Evolution of 3-point shots sparks record scoring in NBA

Washington (AFP) - Welcome to the new age of NBA scoring.

Russell Westbrook could become the first player in 55 years to average a triple-double over a season. Three teams are on pace to shatter the record for 3-point attempts. And 40- or 50-point games are coming in epic numbers.

A growing emphasis on 3-point shooting, aided by rule changes that encourage more outside activity and a growing sense that potential rewards from beyond the arc outweigh the risks, have seen the NBA evolve into a haven for long-range sharpshooters and versatile playmakers.

Oklahoma City star Westbrook leads the NBA with 31.4 points a game and averages 10.6 rebounds and 10.3 assists in a bid to become only the second player to average a triple-double for a season -- Oscar Robertson achieving the feat with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists over 79 games in the 1961-62 campaign.

"With a player like that, you just prepare for the best, hope for the worst. He's at a different level," Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley told the NBA's website.

"It's more of a containment, try-to-contest type of game with Russ. Just try to contain him getting into the paint, try to contest everything he puts up. It's like that more with the star players... If I can get them to shoot contested threes, we'll take that."

But don't ignore Houston's James Harden, who joined Westbrook and Michael Jordan on Sunday as the only players in the past 40 years with multiple 40-point triple doubles in the same season.

And it's not just Westbrook and Harden. Eight players have scored 50 points in a game this season, matching an NBA record. And that's without any from four-time Most Valuable Player LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving or 3-point hotshot Stephen Curry.

Where mid-range jumpers were once all the rage, now the outside is in.

In 2004, the NBA changed rules to outlaw hand checking above the free throw line, giving quicker players an extra edge. Big men had won four of the prior five NBA Most Valuable Player awards. Phoenix guard Steve Nash took the next two and outside play has grown in scale and importance since then.

"The game is changing, of course, with no hand checking, with that rule being out it makes it difficult," Beverley said.

- Impossible to stop anyone? -

Extending the perimeter threat forces defenders to guard more area, opening inside opportunities or allowing more 3-point chances.

Shots from beyond the arc are on record pace -- more than 30 percent of all shots.

"The thing that has really opened up is the number of threes people take," Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy told NBA.com. "It has changed a great deal. And with the floor spread out, any time you've got to cover more ground it gets a lot tougher."

Up-tempo play produces more possessions and therefore more scoring chances in all games.

"It's difficult with the Westbrooks and guys like that who attack so much and so often," Alan Anderson told NBA.com. "It's impossible to stop anybody, but you try to make them feel you without them feeling you -- because if they feel you, it's a foul."

The Rockets, led by Harden with 28.2 points and an NBA-best 11.8 assists a game, take a league-high 39.8 3-point attempts a game, on pace to shatter their record average of 32.7 from 2014-15. Defending champion Cleveland and the lowly Brooklyn Nets are also on record pace.

- 'Even-crazier numbers' -

It's enough to make even the most devoted fan of defense surrender.

"I would say it's looking like it is impossible," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said of defending. "I don't know how you guard Russell Westbrook. With the rules and the respect he gets from the officials, it's almost impossible."

Statistic-oriented FiveThirtyEight.com found there have not been more 40-point games at this point in the NBA season since the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers "Showtime" era.

"It may be that this season's jaw-dropping statistical feats are a product of all that evolution," wrote FiveThirtyEight.com's Neil Payne. "We could just be witnessing the beginning of a trend toward ever-crazier numbers."