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Saturday, April 27, 2013
Where did all the 20-10 players go?

By Steven Martinez and Dean Oliver
ESPN Stats & Information

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As the visualization above shows, the NBA hasn’t always had a problem producing 20-point, 10-rebound seasons. But this season, for the first time in since rebounds became an official statistic (1950-51), we did not see a player average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

What are some possible reasons for this year’s unprecedented lack of any? We explore some possibilities:

Theory 1: A slower pace makes dominating scorers more scarce

The average NBA game is slower than it used to be decades ago.

This is a big point and can’t be understated. There just aren’t as many rebounds available because there are fewer shots. Most games in the 70s and 80s often saw over 100 possessions per game compared to the mid-to-high 90s we see now.

It is a statistically significant drop with a lot of reasons behind it. But the drop of about 15 percent will move a 23-point scorer right under 20 PPG. And a 11-rebound per game guy will drop below double digits too.

It may not be glamorous, but it’s the truth.

How does this affect our 20-10 study?

This season, 11 players averaged 20 points per game. Just 10 years ago, that number more than doubled with 26 (including Michael Jordan just making the cut in his final season). Go back another decade to that ‘92-93 season and there were 19 who hit the mark and another who finished at 19.9 (Nick Anderson).

Rewind another decade to ‘82-83 and a whopping 25 players averaged at least 20 PPG, with another four finishing a half point shy of joining them.

If just getting to 20 points per game is this much tougher, the likelihood of simultaneously getting 10 boards a game is way less probable.

Theory 2: Big men are not primary scorers anymore

Of the 289 different instances in which a player has recorded a 20-10 season in our sample, 211 have been 6’9” or taller. That’s a shade over 73 percent of the time. In the 1992-93 season when an all-time highwater mark of 10 players averaged 20-10 seasons, six of the top 10 scorers in the NBA were 6’9” or taller (Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Derrick Coleman). This season only two of the top 10 scorers were that tall (Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge).

Theory 3: The modern NBA features stars joining forces

With his size and athleticism, Dwight Howard should be a shoo-in for 10 rebounds per game. But he’s only averaging about 17 points per game this season, compared to an average of 20.6 in his previous five seasons. Now playing with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol takes shots away from Howard (10.6 FGA/game this season after averaging 13.4 in his previous two seasons in Orlando) this season and thus, he scores less.

After posting consecutive 20-10 seasons before joining the Heat, Chris Bosh has not averaged those marks in three seasons since joining the Miami Heat. With LeBron James’ rebounding numbers increasing in each season on South Beach (7.5 then 7.9 before a career-high 8.0 this season), it appears that he will not get enough chances to be a 20-10 guy again so long as he plays in this current version of the Heat.

The perfect example of this is Kevin Garnett, a nine-time 20-10 guy who essentially ushered in the era of stars joining forces to win titles when he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the Boston Celtics in ‘07-08. Garnett recorded nine consecutive 20-10 seasons in Minnesota. In six seasons as a Celtic, he hasn’t reached either the 20-point or 10-rebound plateau in any single season.

Bottom line: the star system reduces individual numbers, making the likelihood of 20-10 seasons increasingly less likely.

Theory 4: Injuries

This could just be a fluke situation. In previous seasons, some of our 20-10 regulars were Kevin Love and Howard. Both of those players had to either play through injuries or in the case of Love, be shelved for most of the season.

Theory 5: Rules changes

Another factor could be the confluence of some new rules to increase scoring overall. In 2004, new hand-checking rules went into effect in an attempt to increase scoring. In turn, the league became more guard-orientated where ball-hungry guards dominated possessions. It put more scoring responsibility into the hands of ball-handlers, who are not usually strong rebounders. Gone were the days of Wilt, Russell and Jabbar when offenses were run through a big.

What do you think? Which theory holds the most water? Got any others?