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10 numbers to know from the 2022-23 season

The stats paint a picture of a season that featured more efficient teams with big-time individual scorers, more comebacks and fewer 3-pointers.

Take a look at some of the best moments from the 2022-23 NBA playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets are NBA champions and it’s already time to look forward to the 2023-24 season, with the Draft set for June 22 and free agency coming shortly thereafter.

But before we start to shake up some rosters, here are 10 numbers to know from the season that just ended …

1. The Nuggets ranked 15th defensively in the regular season

Last year, the Golden State Warriors won the championship after ranking 16th offensively in the regular season. That was the second lowest offensive ranking for an eventual champion in the 27 years for which we have play-by-play data.

This year, the Nuggets won the championship after ranking 15th defensively in the regular season. That was the second lowest-ranked defensive ranking for an eventual champion in those same 27 years.

So, in the 25 years from 1996-97 through 2020-21, there were two teams that ranked outside the top 11 on one end of the floor or the other and won a championship. And in the last two years, there have been two more.

Lowest ranking on either end of the floor, NBA champions since 1996-97

Season Team OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank
2000-01 L.A. Lakers 107.0 1 103.5 22
2003-04 Detroit 100.3 19 93.9 2
2021-22 Golden State 112.1 16 106.6 2
2022-23 Denver 116.8 5 113.5 15
2007-08 Boston 108.8 11 98.1 1
2009-10 L.A. Lakers 107.6 11 102.7 3
2017-18 Golden State 112.8 3 106.8 11
2019-20 L.A. Lakers 111.7 11 106.1 3

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

As noted after they won the championship, the last three games of the Finals were the Nuggets’ best stretch of defense all season (100.0 points allowed per 100 possessions). They ranked fourth defensively in the playoffs, having allowed 3.3 fewer points per 100 possessions (110.2) than they did in the regular season.

2. The Heat were outscored in the regular season

With the 15th-ranked defense in the regular season, the Nuggets also outscored their opponents by just 3.3 points per game, the worst regular-season point differential for an eventual champion in the last 29 years (since the 1994-95 Rockets — +2.1 per game). Amazingly, three of the five teams that had a better point differential than the Nuggets this season — Cleveland, Memphis and Milwaukee — lost in the first round of the playoffs.

The Miami Heat didn’t have a better point differential than the Nuggets. In fact, the Heat had a worse regular-season point differential than five teams — New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago, Oklahoma City and Dallas — that didn’t make the playoffs. Over their 82 games, the Heat were outscored by 26 points.

And then they went to the Finals, becoming just the third team in NBA history to reach the championship round after being outscored in the regular season. The other two — the 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks and the 1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers — did it when the league had only eight teams, with six of them reaching the playoffs.

The 13 playoff games that the Heat won were five more than any other team with a negative regular-season point differential in NBA history …

Most playoff wins, teams that were outscored in regular season

Team Season RS W RS L RS PCT +/- Series W Playoff W Reached
Miami 2022-2023 44 38 0.537 -26 3 13 Finals
St. Louis 1956-1957 34 38 0.472 -6 1 *8 Finals
Cleveland 2007-2008 45 37 0.549 -29 1 7 Conf. semis
Atlanta 2010-2011 44 38 0.537 -67 1 6 Conf. semis
New Jersey 2006-2007 41 41 0.500 -63 1 6 Conf. semis
St. Louis 1965-1966 36 44 0.450 -45 1 6 Division finals
Philadelphia 1964-1965 40 40 0.500 -12 1 6 Division finals
L.A. Lakers 1960-1961 36 43 0.456 -4 1 6 Division finals
Minneapolis 1958-1959 33 39 0.458 -96 2 6 Finals

* Includes two tie-breaker wins to earn a bye into the division finals.

So the Heat were the first team in 64 years to reach the Finals after being outscored in the regular season, while the Nuggets were the first team in 29 years to win the title after having a regular season point differential as low as they had. Does this mean that the regular season means less these days?

Time will tell, but not necessarily. The Nuggets took their foot off the gas over their last 17 games, once they had (basically) secured the top seed in the Western Conference. Through Game 65, they had a point differential of +4.6 per game (still what would be the lowest for an eventual champ since the 2010-11 Mavs) and ranked 12th defensively.

The Heat, meanwhile, were tested with 54 clutch games in the regular season, tied for the 10th most in the 27 years for which we have clutch data. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, because *he’s nuts, would love to have a season like that every year.

“If we could be privileged enough to have a regular season like that all the time,” he said early in the conference finals, “that would be unbelievable.”

* Kidding (sort of).

3. The most efficient season in NBA history

The Nuggets also ranked 15th defensively last season, when they allowed 2.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did this season. The 113.5 points per 100 possessions they allowed in 2022-23 would have ranked 25th in 2021-22, because league-wide, this was the most efficient season in NBA history.

Over 1,230 games, the league scored 114.1 points per 100 possessions, by far the highest mark in the 27 years for which we have play-by-play data and, certainly, much higher than any season prior to that. It topped the previous high of 111.7 per 100 in 2020-21 and the jump from last season (111.4) to this season (114.1) was the biggest season-to-season jump in the last 18 years.

League-wide efficiency, last five seasons

Season OffRtg Jump
2018-19 109.7 1.9
2019-20 110.1 0.4
2020-21 111.7 1.6
2021-22 111.4 -0.3
2022-23 114.1 2.7

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
Jump = Jump from previous season

Efficiency did drop from the regular season to the 2023 playoffs (112.6 points scored per 100 possessions), which weren’t as efficient as the 2021 playoffs (113.4).

4. Fewer 3s!

One reason why efficiency has gone up over the last decade is that the league has learned that three is greater than two. But this season, the league-wide 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) actually dropped for the first time in the last 12 years.

League-wide 3-point rate, last 13 seasons

Season FGA 3PA 3PA/FGA Jump
2010-11 199,790 44,313 22.2% -0.02%
2011-12 161,225 36,395 22.6% +0.4%
2012-13 201,609 49,067 24.3% +1.8%
2013-14 204,172 52,974 25.9% +1.6%
2014-15 205,570 55,137 26.8% +0.9%
2015-16 208,049 59,241 28.5% +1.7%
2016-17 210,111 66,424 31.6% +3.1%
2017-18 211,708 71,340 33.7% +2.1%
2018-19 219,458 78,742 35.9% +2.2%
2019-20 188,116 72,252 38.4% +2.5%
2020-21 190,983 74,822 39.2% +0.8%
2021-22 216,722 86,535 39.9% +0.8%
2022-23 217,218 84,164 38.7% -1.2%

The last drop was from 2009-10 to ’10-11, and the last drop this big was in 1997-98, when the 3-point distance moved back to 23′-9″ from 22′-0″ (where it was in 1994-95, ’95-96 and ’96-97).

So how did efficiency go up so much while 3-point volume when down? The answer is inside the arc.

Last season, the league shot an all-time high of 53.3% on 2-pointers, and it was the first time in 31 years that the average 2-point shot (1.065 points per attempt) was worth more than the average 3-point shot (1.061).

This season, the league took that all-time high of 53.3% and destroyed it, shooting 54.8% inside the arc. We saw the best marks for both shooting in the paint (57.8%) and mid-range shooting (42.0%) in the 27 years for which we have shot-location data. And the percentage of 2-point shots that came from mid-range (19.3%) dipped below 20% for the first time in those 27 seasons.

So not only did the league take fewer 3s, it took fewer mid-range jumpers too. And though 3-point percentage went up, the average value of a 2-point shot (1.096 points per attempt) was again higher than the average value of a 3 (1.082).

5. Comebacks on the come up

One thing that’s often associated with increased 3-point rate is teams’ ability to come back from large deficits. And though 3-point rate dropped for the first time in 12 years, league-wide winning percentage after trailing by double-digits was the highest its been in the 27 years for which we have play-by-play data.

League-wide record when trailing by 10+, last 5 seasons

Season GP W L PCT
2018-2019 1,177 314 1,049 0.230
2019-2020 1,015 288 896 0.243
2020-2021 1,041 271 938 0.224
2021-2022 1,181 329 1,063 0.236
2022-2023 1,190 347 1,040 0.250

This season also saw the high (in the last 27 years) for winning percentage when trailing by at least 15 points (123-746, .142) and when trailing by at least 20 points (30-469, .060). And in the playoffs, the Heat had seven wins (they were 7-8) after trailing by double-digits, tied for the most such playoff wins in these last 27 years.

Amazingly, they’re tied with last year’s Warriors (7-6) and two other Heat teams: 2010-11 (7-4) and 2011-12 (7-5).

6. More scorers than ever

There were 19 players who averaged at least 25 points in 40 games or more this season. That was six more than last season and three more than in any other season in NBA history.

There were also 203 40-point games this season, 84 more than there were last season (119) and 61 more than the previous high of 142 in 1961-62 (when there were a lot fewer games total).

Though league-wide pace (99.8 possessions per team per 48 minutes) was up from last season, it was down from three and four years ago. But there were 54 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher this season, the most in the 27 years for which we have play-by-play data.

Most players with a usage rate of 25% or higher

Season Leader USG 30%+ 25%+
2022-2023 Antetokounmpo 37.3% 14 54
2020-2021 Embiid 35.2% 14 49
2021-2022 Embiid 37.5% 13 44
2016-2017 Westbrook 40.2% 8 43
2019-2020 Antetokounmpo 36.3% 13 41

1996-97 through 2022-23
USG% = Percentage of teams possessions used (via FGA, turnovers and trips to the line) while on the floor.
30%+, 25%+ = Number of players with a usage rate of at least 30 or 25%

More high-usage players leads to more guys scoring at a high volume.

7. Individual efficiency

Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic put up some of the best true-shooting numbers in NBA history.

The league’s best players were also scoring with greater efficiency.

There have been 434 instances in NBA history of a player averaging at least 25 points in 40 games or more. And the most efficient scoring season of those 434 instances was 2022-23 Kevin Durant, who averaged 29.1 points with a true shooting percentage of 67.7%.

True shooting percentage = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

There have been 1,496 instances in NBA history of a player averaging at least 20 points in 40 games or more. And the most efficient scoring season of those 1,496 instances (by a pretty healthy margin) was 2022-23 Nikola Jokic, who averaged 24.5 points with a true shooting percentage of 70.1%.

Highest true shooting percentage, 20+ points per game, NBA history

Player Season GP PPG FG% eFG% TS%
Nikola Jokic 2022-23 69 24.5 63.2% 66.0% 70.1%
Kevin Durant 2022-23 47 29.1 56.0% 61.4% 67.7%
Stephen Curry 2017-18 51 26.4 49.5% 61.8% 67.5%
Stephen Curry 2015-16 79 30.1 50.4% 63.0% 66.9%
Charles Barkley 1987-88 80 28.3 58.7% 60.4% 66.5%
Charles Barkley 1989-90 79 25.2 60.0% 60.8% 66.1%
Nikola Jokic 2021-22 74 27.1 58.3% 62.0% 66.1%
Charles Barkley 1986-87 68 23.0 59.4% 60.6% 66.0%
John Collins 2019-20 41 21.6 58.3% 63.2% 65.9%
Amar’e Stoudemire 2007-08 79 25.2 59.0% 59.2% 65.6%

Minimum 40 games played.
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

8. East beats West … in the regular season at least

This was the Eastern Conference’s best season in the last 24 years. The East went 236-214 (.524) against the West in interconference games, its best mark since the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season (46-38, .548). In fact, this was just the East’s third winning season in the last 24 years.

The West actually had nine of the 16 teams that finished with winning records, but the East had all three of the teams — Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland — that ranked in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. And the East was stronger at the top, with its 1-4 seeds going 19-13 (.594) against the 1-4 seeds from the West.

Of course, none of those top-4 seeds represented the East in the Finals, the West went 4-1 against the East in the playoffs and has now won 17 of the last 25 championships.

The Celtics have the longest active playoff streak, having reached the postseason in each of the last nine years. And the Heat (38) and Celtics (36) rank first and second in total playoff wins over the last four years. But neither has won a championship in the last 10.

The Sixers, meanwhile, have the league’s second best regular-season record over the last six years. But they haven’t reached the conference finals in that stretch, losing in the conference semis five times and in the first round once.

So there have been some Eastern Conference teams that have been really good, but just not good enough when it really counts.

9. More and more zone

The Heat played more zone than any team, setting a Synergy record (17 years of tracking) with 1,545 possessions of zone in the regular season.

One reason why the Celtics fell short this year was their inability to beat the Heat’s zone defense. Over the course of the playoffs, Miami allowed just 0.88 points per possession over 336 total zone possessions, according to Synergy tracking. That came after the Heat set a Synergy record (17 years of tracking) with 1,545 possessions of zone in the regular season.

That’s more than twice as many possessions of zone than the entire league played five years ago. In 2017-18, the Mavs and Hawks were the only two teams that played at least 100 possessions of zone. Last season, there were 25. And this season, both the Heat and Blazers played more zone than any team had in (at least) the last 17 years.

League-wide zone usage, last 6 seasons

Season Poss. PTS PPP 100+
2017-18 719 671 0.93 2
2018-19 3,846 3850 1.00 10
2019-20 5,370 5309 0.99 19
2020-21 7,284 7244 0.99 23
2021-22 8,087 7866 0.97 25
2022-23 8,706 8,869 1.02 20

100+ = Teams that played at least 100 possessions of zone
via Synergy tracking

It’s one thing to play a possession of zone out of a timeout to throw a wrench in the opponents’ designed play. It’s another to believe that zone is your best option when the opponent has planned for it. That’s where the Heat were for a good portion of the playoffs (and in the midst of the most efficient offensive season of all-time), and maybe it’s where more teams will be going forward.

10. Droughts come to an end

With the most efficient offense in NBA history, the Sacramento Kings ended the longest playoff drought in NBA history, returning to the postseason after 16 years of coming up short. The longest active drought now belongs to the Charlotte Hornets, who have missed the playoffs in each of the last seven years, one year shy of the longest drought ever for an Eastern Conference team. The Pistons (4) and Spurs (4) are the only other teams that haven’t made the playoffs in the last four years.

The Kings are still tied (with the Hornets and Timberwolves) for the most seasons since they last won a playoff series. Sacramento and Minnesota last won a series in 2004, while the old Hornets won a series in 2002. (There were then two seasons with no team in Charlotte.)

The Kings also still have the longest championship drought in the NBA (72 years), having last won a title as the Rochester Royals in 1951. Next are the Hawks (62 years since they won in St. Louis) and Suns (55 years in the league without a title).

The Nuggets, of course, went 46 years (plus nine more in the ABA) without a championship. But the Larry O’Brien Trophy has now found a new home.

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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