This weekend I was finally able to pull together the first round of Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS) numbers for teams, team opponents’ and individual players. If this is your first time reading about XPPS you can find the full explanation at any of those pages linked above. The short explanation is that XPPS is a metric that measures the quality of a team’s shot selection using the expected value of shot attempts from different locations. Trips to the free throw line, shots at the rim and corner three-pointers generally have a higher expected value and so shots taken from those locations will increase XPPS, mid-range jumpers and shots in the paint, but not at the rim, will decrease XPPS. To fully capture how XPPS relates to a team or player’s offensive performance I also compare that number to Actual Points Per Shot and the difference between the two, what I call Shot-Making Difference.
With this first round of numbers in hand, here are a few of the interesting stories from the beginning of the season.
Houston and Denver
On the offensive end, the two biggest shot selection stories last year were the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets. They had the two highest XPPS marks in the league last season, which also happened to be the two most efficient shot distributions since the 2000-2001 season (as far back as I’m able to assemble XPPS numbers). Although they had some stylistic differences – the Nuggets attacked the rim like no team in recent memory, while the Rockets relied more heavily on the three-pointer – they both avoided long two-pointers as much as possible. So far this year, new Head Coach Brian Shaw‘s inside-out offensive approach has had a slash and burn effect on the Nuggets’ shot distribution, dragging them down to an XPPS that is essentially at the league average. The Rockets though, have gone in the other direction:
The results of Shaw’s new offensive framework in Denver have been discouraging to say the least. Although the idea is to pound the ball inside in order to create open shots on the perimeter, neither piece has really been working as planned. About 10% less of the Nuggets shot attempts have been coming at the rim this season and the percentage of their shots coming from behind the three-point line has stayed flat (although they are hitting a slightly higher percentage of those three-pointers). While the language of the new offense seems to emphasize location and efficiency extremes, in practice it has pushed the Nuggets into the inefficient land of the long two-pointer.
While the Nuggets shot selection has been faltering the Rockets have continued to push boundaries. The three areas of the floor which provide the most efficient scoring opportunities are the aforementioned free throws, shots at the rim and corner three-pointers. Last season 56% of the Rockets’ non-turnover possessions were used from one of those three locations. This season that percentage has climbed to 61%. That’s an absurdly high number which looks even more outrageous when you put it in context. Take a look at how the Rockets’ XPPS from this season compares to every other team going back to 2000-2001.
The efficiency of the Rockets shot distribution this season is about as far from last year’s record-setting performance as last year’s was from the league average. In terms of efficient allocation of offensive opportunities, they’re not just setting the pace they’re threatening to lap the entire league.
The biggest difference for the Rockets been the increase in free throw attempts – a Free Throw Rate of 0.339, compared to last year’s 0.232. If that 0.339 mark holds up across the entire season it would be the highest Free Throw Rate by any team of the modern era. Most of the increase in free throws can be attributed to the addition of Dwight Howard, but even with his poor shooting for the line they’re still posting a positive Shot-Making Difference and a higher TS% than last year. The Rockets offense certainly looks a little more stagnant this year and their offensive efficiency has basically remained the same because their TO% has gone up alongside their XPPS and TS%.
One of the teams I was really curious to look at in this first batch of XPPS numbers was the Philadelphia 76ers. Last season they ranked dead last in XPPS, a reflection of their love affair with the mid-range jump shot. But a new coach and some fundamental organizational changes have completely flipped the script. So far this season the Sixers have an XPPS of 1.064, well above the league average and the 8th highest mark in the league. This season mid-range jump shots have accounted for just 19.2% of their non-turnover offensive possessions, down from 32.0% last season. As a team their shooting percentages from each location are essentially comparable to last year but they’ve been able to increase their team TS% from 50.9 to 52.4%, primarily by reallocating shots to more efficient locations.
A lot of the improvement has been driven by new faces with very efficient shot-selections, James Anderson and Tony Wroten in particular. But we’ve also seen huge changes in the offensive decision making of Evan Turner, who has increased his XPPS from 0.973 to 1.037, and Spencer Hawes, who has gone from 1.002 to 1.073. Turner’s transition, in particular, has been really important. 34.8% of his shot attempts have been mid-range jumpers this season. That’s the same portion of his shot attempts that are coming at the rim and a huge decline from last season where 46.1% of his shot attempts were long two-pointers. He’s also attempting 5.3 free throws per 36 minutes, double his previous career high. Having an offense that chases the specific spaces on the floor instead of the first space that becomes available is already paying enormous dividends in Philadelphia.
Taking the mantle of worst shot-selection from the Sixers has been the Cleveland Cavaliers. So far their offense has an XPPS of 1.012, worse than what the Sixers put up last season. As a unit they’ve been gradually migrating towards long two-pointers, which now make up 31.8% of their non-turnover offensive possessions. Blame for this migration can be shared among several players. New additions Anthony Bennett, Earl Clark and Jarrett Jack all have an XPPS below 1.000 (league average is about 1.047). Kyrie Irving continues to pull up from mid-range with impunity, posting an XPPS of 1.016, and Dion Waiters‘ XPPS has dropped from the respectable 1.058 he put up last year to 1.027 this season.
Laying the NBA’s SportVU data over the top of these XPPS numbers really helps to highlight the problems. Through November 17th, the Cavaliers had attempted more pull-ups than catch-and-shoot and jumpers, with pull-up jumpers making up 34.4% of their total shot attempts. Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving combine to average 21.9 pull-up jumpers per game, making those pull-ups at a collective eFG% of 39.0%. Those three are all competent mid-range shooters but that competency is decreased off the dribble and that’s simply far too many possessions to be used in such a fashion for the Cavaliers to be build an efficient offense around.
On the defensive side of the ball the best XPPS allowed belongs to the Orlando Magic. You probably haven’t had a chance to see much of their defense this year, but it ranks 8th in overall defensive efficiency and done quite a bit with the somewhat limited talent they have available. Without a threatening rim protector they’ve still held opponents to just 25 shot attempts per game at the rim, the 4th lowest total in the league. Even more impressive they’ve been able to accomplish that without making significant sacrifices on the perimeter, where their opponents average just 17.3 three-point attempts per game, also the 4th lowest total in the NBA.
Without a big man like Roy Hibbert or Joakim Noah to close off the paint and prevent the cascade of frantic rotations that lead to open shots the Magic have had to rely on length and quickness from the backcourt. They’ve done a terrific job of swarming penetration and still recovering, making their close-outs threatening enough to force misses or swing passes from shooters who looked open just a second before. There is still work to be done to make sure this effort can be sustained across the rest of the season, but it’s been a very impressive start for the Orlando Magic.
We already talked a little about the Rockets shot selection, but it’s worth singling out Jeremy Lin. So far this season his XPPS is 1.114, sandwiched right in between the marks of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. That’s a fairly significant increase from last season, when his XPPS was 1.089. Three-point attempts are making up the highest percentage of his shot attempts since he’s been in the league and his free throws attempts have rebounded in dramatic fashion after bottoming out last season. He seems to feel much more comfortable with his offensive role and responsibilities this season and he’s turning that into a surplus of offensive aggression.
Turning again to the NBA’s SportVU stats we see that Lin is averaging 10.1 drives per game, the third highest average on the league (drives being defined as when a player has ball at least 20ft. from the basket and dribbles to within 10ft.). He’s shooting 64.4% on those drives, second to only Tony Parker and Evan Turner among players who average at least 7.0 drives per game. Looking at his shot chart for the season you can see how his shot distribution has split itself, in the extreme, into shots at the rim from his drives and the spot-up outside shots the Rockets offense creates for him.
As impressive as his shot distribution has been, the rate at which he’s making shots has been equally impressive. To this point he’s averaging 0.213 more points per shot than the expected value of his shot selection, one of the highest marks on the league.
At the other end of the shot-making spectrum we find Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors wing duo have posted XPPS numbers of 1.012 and 0.996 respectively, the 6th and 4th lowest marks among the twenty players who have played at least 300 minutes this season with a Usage Rate of 25.0%+. But a low XPPS doesn’t not necessarily preclude a high-usage player from offensive efficiency, both Al Horford and LaMarcus Aldridge have comparable shot distribution patterns to Gay and DeRozan. The difference is that Horford and Aldridge are fantastic mid-range shooters and play in an offense that is balanced around their skill sets. The offensive ecosystem in Toronto is very different.
Gay and DeRozan attempt 35.2% and 48.3% of their shots in the mid-range, respectively, hitting with 35.3% and 32.9% accuracy. When all the numbers are crunched we find that they average 0.090 and 0.006 points less per shot, respectively, than the expected value of their shot selection. That means they are punishing their team with not just an inefficient distribution of shots but also with significant inaccuracy. Interestingly the problem here has much more to do with shot-making then shot selection. I recalculated each player’s TS% using their same exact field goal percentages from each location, but a league average shot distribution and found that it barely moved the needle. Even if they were taking better shots there would still be a tremendous amount of offensive inefficiency in each player’s scoring. Sorry optimistic Raptor fans!
Back in the days of yore before SportVU video tracking data was available to fans, like September, I was doing a series on shot creation and getting to the rim. That series, like most of my others, was done with an eye toward creating a sort of Expected Value model for all sorts of different actions on the court.
Now with SportVU data available that vague aspiration is both closer at hand and further away. First, the league has only released a small portion of the data being collected by SportVU. Opting, I suspect, for the bits they think will be of the most general interest not the most analytic benefit for bloggers.
Still it is new data and, generally, speaking more data is a good thing. But, new data presents the analytical challenge of re-sorting through the wheat and the chaff, to find what is actually useful and how it is useful.
Not too surprisingly, my pre-SportVU look, using the suddenly defunct HoopData, found that players tended to fall into two groups in terms of getting shots at the rim — cutters and drivers. The drivers tended to be ‘Shot Creators’ overall in terms of getting unassisted two point shots. There was not, however, a big difference in the number of attempts at the rim based on the two groups.
The new SportVU data brings the Drive part of the equation into better focus. The NBA defines drives as any touch that starts at least twenty feet from the basket and is dribbled within 10 feet of the basket, excluding fast breaks. As of this morning there have been 4,315 drives in the NBA this year. One of the more interesting stats tracked is the inclusion of ‘Team points per drive,’ which includes points coming from assists either in interior passing or kick outs. (Not sure if it includes Kobe assists, which is actually important as I have estimated that the offensive team is 8% to 10% more likely to get the rebound on a shot at the rim than attempts from further out). It also appears to include points from free throws generated by drives (I am inferring this from all if the players with one drive and one point),
Below are some of the aggregates for Drives, via NBA.com:
||Total Player PTS on Drives
||Average Player PTS on Drives
||Average Team PTS on Drives
||Player Pt Pct
Interesting bits being that, Driving is only an efficient play because of the ability to get teammates involved and so far this year only 59% of the points coming from Drives to the hoop are scored by the Driving player.
Even more interesting is the variation between players that have accumulated a decent number of drives so far, where we can start to see their tendencies. Using 30 drives as my minimum, there are 51 that meet that number. Here are a couple of the standouts:
Not looking to pass: Evan Turner with 85.1% of the points from his drives belonging to Evan Turner, get that money Evan.
Not looking to score: Deron Williams with 19.8% of the points from his drives going to his teammates. (Also not that able to score with a field goal percentage of 27.3%)
Not Able to Score: Deron Williams generating only 0.194 points per drive for himself. Play pass until he proves otherwise folks.
Not Able to be Stopped: Evan Turner with 1.26 points per drive, you deserve that money Evan!
Just Stop: Norris Cole, whose drives are generating 0.75 points per drive for the Heat so far this year.
More, please: Kyle Lowry, generating 1.57 points per drive for his team. Also, beats the opportunity cost is low on that team.
Most Likely to Drive: Monta Ball, baby, with 11.4 edging out Jeremy Lin (Get out of the way Omer and Dwight).
And here’s the leaderboard to date based on team points per drive:
||FG% on Drives
||PTS Per 48 Min on Drives
||Player Pts Per Drive
||Team Pts Per Drive
|Kyle Lowry (TOR)
|Evan Turner (PHI)
|Will Bynum (DET)
|Ty Lawson (DEN)
|Chandler Parsons (HOU)
|Paul George (IND)
|Brandon Jennings (DET)
|Eric Gordon (NOP)
|James Harden (HOU)
|Jeff Green (BOS)
|Gordon Hayward (UTA)
Needless to say, these are smaller sample sizes, leads will change. It’s also a little early to tell what these stats mean in terms of added understanding of the game. At some point we will be able to get a better read on who is successful at using drives in their offense and how much that is aiding their teams.
We are back with another group of of statistics that found a way to fly under the radar for the week that was in the NBA. No player is exempt from this collection of far-reaching oddities, pointing out trends that you likely missed in the excitement of watching the games. On days with a full schedule, the top five stats are highlighted, and on days with fewer than five games, I’ll give you a stat from each game. One thing to remember: these stats are current on the day listed. That is, a trend can break as the week progresses, but for that moment in time, the numbers held true.
Without further adieu, the always interesting and never replicated Weekly Stat Pack.
In what has become a star driven league, you’d assume that the more involved a team’s best player is the better the results. Such is not the case in Minnesota, as the Timberwolves lost for the sixth time in the last eight games in which Kevin Love attempted at least 20 field goals.
The Warriors beat the undefeated 76ers behind a 32 point outburst by Andre Iguodala, but it was the triple double from Steph Curry that was provided us with a nice little statistic. Golden State won a game in which their star marksman pulled down more rebounds more 3PA, something that had not done since December 28th 2012, a game that also happened to be played in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, Klay Thompson made five field goals (four of which were three pointers) and recorded multiple steals (averages less than one for his career) in both of those games.
The second Zach Randolph steps onto a court, we assume that he is going to produce a double double. However, Z-Bo failed to do so tonight, the second non double double he has tallied early in this season. Surprised? Don’t be. This is the fifth time in six seasons in which he failed to record a double double in at least two of a seasons first five games.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets combined to score208 points, yet didn’t have a single player score more than 18 points. The Los Angeles Clippers racked up 137 points and had three members of their backcourt (Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford) score at least 21 points.
LeBron James may have become the fifth player in NBA history to score at least ten points in 500 consecutive games, but he did so in a rare fashion. For the first time since January 2, 2009 (361 games), The King handed out at least eight assists, grabbed at least eight rebounds, and made all eight of his free throws.
Brook Lopez led the Brooklyn Nets to a dominating 16 point win over the winless Utah Jazz with 27 points on only 13 shots. The high point total is nothing new for the 7-footer, but neither is his lack of rebounds. For the 27th time in his last 32 20-point games, Lopez snared fewer than ten rebounds.
Paul George received much of the praise for his Pacers impressive win over the Detroit Pistons, but it was Roy Hibbert who was the most valuable player in this game. He blocked seven more shots, giving him more blocks than any other player in the league … and more than 17 entire teams.
For the second time in four days, the Houston Rockets won a game in which Dwight Howard made at least 70% of his free throws. Howard’s team had only won three of the previous nine such games.
Every starter, and 17 of 18 players who recorded at least 14 minutes, in the Atlanta Hawks win over the Sacramento Kings game attempted a three pointer.
Two days after shooting 52.1% as a team in a 137-118 win over the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers failed to have a single player shoot over 50% in a 98-90 loss at the hands of the Orland Magic.
Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward combined to score 50 points on 34 shots, but they lost to the Celtics, whose starting five managed 53 points on 49 shots.
The Pacers won their fifth straight game and are the last unbeaten team in the NBA. How have they been able to do that? They have won every third quarter this season and are +76 points in the second half games. On the flip side, they have been outscored by an eye popping 42 points in the second quarter.
The Memphis Grizzlies lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 99-84, continuing a streak of alternating wins/losses to open the season. It was the fourth time in five games in which they gave up at least 99 points: the fourth such instance didn’t occur until December 22 last season.
Ricky Rubio has now played 103 games in his NBA career and has shown the tendency to get stuck in brutal three game shooting slumps. Over his last three games, the third year man has connected on just five of his 26 field goal attempts (19.2%). He has gone through a three game stretch with a lower shooting percentage than that four times in his career.
The Heat made a point of it to take the ball out of Chris Paul’s hands last night, but the point guard managed to real of his sixth consecutive double double to open the season. That stretch matches the sum of all of CP3’s season opening double double streaks in his first eight seasons.
Paul Milsap did all he could to give his Hawks a chance to beat the Nuggets in Denver, recording 29 points on 15 shots, ten rebounds, five assists, and zero turnovers. He also made multiple three pointers, a part of Milsap’s game that has developed over the last year or so. In fact, it was his sixth game with multiple three pointers made in the last 369 days after recording just two such games in the first 2,191 days of his NBA career.
The Lakers beat the Rockets behind yet another solid shooting night. In their three wins this season, Los Angeles has scored more points from the free throw line or from behind the three point line (166) than they have anywhere else (154). On the flip side, they’ve scored more points via the two point bucket (152) than FTM/3PM (131) in losses. The Lakers are keeping their head above water for the time being, but this is no way to make a serious playoff run.
With Amar’e Stoudemire a shell of himself and Tyson Chandler out for the next month, the Knicks turned to Andrea Bargnani to pick up the scoring slack. For one night it worked, but the seven-footer stood out on the perimeter for the entire game, something that the Knicks have plenty of. On a roster with almost no interior scoring, you’d think Bargnani might finally develop a short range game, or at least drive to the basket. In five games (119 minutes of action), Bargnani has attempted two, count’em two, free throws and has attempted more three pointers (19) than rebounds grabbed (16).
A prototypical point guard is asked to initiate the offense and set his teammates up for good looks at the basket. It is becoming more and more evident that the Cleveland Cavaliers need someone else to do that and Kyrie Irving to focus almost exclusively on scoring the basketball. He has missed at least ten shots in four of five games this month, with the lone exception being the Cavs lone victory. Interestingly enough, that win was Irving’s worst assist to turnover game (0.67), as he totaled as many turnovers in the game (nine) as he has in the other five games of this season. The assist numbers are nice, but the early season trend seems to be that Irving needs to be an efficient scorer for his Cavs to have a chance.
Bradley Beal scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, helping his Wizards outlast the Nets. He is second in the league in minutes per game (40.6), and Washington is a much better team with him on the court. They have outscored their opponents by 19 during the 200 minutes Beal has been on the court and been outscored by 10 in the sharp shooters 45 minutes of rest.
Speaking of Beal, he ranks behind Josh Smith in terms of three pointers attempted per game. But then again, that is true for all but five players in the NBA. We wondered all off-season what the impact of the Smith/Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond front court would be, and if these first five games are a peak into the future, it is going to be a long season for Detroit. Smith has connected on only ten of his 35 3PA (28.6%), which sounds awful but has actually raised his career 3P%.
The Spurs were able to defeat the high scoring Warriors despite scoring a total of 25 points in the second and fourth quarters combined. How were they able to do that? The Warriors (sans Steph Curry) failed to score more than 22 points in a single quarter after averaging nearly 28 per quarter in the season’s first five games.
The Jazz lost again today, making it seven in a row to open up the 2013-14 season. Gordon Hayward once again paced the offense (24 points on 10/18 shooting) and he once again got very little help. The Jazz have now lost eight straight road games in which Hayward scores at least 20 points (their last such win was in April of 2012).
Most young point guards struggle to find a rhythm in the half court game but find some success in the open court (i.e. Ricky Rubio). Michael Carter-Williams can play the transition game, but I’ve been impressed by his ability to succeed in half court basketball. He tallied 21 points and 13 assists against Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the 76ers only scored four points in transition. Carter-Williams is probably overachieving right now, but his ability to execute is well beyond his years.
Want proof that it’s not how you start a game but rather how you finish? The Indiana Pacers have gone into the half time intermission leading one game and trailing in six. They’ve won the second half of all seven games and are the last unbeaten team in the NBA.
We live in an era that is obsessed with instant gratification, so when J.J. Redick was averaging just over five PPG 76 games into his NBA career, we labeled him a bust. “He was just a catch and shoot guy at Duke, and that doesn’t work in the physical NBA” we said. Well, he has improved his scoring average every season since, and after another 20-plus point performance last night, Redick is averaging just as many points per game this season as Dwight Howard (17.6).
The only two players in the league that are taking at least 15.5 shots per night and making at least half of them were both at it again last night. LeBron James? Nope. Kevin Durant? No dice. Evan Turner (31 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (20-plus for the sixth straight game) are scoring often and efficiently.
The Spurs dominated the Knicks from start to finish in large part due to their ability to clean the glass. Subtract Carmelo Anthony from the picture and the Knicks starters totaled five rebounds in 88 minutes of action. To put that in perspective, Danny Green, who takes over 56% of his shots from beyond the three point line, pulled down ten rebounds in 23 minutes.
Bradley Beal is averaging 25.5 points on games played on November 8-10 and 13.6 points on all other days of the year.
Jrue Holiday had a decent game against the Suns as he scored 16 points on 47.1% shooting from the field, his best FG% up to this point. The slight uptick in shooting percentage is nice, but the Pelicans starting point guard recorded more turnovers than Eric Gordon did assists for the seventh consecutive game.
Home sweet home. Jordan Hill was one of the few Lakers to have a nice game against the Timberwolves as he connected on three of his five field goal attempts for seven points and nine rebounds (six offensive) in 19 minutes of action. Dating back to last season, Hill is now shooting 59.3% from the field at home, including 72.2% this season.
Today’s episode features a conversation with Tom Sunnergren, who covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Hoop76, part of ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. We’re talking about the Sixers hot start and how the organization’s shift towards a more analytic approach could manifest on and off the court this season.
Podcast: Play in new window
You can find more from Tom at Hoop76 and on Twitter, @tsunnergren.
These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our weekly routines and we have every intention of extending through the rest of this barren offseason and right into the season proper. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are. Don’t forget to check out question 6, which asks for answers from you, the readers.
Editor’s Note: Daniel Lewis wrote this week’s questions so I would have a chance to participate.
1. Which currently injured player will have the biggest absence this season?
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): I see this from the angle of which player’s absence now will have the biggest impact when we look back on the entire season. For that reason Kobe and Westbrook are out because I think the Thunder and Lakers will ultimately find themselves in about the same places as if Kobe and Westbrook had been available for these first few weeks. But Rondo’s absence could shape the Celtics present and future. If he was here and healthy there’s a chance this team becomes competitive. At the very least development would be sped up for some of the young pieces and nearly everyone would look a lot better with Rondo steering the ship. But since he’s gone they’ll struggle more profoundly, development will be slowed and his absence will probably make him less important to the Celtics’ plan moving forward because they’ll have been given a big shove towards the top of the lottery. If he was here this rebuild might move faster and actually be built around him. Instead it seems more likely that things will be taken slowly and Rondo could finish the year with a new team.
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): Strange answer, but Emeka Okafor. Kobe and Rondo are on teams that I don’t think are playoff bound even with them, so it’s better that their respective teams can lose more without the them. The Thunder can float without Westbrook for the short span — comparatively speaking – he should be out. The Wizards were fifth in Defensive Rating last season, and Okafor was a huge part of that. Without Emeka, the identity of Washington is skewed, and a playoff hopeful team now has many more questions in the front court.
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): Russell Westbrook. We saw what happened to Oklahoma City’s offense when Westbrook is out of the lineup last year in the playoffs, and those problems should be compounded by Kevin Martin’s departure. Kevin Durant is an amazing scorer, but his efficiency saw a major drop-off in the Memphis series last spring. If Durant is the team’s only reliable scoring option, we could see the Thunder dropping games early in the season that they probably wouldn’t otherwise, and with the top of the conference expected to be so competitive, every win counts.
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): Kobe Bryant. Did you see Zach Lowe has them in his ‘shitty teams’ tier? If Bryant was healthy, nuh uh no way now how. The gap between Kobe and Jodie Meeks isn’t so much as a gap but rather a chasm populated by nations of people who haven’t made contact with each other because the chasm is so large and full of natural barriers like mountains and oceans.
Kevin Ferrigan (@NBACouchside): I’m going with Rondo, if only because the Celtics have such an incredibly bad roster without him. Rondo’s a competitive dude, but I think he’s different from Kobe in that he sees the writing on the wall and isn’t going to rush to come back. Kobe still thinks he can come back and drag this terrible Lakers roster to the playoffs. So I’m guessing Rondo stays out longer than Kobe and as a result, he’s got a longer and thus bigger absence. Cole’s answer has some merit, though, as the C’s and Lakers both have almost no chance of making the playoffs even with their star players returning. The Wizards are right on that playoff bubble, but with Okafor missing any significant amount of time, it gets harder to see them beating out the Atlanta, Detroit, Toronto, or Cleveland for one of those final 3 playoff spots.
Andy Liu (AndyKHLiu): Biggest means amount that we care? That has to be Russell Westbrook, right? The amount of reactions and reactions to those overreactions will be enough to blow our brains out a month into the season. But the biggest loss? Kobe Bryant. I get the fun stuff with Nick Young and the new guys, but yeah, they’re going to suck more than The Walking Dead this season.
Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone): Russell Westbrook. I think Westbrook is one of the best eight or so players in the league so this one was pretty easy. We saw how important Westbrook was when he missed the end of the Thunder postseason last year and now OKC is without Kevin Martin. Kevin Durant will keep the Thunder offense passable but when Westbrook returns it will be elite. That difference will probably cost the Thunder a game or two early and with how tough the top of the West is this season that may cost them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, for the first time, Hickory-High will be tackling the challenging of crafting season previews for all thirty NBA teams. Beginning today we’ll be rolling out these previews, one each day, leading up to Opening Night. This was a task of considerable size and complexity and it required the help of every member of our staff. The only guidelines given were that each writer approach team by staying true to their own style and the result is season previews of a difference sort. We hope you enjoy!
Ian: Kris, what do you see when you look at the Sixers?
Fenrich: I see a team that bet their entire bankroll on a balky-kneed Andrew Bynum and lost everything. They lost Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Jrue Holiday, coach Doug Collins, GM Tom DiLeo. I love a good gamble as much as Kenny Rogers or Mike McDermott, and maybe this was a well-thought out, high-risk/reward play, but a glance at Philly’s roster shows us how badly things can turn out when you put all your eggs in Bynum’s basket.
Ian: The Bynum thing obviously worked itself into an enormous disaster and has gone a long way towards creating the situation the Sixers now find themselves in. But didn’t it seem like there was a roster blow-out waiting to happen? Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday were both talented young perimeter players who couldn’t create scoring opportunities inside of 15 feet. They were surrounded by an assortment of other players with an irrational love of their own jumpshots and Doug Collins just standing on the sideline egging them on. (Statistical aside – Of the 18 players who played for the 76ers last season, 11 of them attempted more mid-range jumpers than shots at the rim.) Even with Bynum their interior defense would have been a mess and methinks that having him man the middle for last year’s offense would have led to even more isolation play and standing around.
I, for one, am really excited about some of the front office changes they made. Bringing in Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, means that their fantastic Director of Analytics Aaron Barzilai won’t have to spend another season shouting his suggestions down an abandoned mine shaft. I might be inflating that narrative but I see an organization transitioning, at a fundamental level, towards a process guided by logic and reason. Does that sort of a metamorphosis held any interest for you?
Fenrich: We’re men apart on the Bynum thing. I find the catastrophe of it akin to a natural disaster or someone dropping a nice-looking, tasty chocolate cake off the top of top of the Spectrum. Splat, smothered, never to be tasted. We’ll never know if Vucevic and Holiday could’ve accompanied someone like James Harden into a Brotherly Love renaissance.
Alas, I spend most of my time looking back, wondering what could’ve been or looking forward speculating about what could be; ignoring the present like a lingering depression.
I don’t think Doug Collins was ever going to take this team past a second round playoff elimination so Brett Brown, a man I couldn’t have picked out of a lineup until I just searched for his face, is at least stepping into a fresh start. As he’s a Spurs acolyte and Hinkie is a Daryl Morey disciple, there’s a lot of titillation for the NBA blogging set.
I’m not standing at full attention nor am I taking potshots at Philly’s latest project. What comes of this latest experiment or plan or philosophy is something none of us will know for certain until a few years down the road when all the time the current management group has purchased will finally run out.
Brown’s comments after being hired are somewhat honest and if you read into his words, could cynically be read as a pre-emptive plea for time with this mishmash of talent, most of who likely won’t be there in three years:
“You get excited to be a part of the rebuild, we all know the pain of the rebuild is real. There needs to be patience. I have not been a part of a rebuild since I was in the NBA. The rebuild has to be keeping the locker room together.”
The interesting angle is whether or not the Sixers front office and ownership are committed to a lengthy rebuild or will the inevitable pain of losing, pain of rebuilding turn fans sour, players bitter, and leave Brown unemployed?
So … what’s the timeline? Does Hinkie get the same timeframe as Morey? Will fickle Philly fans tolerate three more, four more seasons of losing?
Ian: The fact that there has been absolutely no trace of a rebuild on the fly leads me to believe that everyone involved will have a long leash. Since trading for Tony Wroten at the end of August, here are the players they’ve signed – Rodney Williams, Darius Morris, Nerlens Noel, Khalif Wyatt, Michael Carter-Williams, Hollis Thompson, Vander Blue, Mac Koshwal and Solomon Alabi. Other than their draft picks from this year it looks like they’re holding a season-long open audition to fill the end of bench for the competitive team they’re hoping to build three or four years out. I know it’s easy to say this from the outside but the expectations here are clearly focused on player development and that’s where I imagine Hinkie, Brown and company will ultimately be held accountable.
But there’s something really interesting to me in offering opportunities to all these fringe players. Every year circumstances give a handful of these of players a smattering of minutes and one or two shed their flotsam disguises and reveal themselves to be actual NBA players. I’ve always had a suspicion that the opportunity is a bigger factor than relative talent margins in allowing these players to be successful and, to me, it will be fascinating to watch and see who sinks and who rises to the surface.
But that’s just the edges of the roster. The middle, as badly as it might play, is just as intriguing to me. I have an irrational, and slightly embarrassing, love of Evan Turner. I’m eager to see if he can finally get all the pieces of his talent moving in the same direction at the same time. Thad Young is a splendidly limited basketball player and Michael Carter-Williams is built from a template that haunts my dreams. I desperately want to growth and development and I’m willing to sit through multiple double-digit losses to get it.
Fenrich: You sweet, sweet hopeful man. Hollis Thompson? Rodney Willliams? Vander Blue? Solomon Alabi? I’m sure they all have compelling tales of Hoop Dreams, but the players I’m most interested in are Wroten, Royce White, Noel, and Carter-Williams.
As for Turner, it seems each fan harbors irrational feelings and hopes for players (ie; my fascination with Terrence Williams). Turner’s entering his fourth season at just 24-years-old. I was a fan at Ohio State and I’m a fan of his multi-dimensional game. He’s a strong rebounder for his position and passes the ball well. His weaker-than-average jumper is still improving, but what stands out to me continues to be a story told by a friend who saw Turner play in the NCAA Tournament in 2010. What stood out to my friend, a long-time player and fan whose opinion I respect, was a player being held back by a bad attitude with poor body language and a pissy overall demeanor. As a Turner fan, I rejected this entirely miniscule and subjective sample size, tossing and turning restlessly in bed, insisting to myself that Turner’s multi-faceted game would translate to the pros. And it has in small doses, but the consistency so necessary for NBA productivity has been fleeting. Finally a veteran and team leader, Turner arrives in 2013 at a fork in the road: Is he up for the challenge or will those youthful perturbations continue to act as a wedge between Evan and his potential?
If we insist on identifying storylines for this motley crew, what I’m most excited for is the inevitability of Wroten working his way into the starting lineup at some point. Little known Wroten facts: His dad was an NFL player, his mom was a sprinter at Arizona State and an aunt was a two-time All American at LSU. Carter-Williams’s length and obvious Livingstonian similarities have everyone frothing at the mouth (“Oooh, a big point guard!” – present company included), but a composed and more mature Wroten playing within himself should push MCW for minutes and spend plenty of time alongside him in a big-guard lineup.
As much as I’m open to joining you watching the Sixers grow through double-digit losses while Noel’s high top reaches higher and higher; if we end up sitting side-by-side on a couch somewhere, I’ll politely ask you to please, turn the channel to a more competitive game as I’ve seen enough rebuilds to know that with the promise of a brighter tomorrow comes painful and boring todays.
Shot selection and specifically shot locations have become a larger and larger part of the basketball conversation. It’s a topic of great personal interest to me and I’ve written quite a bit about it this season. To add an easily comparably quantitative element to the conversation, I also developed Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). This metric is based on the expected value of shots from different locations and boils the quality of a player’s shot selection down to a single number. When we talk about high-value shots were usually referring to shots at the rim, three-pointers and free throw attempts. The scale of XPPS is aligned with league averages, numbers which are constantly over and under-performed. For that reason we often compare XPPS to Actual Points Per Shot and look at the difference between the two, which is called Shot Making Difference.
I’ve built visualizations which allow you to explore, sort and filter the XPPS numbers for players, team offenses and team defenses. I know those interactive graphs can be a little overwhelming so I wanted to pull out some of the most interesting numbers from this season and go a little bit deeper with them. Today we’ll be looking at some of the shot selection numbers for individual players, with analysis of teams to follow in subsequent posts.
This first table shows the players with the ten highest and lowest-value shot selections, as measured by XPPS. I separated the players into three groups based on their USG%, to differentiate between players with different roles.
As we mentioned above players over and under-perform the expected values of their shot selection all the time, which is a big factor in evaluating whether they truly understand their offensive roles and strengths. This next table shows the same 60 players, but instead of their XPPS I’ve listed their Shot Making Difference, which is the difference between their XPPS and their Actual Points Per Shot. You can see some players who take high-value shots, but don’t necessarily make them, as well as players who make a lot of low-value shots, usually long two-pointers.
The extent to which XPPS is useful in evaluating shot selection is pretty limited if you don’t also understand the context of their skills, limitations and responsibilities within the team’s offensive structure. Here are few of those numbers, both good and bad, with the context more fully fleshed out.
LeBron James – 1.079 XPPS (8th best in the >24 USG% bracket), +0.202 Shot Making Difference – What James did this season in the scoring efficiency department this season was simply incredible, increasing his FG% from essentially every area of the floor. However, he exponentially raised the impact of those gains in accuracy by improving his shot selection as well. Last season 37.9% of James’ shot attempts were long two-pointers. This season that percentage fell to 29.7%, with big increases in both shots at the rim and three-pointers. He made shots at an incredible rate this season, but he also made an incredible effort to make sure he was taking the right shots.
Tyreke Evans – 1.119 XPPS (5th best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.002 Shot Making Difference – For his first few seasons in the NBA, Evans was the poster boy for unconscionable shot selection. A sensational rookie season was met with criticism of his inconsistent outside shooting. Over the next two seasons Evans seemed determined to prove those critics wrong, spending more and more time outside the paint, and in the process, proving those critics right by missing mountains of jumpshots. This season, he made some huge changes and it showed up in his scoring efficiency. First off, he became a consistent three-point shooter, knocking down 34.2% compared to a previous career high of 29.1%. Also, for the first time in his career he attempted more three-pointers than long two-pointers. Those inefficient and inaccurate mid-range shots made up just 16.7% of his shot attempts this season, by far the lowest percentage of his career. We always find time to celebrate the players who become better shooters, but we should also find time to celebrate players, like Evans, who become better decision makers.
J.J. Hickson – 1.111 XPPS (8th best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), 0.070 Shot Making Difference – Hickson is another player, like Evans, who made dramatic improvements in offensive efficiency by making dramatic improvements in offensive decision making. Last season 51.0% of Hickson’s shot attempts came at the rim. This season that number jumped to 65.3%. By being more selective with his long two-pointers, he also became more accurate. Last season he shot 30.5% in that zone, where this season he made 47.3% with a whopping 71% of his makes being assisted on. Concentrating on what you do well can yield tremendous benefits.
Tyler Hansbrough - 1.135 XPPS (2nd best in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.081 Shot Making Difference - How does a player who shoots below the league average from every area of the floor end up with a TS% above the league average? Free throws. Hansbrough took 361 shots from the field this season and 263 free throws. Only Dwight Howard and Reggie Evans had a higher ratio of FTA/FGA. He’s not a great finisher or shot maker from anywhere, but he has really focused on his strengths – getting to the rim and getting to the line. That FTA/FGA ratio was a career-high, nearly 50% higher than in any of his previous seasons. This was also the first season of his career where he attempted more shots at the rim than long-two pointers.
Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman – 0.946 | 0.950 | 0.951 XPPS (3rd, 2nd and 4th worst in their respective USG% brackets) – There is an absolute benefit to having players, especially big men, who can step out and knock down a mid-range jumper. It’s a pressure valve for an offense and can really buoy the efficiency of a group against tough defenses. The problem is when that shot becomes the centerpiece of the offense. Nowtizki is one of the best mid-range shooters in the history of the NBA and having him take that shot on a regular basis won’t break the offense. But the Mavericks stacked their front court with mid-range shooters the entire offense suffered. Last season when Nowitzki was on the floor 21.5% of his teammates’ shots were long two-pointers. This season, alongside Brand and Kaman, 26.8% of his teammates’ shots were long two-pointers. Even making those shots at an above average rate, as Brand, Kaman and Nowitzki can do, provides less efficient scoring that a multitude of other options. The Mavericks’ offense this season was a perfect example of the lesson that, “just because you can make a shot doesn’t mean you should take a shot.”
Evan Turner – 0.973 XPPS (8th worst in the 19-24 USG% bracket), -0.17 Shot Making Difference – Making 36.5% of his three-pointers this season was a big step forward for Turner. He’s also settled into a nice, accurate groove on long two-pointers, making 42.3%. The problem, as always, is balance. This was the third season of Turner’s career, and the third in which his ratio of long two-pointers to shots at the rim was roughly 2-to-1. Those long two-pointers made up nearly half his shot attempts this season and still outnumbered his newly accurate three-point shots by more than 3-to-1. He also shot a career low 47.9% on shots at the rim this season, where the league-average was 64.7%. Turner is a respectable mid-range shooter, but that shot just isn’t efficient enough to be the foundation of a richly versatile offense game. The bottom line is that he simply can’t be a viably efficient offensive player with this shot selection.
Tayshaun Prince – 0.963 XPPS (5th worst in the <19 USG% bracket), 0.008 Shot Making Difference – At this point in his career Prince’s offensive contributions come almost exclusively as a spot-up shooter. For most players this would equate to a lot of three-point attempts, but this season he attempted four times as many long two-pointers as three-pointers. Prince’s three-point attempts per 40 minutes this season were at a career low and even declined further as he moved from Detroit to Memphis. It’s a shame because Memphis is in desperate need of floor spacing and Prince has the skills to have a Shane Battier-like effect in that department. But to make that really work he needs to move a step or two back.
Andrew Nicholson – 0.954 XPPS (4th worst in the 19-24 USG% bracket), +0.154 Shot Making Difference – Including Nicholson on this end of the list may be a little unfair. He actually had a really solid rookie season and proved himself to be a reliable perimeter threat, both spotting up and as the screener in the pick-and-roll. Although his shot-selection looks terrible, with 45% of his shot attempts coming on long two-pointers, he drastically over performed the expected value of his shots and finished the year shooting 43.8% on those long twos. Although his XPPS puts him in the bottom ten, his actual points per shot were higher than Tyler Hansbrough’s, who ranked in the top ten in XPPS. He has the potential to be a supremely better version of Brandon Bass, but if he really wants to push the bounds of his efficiency it would be worth it for him to work on stretching his range out past the three point line. Nicholson didn’t attempt a single three-pointer this season, but shot a reasonable 34.0% from 20-24ft. Besides the added value of potentially earning three points per shot attempt, adding a few feet to his range will also open some considerable space in the paint for his teammates.
I recently talked with a very special man in the basketball world – 2009 Hall of Fame Inductee known as the “shot doctor,” Philadelphia University Mens basketball coach Herb Magee. Magee is the winningest coach in college basketball with 941, even more than Coach K. Recently he took some time of his day to talk to me about what he thinks about some shooters in the NBA, and what him and Evan Turner did to turn around his shot.
Matt: Who has the best shooting form in the NBA?
Magee: Because I am a college coach I don’t have much time to watch the NBA but the answer I always say when asked his question is Ray Allen. His shot is just pure, perfect form.
Matt: Who do you like to watch shoot?
Magee: Well off the top of my head, I would have to say Jason Kapono. He used to play with the Sixers and I am unsure whether he is still in the league, but that guy could shoot. Also Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors; Steve Nash of course. And above all, who may have the best of them all is Kobe Bryant, his shot is just so pure. In the college game, Curry’s brother Seth from Duke. I caught a Duke game a couple of weeks ago and I am very impressed with his ability to shoot.
Matt: Herb, could you tell me about your career as a coach? What has made you stay at Philadelphia University?
Magee: Sure. It is my 46th year at Philadelphia University. It is also my alma mater. I graduated 50 years ago this coming January. I got offered a job as a assistant at Philadelphia University a few years after I graduated and I held that for four years until I was hired as the head coach. The fact that I can coach at my alma mater is a huge reason as to why I have stayed. Not many people get the opportunity to do that.
Matt: How hard did Evan Turner work over the summer with you to perfect his shot?
Magee: Well first this was the summer of the lockout. He was a incredibly hard worker, and did exactly what I told him to do. Whenever I was available he asked if we could go to the gym. What has impressed me so far this season is because he knows that he is getting minutes, his confidence level has increased which ultimately has affected his whole game.
(Editors Note: Turner is leading the Sixers in 3PT%)
Matt: Without giving away any big secrets, what exactly did you focus on with Evan Turner?
Magee: We worked on all aspects of his game. We needed to work on his stroke. His major flaw was in his guide hand, his left hand. He had his left hand on the ball wrong. One shoots the ball through their guide hand and Evan was not doing that. It took a while to perfect his shot but he was a persistent worker. Also he worked on his follow through which is now good as it’s ever been.
Matt: What is the most important part of shooting mechanics for a young player to focus on?
Magee: The most important thing is the grip, how you grip the ball. If the grip is incorrect, the form is incorrect. If the hand is on the ball incorrectly you aren’t shooting right. The ball has to go through the guide hand, so the guide hand can guide it to release position.
Matt: Other than Evan Turner who else have you worked with? Who worked the hardest?
Magee: Jameer Nelson, Charles Barkley, Sebastian Telefair, Marcus Camby, Malik Rose among others. All worked very hard. The one who stood out the most was Malik Rose. We literally spent the whole summer in the gym. After Rose I would have to say Evan Turner but don’t get me wrong, everyone in that list worked hard.
I would like to thank Herb Magee for taking time out of his day to talk to me!
You can follow Matt Swiman on Twitter, @MSwiman.
This week I took a look at which statistic had a greater impact on a game’s outcome, transition points or points in the paint. I charted the fast break points and interior points for each of the 49 games this week and broke them into two separate groups: winning and losing teams. I then divided the totals of the losing teams by the number of points scored to determine what percentage of points were scored in transition/paint. I repeated that process for the winning teams, and compared my findings.
The results weren’t overly shocking, as winning teams outscored losing teams on the break by a higher percentage than they did in the paint, but the wide disparity caught me a bit off guard. Winning teams scored an average of 14% (14.37 points per game) of their points on the break while losing teams scored 11.6% (10.53 points per game) of their points in transition. The 3.84 point difference per game reflects that winning teams outscored losing teams by 26.7% on the fast break.
When it comes to scoring in the paint, the results weren’t as definitive. In fact, losing teams actually accounted for a higher percentage of their points (42.7% compared to 40.97%) in the painted area. Victorious teams averaged 42.04 points per game in the lane while losing teams tallied 38.76 points per game in close, a 3.28 (or 7.8%) point advantage for the winning teams.
Could this explain the struggles of the Lakers, a team who has a “fast break” oriented coach but a “points in the paint” oriented roster? It may only be a week long study, but teams that excel at running have a better chance at winning games than teams that slow it down play a bruising style on the interior.
Remember, if you’re curious about any stat, tweet me @unSOPable23 and I’ll do a weekly study on your stat. Let’s team up and uncover some of the most unique stats/trends that this game has to offer.
Here are some of other interesting numbers from the past week.
NBA basketball is going to be here before you know it and the staff of Hickory-High
is licking their chops. This is the second installment of our “Previews Of The Roundtable” series where we’ll take you division by division, through some of the things we’re most looking forward to. Monday we looked at the NBA’s Northwest Division
. Today we’re continuing with Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn and Toronto in the NBA’s Atlantic Division.
1. What is the most intriguing storyline in the Atlantic Division?
Ian Levy – @HickoryHigh - The Raptors’ resurgence. There’s plenty to be fascinated with in the Atlantic Division, but I won’t be able to take my eyes off the Raptors. In his first season, Dwyane Casey took them from 30th to 14th in Defensive Efficiency, shaving 8.2 points per 100 possessions off their average. The addition of Kyle Lowry‘s bulldog intensity in the backcourt, Landry Fields‘ and Terrence Ross’ defense on the wings, and Jonas Valanciunas’ relentlessness in the paint makes me think this team could take a giant step forward. I expect them to be fighting for a playoff spot, but either way they’ll be a regular in my League Pass rotation.
Matt Cianfrone – @Matt_Cianfrone - Can Andrew Bynum be trusted as THE guy? There are plenty of questions and story lines in the Atlantic division but the one that intrigues me the most is if Andrew Bynum can be trusted to be the best player on a team with no really clear leader. To me it can go one of two ways – Bynum can relish the opportunity, stay healthy and play better than we have ever seen him before. Or he can get injured, lose focus, and become Eddy Curry 2.0. The fact that Bynum is already going to be missing some time during training camp because of the German witchdoctor knee treatment may answer some of those questions right away. Will he come back in the expected time and play well, or will things drag on for a while? Once he gets back will he be the dominating force he was for the Lakers, even with less talent around him? Things will be very interesting in Philly this year.
Myles Ma – @mylesmannj - The Brooklyn Nets. They’ve got a new stadium, new unis and an expensive new shooting guard. Joe Johnson will eat into the minutes of MarShon Brooks, who showed talent on offense, but nowhere else. The Nets are getting a similar package in Johnson, for 20 times as much money. He had one of his best seasons last year, but still did not come close to earning his pay. Still, he’s an upgrade, and Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who now also have bonkers contracts, are due for bounce-back seasons. The Nets should be better than they were last year, and owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s money will at least stimulate the local economy. Off the court, I’m curious to see whether Brooklyn hipsters will start wearing jerseys unironically, and whether Jay-Z invites Kanye and Kim to watch Kim’s ex-husband play basketball.
Kyle Soppe – @unSOPable23 - The Nets moving to Brooklyn. This could be a changing of attitude for a team that has missed the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons. They brought in Joe Johnson from Atlanta and will have a healthy Brook Lopez when the season begins this year, giving the city of Brooklyn a reason for optimism. The Nets have quietly improved each of the past 2 seasons, increasing their win percentage by 228% from 2009 to last season. The continued growth of MarShon Brooks is another reason to keep an eye on this team, who should have plenty of support from the home crowd.
Matt Swiman – @MSwiman - The Sixers’ new team. They totally remade their team and it won’t take long to see if it all paid off. Adding Nick Young to replace Lou Williams, has to be seen as a downgrade in the 6th man/scoring spark are. But adding Dorrell Wright and Jason Richardson, two serious three-point threats for Bynum to kick out to when he is double or triple teamed, will end up playing a key role in the Sixers success this season. Also adding tough nosed Kwame Brown to give Bynum a breather now and again should allow the Sixers to keep up their stout defense. Also with the loss of Elton Brand and Iguodala, Thaddeus Young will finally receive more minutes at both the 3 and the 4 spots, minutes which he should have had the past two seasons. The only real thing the Sixers did not do in the offseason is sign a backup point guard, which makes it clear that when Jrue Holiday needs a rest Evan Turner will bring up the ball.
Kris Fenrich – @DancingWithNoah - How big can the collective media’s erection get before it explodes in an ejaculation of millions of squiggly little sperms all over the tri-state area, dressed in Knicks and Nets jerseys, striving in vain for a title they can’t reach?