout-shortened '98-99 campaign, the league-wide offensive rating has increased from the first month. In 2002-03, it increased by more than three points per 100 possessions. The average increase over the nine seasons is 2.2 points per 100 possessions.

Offensive Rating Through The Years
  Oct.-Nov. Season Increase
2007-08 106.5 109.1 2.6
2006-07 106.6 108.0 1.4
2005-06 105.2 107.7 2.5
2004-05 105.1 107.4 2.3
2003-04 102.0 104.2 2.2
2002-03 101.5 104.9 3.4
2001-02 104.4 105.8 1.4
2000-01 101.6 104.4 2.8
1999-00 103.9 105.5 1.6

It's fairly easy to come up with reasons for improved offensive efficiency as the season goes on. At the beginning of the season, teams are trying to integrate new personnel, either new players or new coaches. Chemistry and cohesiveness are clearly keys to a sharp offense. Just think about all the turnovers you see in Summer League or All-Star games, when guys are playing with each other for the first time.

Last October and November, teams turned the ball over 16.5 times per 100 possessions. That number was down to 15.4 by the end of the season. Shooting also improved as the year went on.

At the beginning of the season, coaches have also added new offensive sets that the players need to adjust to. And in October and November, coaches haven't even put in all of their sets, so a team may be working with an abridged playbook. As the season goes on, new sets, plays and options are added to what each team does offensively.

I think that's what makes the Cavs' improvement from last year so impressive. A week after our most improved analysis, Cleveland is still the best offensive team in the league and still the team that has shown the greatest improvement on that end of the floor.

They're doing that while integrating a new point guard, as well as implementing some new offensive sets. You had to think that they would be improved by adding a scorer like Mo Williams to the lineup, but to be this good this early, especially when you consider the league-wide trend of starting slowly and getting better with time, makes what they've done that much more impressive.

Imagine how good Cleveland could be if Daniel Gibson, shooting just .364 from the field and .260 from downtown, starts finding his shot. The thought is pretty scary.

So, for those who think games have been a little too ugly for their taste so far this season, have patience. The offense will come around. The numbers don't lie.

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