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It's not easy to see, but efficiency slipped in lockout season

Not easy to see, but efficiency fell slightly in lockout season

POSTED: Sep 11, 2012 12:19 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann


In the 2011-12 season, many teams went for a bucket in the paint rather than another mid-range jumper.

Nine months ago, as training camps opened at the conclusion of the lockout, we remembered 1999 and feared the worst.

But the 2011-12 NBA season turned out to be pretty entertaining. And ultimately, as analysts and fans, we came away more than satisfied with the abbreviated campaign, a far cry from what happened 13 years earlier.

This time, no one was calling for an asterisk next to the name of the NBA champion. There weren't nearly as many complaints about the quality of play as there were in 1999. While that first post-lockout season serves as a display of atrocious basketball, when we look back at '11-12, we'll remember LeBron James and Kevin Durant much more than missed shots and turnovers.

But really, offensive efficiency took nearly as much of a dip last season as it did in in '99. The league scored 2.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than it did in 2010-11, with 25 of the 30 teams seeing a drop in efficiency.

Efficency drop-off in lockout seasons
Season OffRtg Previous Season Drop Off
1998-99 99.2 102.0 -2.7
2011-12 101.8 104.5 -2.6
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

Efficiency isn't the only thing that affects scoring, which dropped 6.6 points per game last season. Pace also took a dip, slowing down from 94.5 possessions per 48 minutes in '10-11 to 93.8 last year.

That wasn't as much of a dropoff as there was in '99 (from 93.0 to 91.6), though. Maybe it was the combination of the two that made '99 so tough to watch. Games could have been tougher to watch last season had pace suffered more than it did.

Now, things will get better.

Efficiency didn't recover completely in the year after the 1998-99 lockout, but it increased by 2.0 points per 100 possessions to 101.2 in '99-00. Pace also made a huge jump to 95.7 possessions per 48 minutes, the highest mark of the last 18 years. So the league actually averaged 3.8 more points per game in the season after the lockout than it did in the season before the lockout.

Changes in pace from season to season are kind of random, so we don't know what to expect. But it probably doesn't help that neither Don Nelson nor Mike D'Antoni is coaching this year.

A jump (or recovery, if you will) in efficiency is certainly expected, however. Although overall efficiency was way down last season, there were a couple of encouraging signs.

First, efficiency made a huge jump after the All-Star break. It always increases as the season goes on, but the average difference between post-break efficiency and pre-break efficiency over the previous 12 seasons was 1.4 points per 100 possessions. The difference last season was almost twice that (2.7).

So once guys got into shape and new teammates got used to each other, shots went in and turnovers decreased. The league scored 103.2 points per 100 possessions after the break last season, a decent rate considering that they were playing with less rest between games.

Second, and maybe most importantly, the league is taking better shots.

We've all realized by now that mid-range shots (taken from outside the paint and inside the 3-point line) are the least efficient shots. And last season, the percentage of shots that were taken from mid-range was the lowest since the 1996-97 season. That was the final year of the shorter 3-point line, so not only was there less reason to take mid-range shots, there was also less space.

The percentage of shots taken from the paint has risen each of the last four seasons and is slowly approaching 50 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of shots taken from beyond the arc reached an all-time high last season.

Percentage of league FG attempts, last five seasons
Season Paint Mid-range 3-pointers
2007-08 44.9 pct 32.9 pct 22.2 pct
2008-09 45.5 pct 32.1 pct 22.4 pct
2009-10 46.4 pct 31.4 pct 22.2 pct
2010-11 46.8 pct 31.0 pct 22.2 pct
2011-12 47.2 pct 30.3 pct 22.6 pct

Furthermore, the team that attempted the highest percentage of shots from mid-range (your 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats) made a coaching change this summer. Four teams just below them in that ranking each added big men -- Jared Sullinger, Andrew Bynum, Jonas Valanciunas and Anthony Davis -- who could help them in the paint. That means the mid-range game could continue to vanish.

Highest percentage of shots from mid-range, 2011-12
Team FGM FGA FG pct. FGA pct.
Bobcats 768 2098 36.6 pct 39.8 pct
Celtics 824 1953 42.2 pct 38.0 pct
Sixers 839 2096 40.0 pct 38.0 pct
Raptors 714 1790 39.9 pct 35.5 pct
Hornets 681 1849 36.8 pct 35.2 pct
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

One number from last season could be a problem if you're a fan of offensive efficiency. Fouls were called differently in '11-12 and, as a result, the league's free throw rate (FTA/FGA) was its lowest in 38 years.

Despite more shots in the paint, only 27.6 free throws were attempted per 100 field-goal attempts last season. That was the fourth-lowest mark in NBA history and the lowest since the 1973-74 season. Free-throw rate has actually been trending down for five seasons.

If that trend continues, efficiency won't make as big of a recovery as we might hope for. Still, all other signs point to better basketball. And maybe there's an argument for fewer free throws being a good thing.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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