NBA teams on the defensive as scoring goes slightly down after All-Star break


New Orleans forward Herbert Jones grasped a fundamental aspect of being an elite defensive player long ago: keeping the player he’s guarding in front of him.

“It’s that simple. It’s that difficult, too,” Jones remarked.

Contrary to popular belief, defense hasn’t been entirely absent in the NBA this season, although it has been challenging. It has been more evident after the All-Star break, following the record-breaking 211-186 All-Star Game where defensive efforts seemed to disappear. The statistics post-break underscore a renewed commitment to defense: NBA teams have been averaging approximately four points per game less than before mid-February, dropping from 115.5 to 111.3.

NBA coaches and players offer various explanations for this shift. Some speculate that defenders might be getting away with more, possibly due to referees becoming more discerning of elite scorers’ tactics. Alternatively, the tightening playoff race may be prompting teams to focus more on defense down the stretch.

It might be as straightforward as this: fewer fouls are being called on each team (down from 19.4 per game to 17.5 post-break), resulting in fewer free throws attempted (22.7 down to 19.8), and subsequently, fewer points.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra noted, “We haven’t gotten a memo about it, or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. That could be the case. Good. If the competitors and teams can figure it out between those four lines, we’re all for it.”

For Jones, effective defense boils down to fundamentals. He was taught at Alabama to defend with his chest, using footwork to keep his upper body in front of an offensive player and avoiding reaching with his hands.

Regarding the variance in calls before and after the All-Star break, Jones explained, “You really never know how things may go, and I think that’s what the first quarter is about. You’re just trying to figure out the flow of the game… Whatever the refs call, it’s their call and you’ve got to deal with it.”

San Antonio’s 7-foot-4 center, Victor Wembanyama, acknowledged the defensive prowess of fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert, suggesting he has a good chance of earning his fourth NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

At the start of the season, defense seemed to take a backseat as high-scoring games became the norm. However, there has been a notable shift post-break, with no player scoring 50 or more points since then.

Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, dismissed the notion of lobbying for rule changes to return to old-school defensive games, emphasizing the league’s preference for high-scoring, fan-friendly contests.

“This season, the Indiana Pacers are leading the way on offense by averaging 123.1 points a game,” Popovich said. “Every team averages at least 105.8.”

“In this league, there’s always an ebb and flow,” Atlanta coach Quin Snyder added. “Defenses catch up to offenses and offenses adjust and defenses adjust. That’s what makes it a unique league… You have to continue to adapt to what’s going on in the game.”

Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of players’ intelligence in adapting to the game’s rules and conditions to succeed defensively.

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