The NBA season concluded with a brand new first-time champion, the Denver Nuggets, in what turned out to be a wild but entertaining year. 

As we pause to take in what went down this year before moving on to the 2023-24 season, we wanted to break down five key numbers that may surprise some fans. 

From overall rankings to individual stats, this season exposed lots of key information that could change how we view the NBA in the future.

Let's begin by diving into some major game-changing data points that define just how magical these last seven months have been for NBA fans.

The Nuggets Were No. 15 in Defensive Rating

A year ago, the Golden State Warriors defied the odds, ranking No. 16 in the regular season in total offensive rating. Over the last 27 years, that's the second-lowest offensive rating for a team to win the NBA title.

The Nuggets proved this year that defense doesn't always win championships, either. The Nuggets ranked No. 15 in overall defensive rating, the second-worst for an NBA champion over the last 27 years. 

Just two NBA teams from 1996 to 2021 finished outside the top 11 in either defensive or offensive efficiency, yet still managed to win a title. Two more have occurred in the past two years.

Comparing Point Differentials of the Finalists

The Nuggets had the lowest regular-season point differential (+3.3 per game) for an eventual champion in the past 29 years (since the 1994-95 Rockets). This was despite having the 15th-best defensive rating in the regular season. 

Cleveland, Memphis, and Milwaukee, three of the five teams with a greater point differential than the Nuggets this season, all lost in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Nuggets still had a much larger point spread than the Heat, who finished with a total regular season point differential of -26. That is a lower point differential than five teams who missed the playoffs: New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and Dallas. 

All that said, the Heat advanced to the NBA Finals, becoming just the third club in league history to do so while being outscored throughout the regular season. 

The other two, the St. Louis Hawks in 1956–1957 and the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958–1959, accomplished it when there were only eight teams in the league, with six of them making the playoffs.

The Most Productive NBA Season Ever

Last season, when they allowed 2.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than this season, the Nuggets also finished 15th in total defense. 

In 2021–22, they would have been 25th with the 113.5 points per 100 possessions they gave up since it was the most productive NBA season ever overall.

The league averaged 114.1 points per 100 possessions across 1,230 games, easily the highest figure in the 27 years for which we have play-by-play statistics and unquestionably considerably higher than any season before that. 

The increase from last season (111.4) to this season (114.1) was the largest season-to-season increase in 18 years, topping the previous record of 111.7 per 100 in 2020–21.

The 2023 playoffs were less efficient than the 2021 playoffs (113.4), with a dip in efficiency from the regular season (112.6 points scored per 100 possessions).

Fewer 3s!

The league's efficiency has improved over the last decade in part because players have realized that three is better than two. However, this season was the first time in the past 12 that the 3-point rate (3-pointers made/field goals attempted) fell at the league level.

In 2021-22, for the first time in 31 years, 2-point shots were worth more than 3-point attempts (1.061 vs. 1.065) in the NBA. The league hit a record 53.3% on 2-pointers.

This season, the league smashed its previous record of 53.3% by shooting 54.8% from inside the arc. In the 27 years that we have shot-location data, this season saw the highest percentages of shots made within the paint (57.8%) and in the midrange (42%). 

And for the first time in those 27 seasons, under 20% of 2-point attempts came from mid-range (19.3%).

Rise in the Trend of Comebacks

The capacity to overcome significant deficits is one factor linked to an increase in the 3-point rate. 

The proportion of teams that won while coming back from a double-digit deficit was the greatest in the 27 years we have play-by-play statistics, even though the 3-point percentage fell for the first time in 12 years.

The proportion of victories achieved when behind by at least 15 points (123-746,.142) and while trailing by at least 20 points (30-469,.060) both set new records this season (among the past 27 years). 

And the Heat equaled the record for most playoff wins in the past 27 years with seven victories (7-8) despite trailing by double digits.


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