Chronicling the effect of rules changes has been a pastime in these parts. With the crackdown on perimeter/post contact and the elimination of blocking calls on airborne shooters, the plan was to see a change in how the game played. Let’s cut through the anecdotes and compare the numbers from opening weekend this season to opening weekend last season. All data here is through Sunday of either season, using only D-I vs. D-I contests. (Actually, I accidentally included games from the first Monday of last season.)
2014 2013 Chg PPG 72.7 68.3 +6.4% Poss/40 70.5 69.2 +1.8 Off Eff 102.4 98.0 +4.5 PF/40 42.7 37.2 +14.7 FTA/FGA 43.6 36.9 +18.3 FTA/Poss 35.6 30.1 +18.3 FTA/40 50.3 41.7 +14.7 2P% 48.0 47.2 +1.5 3P% 31.7 32.0 -0.9 3PA% 33.5 33.1 +1.2 TO% 18.4 21.4 -13.8 Stl% 8.9 10.4 -14.1 OR% 32.4 33.3 -2.7 T/gm .147 .256 -42.6
Scoring is up, which you’d hope it would be. That doesn’t tell us everything, though. My brilliant plan to double the point value of every basket would have raised scoring much more than 6.4% and yet it wouldn’t have changed the game any. Why is scoring up? Well, the most obvious reason is that there have been more free throws. Games have featured almost nine more attempts per 40 minutes than at the same time last season. Consider that players are making 68% of them and that’s most of your scoring difference right there.
Field goal shooting hasn’t changed much. Teams are taking a few more threes, and perhaps the increased use of zone is overcompensating for the crackdown on perimeter a bit. But the difference is small enough that it’s too soon to say. Fewer threes are going in, but more twos are. We’d hope to see the latter given the new charge interpretation, and I’m a bit disappointed that change isn’t greater.
The pace of the game has increased slightly. You could probably chalk this up to whistles causing shorter possessions. But keep in mind last season was one of the slowest paced seasons in the modern era, so we may have had a rebound even with last year’s officiating in place. Efficiency is up as well, and getting to the free throw line more is a sure way to improve that.
Another huge change has been the decrease in turnovers, whether by steal or not. Turnover percentage tends to decrease as the season progresses and the lowest season-long TO% in the past decade was the 20.0 recorded last season. This weekend was a start, admittedly in limited data, towards shattering that. Essentially, we’ve traded more free throw possessions for fewer turnover possessions.
One way to understand the changes is splitting possessions into field goals, free throws and turnovers. As the table below indicates, games this year have had two more free throw possessions per team and two fewer turnover possessions. The increased pace (possibly due to increased whistles) has added one field goal possession per game. That’s how you get an increase of four points per game.
Possessions per 40 minutes
2014 2013 Poss PPP Poss PPP FGA-OR 45.6 1.21 44.5 1.21 .475*FTA 11.9 1.43 9.9 1.43 TO 13.0 0.00 14.8 0.00
So scoring is up, but it doesn’t appear there’s much contribution from a change in the way game is played. It’s almost all due simply to more fouls being called in lieu of turnovers forced. Whatever adjustments teams make to avoid committing fouls have yet to take place.
As a footnote it’s worth mentioning that the biggest change so far is the decrease in technical fouls. Actually, I can’t swear by this without looking at every box score, but according to the box score information I have, there were 52 T’s in 203 games last season compared to 24 in 163 games this season. If that’s real, then I’m surprised. I’ve been on record as being pessimistic that coaches or fans or media could stomach an increase in the number of fouls. At least so far, it appears that coaches and players have been able to.