As we approach the end of January, it will conclude one of the most explosive offensive months in NBA history. Every night you look and either see games being played in the 130s or players putting up historic nights
Currently, 5 teams are averaging at least 120 points a night, which is 5x the number of teams that did this last season (SAC, 120.7). The season prior in 2021-22, a total of 0 teams averaged 120 a night.
With this type of offensive explosion, the first thing people point to is a "lack of defense" currently in the league, and I'm not so sure that's true. There are certain teams that still lock in defensively and are impossible to score on. Hell, even during this month of offensive explosions happening left and right, a team like the Knicks is only giving up 100.4 points a game in January. Teams like MIN, CLE, BOS etc have all been pretty damn elite defensively this season as well.
So I would disagree with the nothing that "nobody" is playing defense anymore. I think the issue is more that when a team doesn't show up defensively on any particular night, the results are unlike we've ever seen before. If you don't bring it defensively, any team in the league can drop 120+ on you. For a league that has never had this much talent spread out all across both conferences, I think we all have to adjust how we think of defense in 2024.
There's also the rule changes that have helped make an impact over the years, which is why I found it pretty interesting what Adam Silver had to say about this very topic when asked by KG
The thing about nostalgia is that everyone will always think things were better "back in their day". When the topic of defense in the NBA comes up, almost everyone will refer to 90s basketball and how much tougher it was at that time to score and how much better things were. I tend to agree with Silver here, those games were kind of gross to watch as a fan. Remember, at the end of the day, the NBA is a business, and the fan experience matters.
I also don't even think you have to look as far back as the 90s either. In the 2007 Finals for example, a team only broke 100 points 1 time (103). All other games were played in the 70s-80s. The same shit the next year in the Celts/Lakers 2008 Finals. We saw it pretty much every year until the 2017 Finals, which makes sense given what the Warriors Dynasty was doing at that time. As the game evolves, it only makes sense that the scores we see will change with it.
Here's where I think Adam Silver is missing the point though. He frames things being so much better nowadays because it's more aesthetically pleasing to watch, given that they've made adjustments to stop the unnatural offensive motions. That is a complete crock of shit. Like all new rule changes, the NBA puts an emphasis on that stuff in the first week, and now it's back to how it's always been.
We're still seeing Embiid be given fouls when an opponent breathes on him. We're still seeing plenty of soft offensive player-initiated fouls for guys like Giannis, Luka, Trae Young, Tyrese Maxey or Damian Lillard. Guys are still able to bait fouls like SGA. So this idea that they've removed the bullshit and the game is more aesthetic to watch now and players are somewhat allowed to play physical defense is simply not true. Everyone knows there's a clear difference between a regular season whistle and a playoff whistle, so I'm not sure why Silver is trying to frame it like refs are letting players get away with being more physical during the regular season. That is very much not the case.
That's the other part of the equation that I feel always gets ignored when this topic comes up. The NBA regular season is an 82-game grind. Most teams, especially contenders, pace themselves. You're not getting playoff-caliber defense every single night over the course of a season, that's just the reality. But when the games matter? Defenses tighten up, guys are more rested due to no B2Bs etc. Even if the NBA brought back hand checking or adjusted some rules to help defenders, you'd still see the same kind of shit we get now during the regular season.