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Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Updated: November 4, 4:22 PM ET
Rim shot: NBA scoring on the rise

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

Scoring and shooting are historically at their lowest in the first month of the NBA season and then steadily climb. But that's not the way this season has started.

2008-09 and 2009-10 NBA basketball rims
A new rim system is in place for the 2009-10 NBA season.

To greet the new type of rims rolled in by the league last month, league-wide scoring has risen by nearly five points through the first seven days of the regular season compared to last season. Teams are averaging a hearty 99.96 points per game, up from 95.17 during the same span in 2008-09.

So what gives?

Conclusions are difficult to draw just a week into a regular season that spans some six months, but teams are undeniably taking more 3-pointers with each passing year. A few new teams every season tend to decide they want to play at a faster pace and the general trend throughout the league finds coaches working 3s into their offenses and practice routines more than ever.

Atlanta, Houston, Memphis and Milwaukee are prime examples of teams that have upped the tempo of their offenses this season to contribute to the scoring increase, while Phoenix and Philadelphia -- teams that eventually ran freely in 2008-09 -- started last season at a much more measured pace.

Less clear, though, is what sort of impact on leaguewide scoring, if any, can be traced to the new -- and some say more forgiving -- rims ushered in at the start of exhibition play in early October.

The league switched rim manufactures for the 2009-10 season, introducing a new Spalding basket system that includes the "Arena Pro 180 Goal" rim, which breaks away at both the front and sides. Previous collapsible rims used in the NBA broke away only from the front.

"I would liken these new rims to the ones found on the playgrounds that we grew up on," Houston Rockets forward Shane Battier said. "If you miss on the back iron, it deadens the rebound. If you miss on the front rim, it gives the rebound spring and your chances of rolling the ball in are better."

Some shooters, in other words, are finding that the new rims deliver softer bounces that could lead to more baskets.

Yet league officials are adamant that the most significant change to the NBA's rims since the 1981 introduction of breakaway rims was made purely for safety reasons -- just as in '81 -- as opposed to any potential scoring benefit. Rims with more give on the sides, they say, are beneficial for players when they drive to the basket.

Spalding's rims also feature a "tube-tie net system" designed to prevent players' fingers from getting caught in the hooks used on old rims as well as new padding at the base of the rim to help limit scrapes and bruises from the rim.

NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Wednesday that the size, material and tension (elasticity) of the rims has not changed from last season.

"We upgraded to the 180-degree breakaway rim to improve safety and reduce the risk of players injuring or straining their bodies, hands, wrists or fingers," Frank said. "We're always looking for products that are safer without tangibly changing the game."

Seven days' worth of games last season is considered to be a small sample by statistics experts, but the jump from 95.17 points per game to the current 99.96 comes at at a time when offenses are traditionally still getting in sync.

The leaguewide field-goal percentage for the same span has also risen (from 44.3 percent from the field to 45.5 percent) and the jump in 3-point percentage across the NBA is even more dramatic: 33.4 percent to 36.3 percent.

Free-throw shooting, meanwhile, is at an even 76 percent league through the first seven days, compared to 74.7 percent last season.

Yet two of the best shooters in NBA history echo the league's view that the new rims haven't had any significant effect on the scoring landscape.

Said Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash, who for four consecutive seasons has managed to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the line: "I see no difference."

Added Suns president Steve Kerr, who ranks as the NBA's No. 2 all-time shooter from 3-point range with a lifetime percentage of .454: "I don't think the rims are a factor. I would say that the increase of 3-point-shooting big men, continuing adjustments to the rules against handchecking and more teams seeing the success some teams have had by playing more up-tempo and copying that are the major factors."

Kerr points to the example of new Suns power forward Channing Frye, who sank only 20 3-pointers in his first four seasons as a pro but had already drained 13 triples entering Tuesday's game at Miami because he's now playing in a system where he's encouraged to take them.

Further examination of the recent past reveals that last season was a poor one when it comes to early season offense, possibly making this season's increases seem more dramatic. The league-wide scoring averages through seven days' worth of games in 2006 (98.37 ppg) and 2007 (98.87 ppg) were not far off the current 99.96 figure.

Pinpointing causes for offensive improvement gets even tougher when you factor in the protests from players who don't like the new rims.

Battier admits that he is not a fan, saying he believes they make the ball "more temperamental" when it bounces. And reigning NBA Sixth Man Award winner Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks was far stronger in his criticism, suggesting that the rims' increased give has been a major factor in the unexpected struggles from the field that have plagued the Mavericks during their 2-1 start.

"I am not used to them yet," Battier said. "So as of now, no, I don't like them."

Said Terry, who was shooting an uncharacteristic 35 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent on 3-pointers entering Tuesday's game against Utah: "They stink. Why change something that works? Were the old rims [faulty]? It's just like that [composite] ball they tried."

ESPN.com has also learned that one Eastern Conference team was so unnerved by the rim change during the preseason that it considered pursuing a grievance through the players' union, reminiscent of the 2006-07 season when NBA commissioner David Stern eventually abolished use of a new composite ball after two months and switched back to the old leather ball after numerous player complaints.

The league office, however, says it has received no formal complaints about the rims from any team. The new rims -- tested at the 2009 All-Star Game in Phoenix and in the second half of the D-League's 2008-09 season -- were rolled in at the start of the preseason in early October, although their presence was not officially announced until a news release was issued last Friday by Spalding.

Said Nash: "I feel like they have no impact."

Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.