How Removing Hand-Checking Enabled the NBA’s Scoring Explosion

With the NBA completing a record-shattering season, Chad Shanks and Justin Kubatko evaluate reasons that could have led to the league-wide offensive explosion and track the trends back to the banishment of hand-checking.

Listen to the embedded audio and browse through the StatMuse stats mentioned in the episode (data accurate as of the date of publication).

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The Record-Shattering 2016–17 Season

In addition to Russell Westbrook breaking the record for most triple-doubles in a season by a player, the league overall had 117 triple-doubles in 2016–17, shattering the previous record of 78 from 1988–89.

Who had the most triple-doubles this season?

There were also 110 instances of a player scoring 40+ points in a game, trailing only the 1961–62 season where Wilt Chamberlain had 63 such games just by himself.

Who had the most games with 40+ points this season?

In addition, 10 different players had a 50-point game this season, breaking the previous record of eight, which was done twice (as recently as the 2015–16 season).

Who had the most games with 50+ points this season?

Finally, an NBA-record 13 players averaged at least 25 PPG.

Who had the highest PPG this season (minimum 25 PPG)?

Several of the league-wide highs (or lows, given the specific stat) have been trending steadily since the 2004–05 season, which is the first year the league started enforcing the hand-check rule, which limits any hand/arm contact a defender can make with an opponent on offense.

Team Points Per Game By Season
Team Offensive Rating By Season
Team eFG% By Season
Team Pace By Season
Team 3PA Per FGA By Season
Team Free Throw Rate By Season
Team Offensive Rebound Percentage By Season
Team Turnover Percentage By Season

Additional Reading/Sources

What Happened to the NBA's Beautiful Game?
Did anybody get the license plate? For the better part of the last 40 years, American professional basketball has been…bleacherreport.com

Michael Jordan: Could He Really Score 50 with the Hand-Check Rule in Place?
Chicago Bulls Kelly Scaletta Featured Columnist Scottie Pippen declared once that Michael Jordan could score 50 in…bleacherreport.com

How would MJ fare in today's NBA?
Many say the rules changes to open up the game would make the game's greatest player even more effective, but is that…www.sbnation.com

Should Hand Checking Return In The NBA? - Hoops Junction
Hand checking has been completely eliminated since the 2004-2005 season in the NBA. Commissioner David Stern believed…www.hoopsjunction.com

Four Years Later, N.B.A. Sees the Points
There is change and then there is evolution, and the difference between the two explains the curious and sudden…mobile.nytimes.com

Additional Stat Stories Episodes

Stat Stories: Episode 18 — The Triple-Double Bubble
Explaining the Recent Spike in Triple-Doublesblog.statmuse.com

Stat Stories: Episode 20 — The Defense Rests
Does Defense Really Win Championships?blog.statmuse.com

Stat Stories: Episode 24 — Greek Army Knife
Examining Giannis Antetokounmpo and the NBA’s Best “Swiss Army Knife” Playersblog.statmuse.com