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!
If the responsibilities of daily life were stripped away and you were placed alone at the side of a lake with a six-pack of Heady Topper, how many different ways do you think you could define the San Antonio Spurs?
Are they an engine for the maximizing of individual player potential? A Rube Goldberg contraption pulling in marginal talent, carrying it through a system of gears, lifts and tunnels, before spitting out polished NBA production?
Are they a schema for understanding basketball? A gruff and prickly, 150-proof incarnation of roundball counterculture?
Are they a progressive think-tank? A laboratory for the experimentation and research of cutting edge analytic ideas?
Are they an organizational template? A theoretically replicable procedure for building a team from the barest of available ingredients — intelligence, effort and a small-market budget?
Are they the original celestial construction? The rebirth of the Big Three Era, a flexible trio of destructive star-power?
Are they basketball purity? An analogy for the depth of meaning accessible through sports? Or a conscious reflection of the utter meaningless of existence?
Are they a narrative arc? An age curve? Or breathing life into the NBA’s unwritten, international free trade agreement?
With enough time and solitude, you and that six pack could probably stretch any of those ideas into THE truth. To be certain they all contain a piece of A truth and as those ideas have been repeated and explored they have turned the San Antonio Spurs from a collection of people into a symbol, a myth, a metaphor.
It’s ironic that so much of what makes the Spurs human has robbed them of that humanity. Gregg Popovich’s exterior is so authentic that it has become caricature. The wealth of curiosity and creativity in the front office has become so standardized that it usually reflects more on the organization than on the individuals who make it up. Tim Duncan’s stoicism and Manu Ginobili’s intensity have become institutional values not personal ones. This is not entirely unintentional and the Spurs have exerted a significant amount of time and effort into separating themselves as people from themselves as basketball personae. Whether this is to maintain some sort of integrity in personal lives or to gain some undefined competitive advantage, the Spurs have been more than complicit in perpetuating the illusion.
Every year, for the last few, preseason prognosticators have foretold the impending destruction of the Spurs. As the slow creep of age seeps endurance and production from the reserves of Tony Parker, Ginobili and Duncan, it seems there must be an inevitable end point where this group is no longer what it was. This has been a lingering question, hanging over San Antonio and the entire league. What do the Spurs look like when Parker, Duncan and Ginobili are no longer able to play at an elite level? What does the NBA look like when the Spurs are forced to reset and try implementing their system and values with an entirely new set of players? How, when and where will the Spurs begin a transition? Those prognostications of doom have proven to be premature and the Spurs have been able to (mostly) keep their symbolic shroud in place. Chronological decline has been staved off and the illusion hadspermeated. What they are and what they represent had become mostly static, too intertwined to separate.
But in last year’s Finals loss, humanity tore a hole in their carefully constructed space-time continuum.
While placing themselves within a single defensive rebound of an NBA Championship the Spurs were forced to move beyond system and theory, execution and cold, unfeeling precision. They did what they do, but also needed to harness emotion and chaos in much greater quantities than ever before. This was not like their playoff losses of the last two season against the Grizzlies and Thunder. Their system was not undone by brute strength and athleticism, it reflexively adapted around an injured Parker, still pressing them up against the ultimate goal. But age, energy, will, adaptation, and the separation between their actual selves and their abstract selves were all stretched.
The question of what the Spurs will look like when they’re no longer ‘The Spurs’, was asked and answered. They will be mostly indistinguishable. They will run the same system with the same players (or rough facsimiles). They will win plenty of games, with the same strengths while simultaneously trying to conceal the same weaknesses. They will give the same delightfully droll interviews and continue to hold any and all useful information tight against their chests. But they will slowly be shedding abstraction. What they are losing, slowly, a game at a time, is the strength of their symbolic identities. They will continue to do things in their own unique way, but that line between them and the rest of the league will become less distinct and infinitely less potent. They are shrinking from metaphor to men, becoming a team like any other.
Incredibly, this somehow feels like a much bigger loss than the simple historic passing of a historic team. Players retire, rosters dissolve, we’re accustomed to seeing these sorts of physical transitions. But seeing a team slowly lose the power of their identity, a metaphysical separation between themselves and the opposition is a rare event. Mostly this is because teams rarely build such a comprehensive and thoroughly intricate facade like the one the Spurs have.
The Spurs may be fantastic this season. They may again win the West, chase a ring and puff up a ludicrous nightly scoring margin. But it’s almost certain that by the time their last game rolls around, they will be a little less Spursy than they were in their first. This season is not just a chance to enjoy the competitive twilight of the career of three splendid players, it is a chance to celebrate and soak up a truly original way of being.
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.
This week, thanks to the suggestion of David Vertsberger (@_Verts
), I decided to take a look at the top assist men on each team and how they contributed to each game this week in terms of percentage of total points scored (PS%) and percentage of total assists handed out (A%). I constructed a spread sheet that detailed the top dime dropper on each roster along with the PS% and A% for that player entering this week. For example, the Hawks representative in this study was Jeff Teague
, who averaged 29.2% of Atlanta’s points scored on a nightly basis and 14.8% of their assists coming into this week. For every Hawks game, I charted the result of the contest and whether Teague went over or under his season percentages. I did this for all 30 teams in an effort to determine if win percentage was correlated to a team’s assist leader scoring more than normal or assisting more than normal.
The results were inconclusive for the most part, but one slight trend was established from this 50 game sample size. Winning teams saw their leading assister score a higher percentage of the teams points in 54% of the games while losing teams saw their representative underachieve in the points department 46% of the time. The correlation isn’t that strong, but the fact that 27 of 50 winning teams had their player go OVER the projected point total and that 27 of 50 losing teams had their player go UNDER the projected point total is interesting.
The percentage of assists had no correlation whatsoever, as 26 of the winning teams had a player go UNDER the projected assist total and 25 of the losing teams had a player go UNDER.
Teague was the model player for what I anticipated may happen, but very few players followed suit. The Hawks point guard went OVER his projections in both victories and UNDER in both losses. Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings single handedly disproved my hypothesis, as their teams success didn’t reflect their PS% or A%. Curry went OVER in all four games this week in both categories, but the Warriors dropped all four games. In contrast, Jennings went UNDER in five of six categories, but the Bucks won all three games.
The one week sample size is a bit small, but the beginning of a trend started to show. Given a longer range of data, I would not be surprised if in situations in which the assist leader scored OVER his projected point total, his team won upwards of 60% of the time.
Clay Pittinaro (@C1ayMitche11) has suggested I follow the winning percentage of teams that shoot more three’s and out rebound their opponent. To attack this inquiry, I will chart both as individual statistics as well as a combined statistic, and see if we can make some conclusions. Tweet me @unSOPable23 for stat questions or to line up you statistic to be a part of the next stat study.
Here are some more stats you may have missed from the previous week:
Fridays With Fenrich is a weekly feature here at Hickory-High, the aggregation of an extended, week-long email conversation on a single basketball theme, between myself and Kris Fenrich of Dancing With Noah. This week’s is more of a brief fireside chat.
Ian: I’ve been wanting to talk about James Harden for weeks but haven’t found what felt like an authentic entry point. Last week I read this wonderful post about Harden’s defense, by Michael Pina of Red94. What caught me was not Pina’s breakdown of Harden’s defensive breakdowns, but this summary of the participatory contributions Harden makes on a nightly basis:
This is James Harden’s first season playing major minutes as the focal point of an NBA offense. And not just any NBA offense. Backed by Harden’s ability to turn himself into a one man fast break three or four times a quarter, the Rockets play with turbo boosters at all times. Every 48 minutes he participates in 99.42 possessions, per NBA.com/Stats, which, by a wide margin, leads all players averaging at least 20 minutes per game. Speaking of minutes, he’s played 1798 of them, more than anybody in the entire league.
What I find most intriguing about Harden is that, despite shouldering a gargantuan offensive load he has sacrificed almost nothing in efficiency. Last season Harden used an average of 22.9 possessions per 48 minutes. This season he’s averaging 32.1. With all that extra responsibility he has increased his TO% by exactly 0.1%. His TS% is the lowest since his rookie season but is still higher than any other player who uses at least 25.0% of his team’s possessions, save LeBron and Durant. Essentially, going from hyper-efficient role player to ultra-alpha seems to have changed almost nothing in the way he evaluates risk and makes decisions on the basketball court. Am I crazy or is the season he’s putting together utterly revolutionary?
Kris: We’re always comfortable making comparisons between Harden’s game and Manu Ginobili’s. The comparisons are convenient and it’s almost like a bunch of us arrived at this comparison around the same time and were all pleased about it. Whether or not Ginobili and Harden exist on the same infinite basketball plane or have similar DNA sequences or if you think Ginobili’s the Argentine Harden or Harden’s American Ginobili, whatever you think, we’ll never know how Ginobili would’ve thrived in a situation as the go-to player because his, and every other Spurs’, role has always existed within the framework, the massively intelligent framework, of Gregg Popovich.
I apologize for completely derailing this topic, but my imagination can’t look at Harden’s uniqueness without wondering who or what Manu could’ve been in a different place or with a different system.
All my distracting meanderings aside, Harden statistically measures as something, someone we haven’t seen in this league. A player who’s been capable of going from 6th man to superstar the way no other pro player ever has. And the way Manu’s role can’t ever be re-written, we can never know whether Harden’s unique circumstance (an elite offensive talented drafted to a team radiating under the bright lights of two already elite, well-established stars) was actually a miscasting that could have failed to tap into his “revolutionary” abilities which are on such fine display in Houston.
Ian: Ginobili is a great comparison, and a good reminder for me that although it exists in a different time and space, Harden’s style and efficiency are not a creature previously unseen. My curious mind can’t help but wander to the famous piece Michael Lewis wrote about Shane Battier a few years ago, with the revelation that Battier discussed and understood defense in the same nuanced and rational way that the basketball analytics community did. I’m dying to know if the same is true of Harden. Does he speak the same language I do? Does he know how his decision to forsake the mid-range jumper affects his true shooting percentage? Does he think in possessions, percentage points and efficiency ratios? His production says yes. His all-white yacht parties say no.
Kris: When I was just out of college, I got a job as a copy writer for a company that performed SEO (search engine optimization) services for clients. Basically, I would write copy and plant targeted keywords throughout the text, but in a way that was supposed to appear to be naturally occuring, or organic. The goal was to get search engines to crawl our clients’ pages and rank them higher in search results because of their relevance. I hadn’t been trained on this and was just told to fill the text with the targeted keywords. We had a tech-savvy guy join the team and he ran my copy through some program that would identify if we had enough keywords and if the copy read in a natural way so as not to seem spammy. All of my copy scored extremely high. It was both readable and SEO friendly. I could explain what and why I was doing it, but I approached this work with more of a natural feel than an analytical one and as is the case with many of artists or athletes, I’m assuming that some of them have more analytical minds and take a nuanced, deliberate approach to their work. Some rebounders understand angles and how the ball ricochets perfectly, Shane Battier puts into practice the advanced analytics theories, Billy Beane devised Moneyball, etc. Others just understand the goal: score more points than the other team, make this painting more lifelike or abstract, prevent the other team from reaching base, etc. I don’t have the slightest clue in the world where James Harden falls on this spectrum, but I’m going to venutre out onto a limb and say it’s more likely that he, much like me in my early SEO copy writing days, has worked extremely hard on improving and shaping his game into something that is damn near indfensible and that the ridiculous efficiency is closer to a secondary or tertiary element to the equation.
But to your point, I do believe that players today have a higher level of awareness about what shots and which spots are more efficient and which plays/actions are more likely to lead to free throw attempts or drawn fouls. Whether this is a function of teams/coaches indoctrinating or educating players or players picking it up on their own, I’m not certain.
1. Which All-Star selection fills you with blissful joy?
Kyle Soppe – @unSOPable23 – Jrue Holiday, for all the critics who say that the 76ers are a team without a true star player. This kid was a prodigy when he went to UCLA and has been as good as advertised in Philly. He already has 53 more assists than last season (27 fewer games played) and has seen his scoring average jump by nearly 50%. How many point guards in the league average at least 17 points and 9 assists? Only one.
Matt Cianfrone – @Matt_Cianfrone – Paul George. As I Bucks fan I should hate George but I just find it so hard. A superb defender, stupid athletic, great passing young guard who has carried his team minus what many people think is their best player. I am glad to see George rewarded even after his slow start. Also I already can’t wait for his dunks that will come in the game. It is going to be great.
Myles Ma – @MylesMaNJ - Tyson Chandler. Yes, this is a total homer pick. But this selection absolutely fills me with blissful joy. Tyson Chandler has finally made an All-Star team after serving his time as the lynchpin of a Knicks defense whose perimeter defenders volunteer as traffic cones at the DMV. It’s his first All-Star game, and it comes in the midst of one of his finest seasons. Over the past three years, Chandler has decided to limit his offensive game to just dunks and free throws, with spectacularly efficient results. This year, he’s perfected the art of the tap out, turning a lot of J.R. Smith bricks into the midpoints of extra-long possessions instead of the unhappy endings they usually are. He even made No. 8 on GQ’s 25 most stylish men of 2012. Even with that scraggly-ass beard. It’s definitely his year.
Kris Fenrich – @DancingWithNoah - David Lee (I almost typed “David Curry”) with Jrue Holiday coming at a close second. I often refer to Lee as the modern-day Bob Pettit and I’m only partially joking. He scores with ease, rebounds well, has well-above-average vision for a four man and passes well. And none of this is new, it’s just the guy’s never been in a winning situation before. Good to see his multiple skills acknowledged among the league’s best.
Michael Shagrin – @mshaggy -Kyrie Irving. When it’s all said and done, I think this kid will have the last laugh. He’s a Chris Paul look-alike with more size and a smoother J. And he’s only 20 years old! Classic Kyrie outing: the night he returned after breaking his finger, the Cavs played a nail biter against the Lakers with Kyrie going for 28 points. As Kobe tried to wrest control of the game from him in the final minutes, he cooly steered Cleveland to victory. His absence from the starting unit was almost my answer to the following question…
A few weeks ago I shared a new metric I had been working on called Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). The idea was to create a metric that would allow the objective comparison and evaluation of the quality of a player or team’s shot selection. When I first shared XPPS we just looked at the numbers for individual players. The visualization with player data is now a permanent feature here, one that I’ll keep updated throughout the season
. Today I have a new Tableau visualization, with team numbers stretching back to the 2000-2001 season. Below there is an explanation of XPPS, in case you missed that first post. If you are already familiar with the stat, feel free to skip ahead to the goodies and the analysis below.
Fridays With Fenrich is a new weekly feature here, the aggregation of an extended, week-long email conversation on a single basketball theme, between myself and Kris Fenrich of Dancing With Noah.
Ian - I was on Daily Dime duty for the Mavericks and Kings Monday night and sadly had to follow the overtime barnburner between the Spurs and Rockets through my Twitter feed. As the Spurs were putting the finishing touches on their win, I saw this from Arturo Galletti:
That’s an incredible accomplishment in terms of wins and losses. I think the Spurs are recognized as a terrific franchise but I don’t think they’ve gotten nearly enough credit for their regular season dominance over the past few seasons. Is it because they’ve been thumped in the playoffs the past two years? Is it because so many fans find them aesthetically distasteful? Or have they been getting their just recognition and I’ve been reading and watching the wrong things?
Kris - Over the past year, I’ve picked up that we’re (we as in you, Ian and me, Kris) often in the same arena with our NBA analysis, but I disagree with you on this one. NBA aficionados view the Spurs … from Pop to Duncan to Manu to Parker to Diaw, Danny Green, Stephen Jackson and Matt Bonner … through saintly lenses. Through these lenses, Pop’s sarcastic answers reveal the inanity of in-game interviews, Duncan’s remarkable consistency is a trumpet blowing loud in honor of fundamental basketball and Manu’s willingness to accept a 6th man role despite being one of the game’s best players is emblematic of the selflessness of this Spurs group. Even Matt Bonner’s beard is done the right way, the Spurs way.
To your point about the playoffs; if you look at their playoff performances over the past five seasons, they’re 26-26 with a pair of Western Conference finals appearances which is success by most measures, but not San Antonio’s. And it also begs the question: What’s happening in May and June that’s preventing the Spurs from executing at the same ridiculously successful level they do during the regular season?
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.
Exhibition games have begun and the regular season is fast approaching. The staff here at Hickory-High
is previewing the entire league, taking a stab at answering the big questions, division by division. We’ve already looked at the Northwest
, the Atlantic
, the Pacific
and the Central
. Today we’re talking Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets and Hornets in the NBA’s Southwest Division.
1. What is the most intriguing storyline in the Southwest Division?
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - Reshuffling the deck in Dallas. I’ll admit that in looking at the Mavs’ roster, I have a really hard time picturing how things will look this season, both offensively and defensively. Even more murky is an imagination of what the Mavs’ identity might be next season; and then three and five seasons down the road. Only in retrospect can a franchise’s seasons be split into eras. Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki would sure like this season to be a continuation of their championship epoch, but it feels like something new has begun. What it is, I’m not exactly sure.
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - Can Daryl Morey turn a seemingly random roster into something? The Rocket’s roster is well…..interesting. As of now there are a whole lot of seemingly valuable young pieces that could possibly be trade bait at some point. Or they could be players that form a core for the Rockets future, even if many of them (Terrence Jones, Royce White, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris) play the same position. Houston probably won’t contend at all this season but there will be a whole lot of fun lineup combinations, including a 5 forward lineup the NBA twitterverse is craving. Combine the youth, positional logjams with the probable trade of Kevin Martin and the Rockets will again be very active around the trade deadline. Can Morey land his superstar or will this roster become even crazier as he builds up more and more assets. Only time will tell.
Myles Ma - @mylesmanj - Jeremy Lin. The Rockets spent big money to acquire the most intriguing player of the last season. It’s a risk. Lin played very well for the Knicks, but his incredible run lasted only 35 games. He’s in a completely different situation now. Houston is a rebuilding team in a smaller market. There is no Carmelo Anthony to take the ball away. If Lin is for real, he’ll have every opportunity to show it. Hopefully, there will be fewer racist headlines along the way.
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - The Hornets. They’ve got four players (Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson) that we’re unsure of. Gordon has shown flashes of being an efficent scorer (averaged over 22 points just a season ago) but his health and motivation have been question marks. Anderson had himself a break-out 2011 season, setting career highs in almost every statistical category, but how will he react to no longer flying under the radar? Then you’ve got the pair of top 10 picks in Davis and Rivers who are going to be thrown into the fire on day one. Davis’ defensive skills made him a valuable commoditiy, but will they translate quickly against the bigger bodies that the NBA offers? Rivers is a solid shooter, but a guard that requires the ball be in his hands. Sound a little bit like Gordon’s MO? I’ll be watching to see if this back-court combo can work together, or if their egos get in the way and create a divide.
Matt Swiman - @MSwiman - Is the Spurs reign of dominance over? I’m going to quickly answer the question with a no. They play great defense and play as a team. They are a joy to watch especially due to top-five point guard Tony Parker. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have maintained productivity despite getting older. I expect them both to maintain their averages, and more of the younger guys like Tiago Splitter and Kawhi Leonard to take on a bigger role for this Spurs team. Dallas is the only team that has a shot to beat the Spurs but personally I think they completely downgraded their team this summer (Jason Terry> O.J. Mayo, and they lost Jason Kidd). The Spurs will continue to dominate this division.
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - Anthony Davis and a Southwestern Transition. I sat here contemplating the southwest: home of dustbowls, border controversies, George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Tom DeLay’s grotesque smile and five NBA teams. While technically only the three Texas teams are southwesterly, a division defined by two first-ballot Hall of Famers and southwest stalwarts (Dirk and Duncan) is most fascinating because of a New Orleans newcomer: Anthony Davis. I’d rather not be swept up in conspiracy theories (although JFK was a great movie and coincidentally stretched across New Orleans and Texas, so perhaps the seeds of conspiracy were already sewn back in 1963), but the Chris Paul trade and the subsequent winning of the draft lottery by an NBA-owned team are enough to raise an eyebrow of the least skeptical fan. Speaking of eyebrows, Anthony Davis looks to me like a new-age version of Kevin Garnett. When we see the Celtics version of KG, it’s easy to forget he wasn’t always the polished defensive floor general he’s evolved into. Davis’s mid range jumper, his height and build, his ability to impact the game without having the ball in his hands are reminiscent of early KG. The arc of Davis’s pro career has to begin somewhere and while 2012-13 won’t be anything more than an introduction, it will provide glimpses of what’s to come.
Over the next few weeks, Jordan Kahn will be providing video breakdowns of key sets and plays from many of the playoff games. Check out previous entires here. Find more from Jordan at Basketball Things and follow him on Twitter @AyoitsJordan.
In the fourth quarter of Game Four, Kevin Durant scored 18 points as Oklahoma City ran the same play over and over to get him the ball . The Spurs tried to defend it many different ways, but they obviously had no success. Let’s take a look at what the Thunder ran and how the Spurs defended it.
In this first clip, we see how the play works. James Harden gets the ball on the perimeter, while Russell Westbrook sets a down screen for Kevin Durant. There’s not a lot going on in the play, as it mostly relies upon Durant’s superior ability to read the screen and beat his defender. The other players mostly spread the floor as Durant does his thing. On these three plays, the Spurs don’t switch and Kawhi Leonard stays on Durant. Leonard does a solid job defending, but Durant is just too good.
In this next clip, we see the Spurs change up their defense. They switch on the Westbrook screen, which leaves Tony Parker to guard Durant. Clearly a mismatch, the Spurs have to send some extra help. In the first play, we see some nice weakside action, as Kendrick Perkins sets a screen on the helper, Gary Neal, so he is unable to recover to his man. James Harden misses a wide open three. In the second play, Kawhi Leonard times his double team perfectly, but misses the steal and Durant hits the shot.
After seeing the mismatch between Durant and Parker, the Spurs exchanged assignments to get a bigger defender on Durant. In these next two plays, the Spurs put Manu Ginobili on Westbrook, knowing that he will eventually switch onto Durant. On the first play, Durant beats Ginobli’s defense, and on the second play, Durant catches the Spurs anticipating his screen and goes backdoor for the alley oop.
In this final clip, the Spurs go back to not switching. They leave Stephen Jackson to fight through the Westbrook screen to defend Durant. In the first clip, Jackson doesn’t reach Durant in time to stop him from hitting another jumper. In the second clip, Jackson defends Durant, but Perkins again sets a screen for Harden. This time, Harden hits the open three-pointer to seal the game.
During the Kevin Durant explosion, the Spurs tried different ways to defend the scoring champion. Despite these different looks, Durant has the ability to beat whatever the defense shows him. Making matters worse, when the Spurs devoted too many resources to defending Durant, they allowed James Harden to shoot wide open three-pointers. It will be interesting to see how the Spurs handle this play in Game Five because the Thunder will surely go back to it.