Kerr: NBA needs to consider rule changes amidst 54-year high in scoring

Kerr: NBA needs to consider rule changes amidst 54-year high in scoring

SAN FRANCISCO — Amid an NBA scoring spree in which two players, Joel Embiid and Luka Dončić, eclipsed the 70-point mark in the same week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke out against the current NBA rules that contribute to such performances.

He said he expects the NBA to start rolling back some rule changes that have led to offensive outbursts.

“I think there are absolute changes (to be made),” Kerr said before the Warriors’ matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday. “You’re not going to make changes to the scheme. Where you’re going to make changes is with the defensive positioning rules that are in place.

“I wish I could tell you the number of times a player wildly drove into us, ran into us, and I went to the ref and the ref used the expression, ‘illegal guarding position.’ The way we’re interpreting the rules is favoring the offense. Just as we did 20 years ago as a league, when we wanted to open up the game, we changed the interpretation. So we could easily go back and give leeway to the defense.”

Kerr previously went off on the officiating following a Dec. 25 loss to the Denver Nuggets, when he said he didn’t blame the refs, but the rules they’re instructed to follow. The Warriors lost, 120-114, while giving up 32 free throws in the game.

“If I were a fan, I wouldn’t have wanted to watch the second half of that game, it was disgusting,” Kerr said at the time. “It was just baiting refs into calls, but the refs have to make those calls because that’s how they’re taught.”

He called the current NBA a “parade to the free-throw line.”

Teams are currently averaging 115.6 points per game, the highest per-game scoring average the NBA has seen since 1969-70, when Jerry West (31.2 points per game) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (28.8) contributed to an NBA average of 116.7 points per game.

Scoring stayed above 100 points per game until the late ‘90s, then bottomed out in 1998-99 when the average was just 91.6. It’s been on the rise consistently since then.

“The way we officiate the game favors the offense in a way that it didn’t 15 years ago,” Kerr said. “The rules have been altered to really give the benefit of the doubt to the offensive player. I think we’re actually entering a phase now where we’re going to have to look at — just like the league did 20 years ago — look at the rules, see where the game is going and maybe make some adjustments back in the other direction.”

There have only been 15 performances in which a player scored at least 70 points throughout the history of the NBA. Four such games have occurred in the last two years, while Dončić’s 73-point game is tied for the fourth-highest output ever.

The only three higher-scoring performances were by Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 78 in 1961 and 100 in ‘62, and Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 in 2006.

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd had this to say about Dončić after his historic game: “He is the game plan.”

That same day, Devin Booker put up 62 points for the Suns. It was just the fifth time in NBA history – and the second time this week – that two players scored at least 60 points on the same day.

Earlier in the week, Karl-Anthony Towns scored 62 for the Timberwolves on the same night Embiid scored 70.

“Minnesota lost that game when (Towns) had 62 and I didn’t see the game, but I saw (coach Chris Finch’s) comments afterwards, and he didn’t feel good about the way the team approached the game,” Kerr said. “The game has to come first. The win has to come first. As coaches, our job is to steer that team towards that approach.”

Kerr said he’d be careful if he was ever in a situation where one of his players was chasing a record.

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Steph Curry, who scored a career-high 62 points in 2021, hasn’t scored more than 42 points in a game this season. But if he was approaching 60 or 70, Kerr won’t be baited into keeping his star player in the game.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “If it’s a blowout, you take your player out. The fans won’t like it but they really won’t like it if you kept Steph in a blowout so he could get 75 points and sprained his ankle and missed the next month.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham echoed the sentiment on Saturday.

“My general mindset is selfishness usually breeds catastrophe,” Ham said. “You want to have integrity within sportsmanship. You don’t want to show up different people, show up your opponent. Win with class.”