In particular, the reinterpretation of the rules has had an enormous impact on speedy guards. This effect is made clear when we look at the changes in points in the paint, where 6-foot San Antonio guard Tony Parker leads the NBA in that category this season despite the fact that whiteboards in locker rooms throughout the league instruct defenders to give Parker jumpshots instead of letting him get to the basket.
Parker's improvement this season, which has allowed him to battle for the NBA's lead in shooting percentage (currently 54.6 percent) and average a shade under 20 points per game, has largely been attributed to an improved jumpshot. However, data from 82games.com shows that Parker has actually been a less efficient jumpshooter this year. Parker's effective field-goal percentage on jumpers is 38.9 percent this year, as compared to 40.5 percent a year ago. (His field-goal percentage on jumpers has improved by virtue of eliminating the 3, which he hits at just a 31.4 percent clip over the course of his career, from his repertoire.)
So if it's not his jumper, why has Parker's field-goal percentage seen such a massive improvement? This year, more than half of his shot attempts have been what 82games.com defines as "inside" -- layups or other short shots in the lane. That's up from 42 percent last year. Parker is simply so quick that even after backing up a step or two, defenders cannot contain him without using their hands -- now an automatic foul call. Parker has been able to get into the lane virtually at will and is converting better inside (his close field-goal percentage has improved from 63.3 percent to 70.6 percent).
The rules interpretations have had their most dramatic effect at the top of the NBA's scoring leaderboard. Bryant's average of 35.9 points per game (and rising) is the NBA's most prolific output since Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game in the 1986-87 season. Allen Iverson (33.4 ppg) and LeBron James (31.0 ppg) are also averaging better than 30 points per game, a mark no NBA player reached during the '03-04 season. The last time three players averaged at least 30, you have to go all the way back to '81-82, when George Gervin (32.3), Moses Malone (31.1) and Adrian Dantley (30.5) all achieved the feat before James was even born.
If even suspect perimeter shooters like Parker and Dwyane Wade (4-for-40 from 3-point range this season) have been able to get in the lane at will thanks to the new rules interpretations, it stands to reason the advantage should be doubled for Bryant, who hits nearly two 3s a game and dropped seven during his 81-point effort. Give Bryant room, and he'll shoot over you. Body him up, and he'll either take it to the rim or draw the foul -- or both.
While the conditions for scoring still aren't as optimal as they were for a 7-1 behemoth in '62, as SI.com's Marty Burns recently noted, they're better than they have been in years. Bryant (and his contemporaries like James, who scored 51 points Saturday and has two of the four 50-point performances not by Bryant this season) may have many more high-scoring games left in his future, and he owes some of the credit to Stern.