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NBA scores are going up, thanks to the three-pointer

Nearly all of the league’s teams average more than 110 points per game and many players average more than 20

Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics dunks the ball in a game with the Charlotte Hornets this month. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
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The busiest people in sports these days are the folks keeping score in National Basketball Association (NBA) games. NBA players are putting points on the board in record numbers.

After the games Tuesday night, 28 of the 30 NBA teams are averaging 110 or more points a game. The surprising Sacramento Kings lead the league averaging 120 points each game. Only the stuck-in-the-mud Houston Rockets and Miami Heat are scoring less than 110 points a game. Six players are averaging more than 30 points a game, led by Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks.

Averaging 20 points used to get you on an all-star team. So far this season, 43 (!) players are averaging 20 points or more each game. That is almost one-third of the starters in the entire league. So why are scoreboards around the NBA working overtime?

First, the players have incredible offensive skills. Sometimes you hear fans complain NBA teams “don’t play defense.” Don’t believe it. The NBA is very competitive, and players play hard on both ends of the court. But superstars such as Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks are so good they are almost impossible to stop.

Second, almost everyone in the NBA can shoot three-pointers. Thirty-one players hit on more than 40 percent of their long bombs. Even more important, 125 players sink at least one-third of their three-point shots.

Why is that important? Because if a player hits three-pointers at that rate, he scores the same number of points as sinking half of his two-point shots. It is as if most of the league is hitting more than half of their shots from the field. No wonder teams are scoring so much.

There were other times in history when scores were climbing. When the NBA started in the 1946-1947 season, teams generally scored between 60 and 80 points per game. Scoring then took off when the league introduced the 24-second clock in the 1954-1955 season. By the 1960-1961 season, every NBA team (there were only eight) was averaging more than 110 points a game.

But teams back then were scoring in a different way than teams are scoring today. First, there were no three-point shots in the 1960s. Every shot from the field, no matter how far out, counted for two points. The three-point shot was introduced into the NBA during the 1979-1980 season.

Teams in the early 1960s took lots of shots and missed plenty. The champion Boston Celtics made just under 40 percent of their shots during the 1960-1961 season. The worst-shooting teams in the NBA today hit around 45 percent of their shots. The lesson for kids who want to play hoops? Practice your shooting. Scores are going up.