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.
Lance Stephenson had 39 assists in the entire month of November last season. After his first career triple double tonight against the Grizzlies, the 23-year old now has 37 for the month with eight games left to be played.
For the second consecutive game, James Harden tallied more assists than FGM, something you would assume is a rarity for one of the league’s elite scorers. Not so fast. He has dished out at least as many assists as FGM in 14 of his last 29 regular season games, with his Rockets winning eight of those games.
Through eight games, Kyrie Irving has missed more shots from the field (96) than Dwight Howard has attempted (90).
Blake Griffin has missed more free throws through eight games (20) than Andre Drummond has missed field goals (18). Teammate Josh Smith, a career 28.3% three point shooter, continues to fire away from downtown and has missed more triples (27) than Drummond has field goals despite 24% fewer attempts. The Pistons impressive forward is missing one shot per 11.8 minutes of game action.
Over the last week (four games) the Timberwolves are outscoring their opponents by 50 points with Ricky Rubio on the court, but they’ve split those four games.
Michael Beasley had his most efficient night as a member of the Miami Heat, as he scored 19 points on 8/12 shooting in just over 19 minutes of action. In the last four games in which he has played at least five minutes and his team has scored at least 100 points, Beasley has scored 67 points in 76 minutes on 30/44 (68.2%) shooting from the field.
For his career, Trevor Ariza averages less than one three point bucket per game. He has connected on at least one triple in 17 straight games, making 41 over that span.
Jermaine O’Neal made seven of his eight field goal attempts, nearly doubling his total November production in a single game. That being said, his deficiencies (four turnovers and five personal fouls) don’t seem to mesh with the Warriors up-tempo style. Golden State was outscored by ten points when O’Neal was on the floor and +28 for the 25 minutes he was on the pine.
The Lakers won for the fourth time this season with a formula that is easy to identify. Through nine games, the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 63 points from behind the arc. How are they only 4-5 you ask? They’ve been outscored by 100 points on two point buckets.
Kevin Love scored 33 points but did not record a double double, something he has done … never.
Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan were expected to dominate the ball in Toronto, but to this extent? The duo attempted 62 shots in 102 minutes of action on Monday against the Grizzlies while the other three starters combined to take 59 shots in their 207 total minutes this week.
Jeremy Lin offered up his second consecutive big performance and now has 65 points, 12 triples, and ten rebounds over the last two games. In the first six games of the month, the point guard totaled 82 points, five made three pointers, and 12 rebounds. Why has the Rockets winning percentage stayed the exact same (.500) over the last two games as it was over the first six of November? Lin has more turnovers (13) than assists (12), offsetting his hot shooting (56% from the field and 57% from distance).
If you’ve read my work over the years, this won’t catch you off-guard. Ricky Rubio is an absolute animal when he is going good. In the Timberwolves last two wins, their stud point guard has scored 28 points (63% shooting from the field, 100% from three point land, and 100% from the free throw line) handed out 30 assists (eight turnovers), 16 rebounds, and eight steals. Let’s compare that to how some of the other “elite” point guards have produced in their teams last two wins.
Russell Westbrook: 33 points (25.7% shooting from the field, 40% from three, 92% from the line), four assists (nine turnovers), nine rebounds, and four steals.
Chris Paul: 35 points (41/0/92), 27 assists (eight turnovers), 11 rebounds, seven steals
Tony Parker: 30 points (67/0/100), 10 assists (eight turnovers), four rebounds, zero steals.
A group of five Spurs, including three starters, combined to make 27 of their 34 shots from the field while the other eight players, including a future hall of famer, made just 12 of 43 field goal attempts. How many times can a team win in convincing fashion (they trailed for exactly 0 seconds and won by 13) where players who accounted for 55.4% of the minutes played shot under 28% from the field. Things are not good Wizards fans. Not. Good.
The New York Knicks are yet to win a third quarter against a team not named the Charlotte Bobcats.
Harrison Barnes has been a dynamic offensive talent since high school (he was named a preseason All American in his one season at North Carolina), but he has more career turnovers than assists in the NBA. That problem gets swept under the rug because he can put the ball in the basket, but on a Warriors team that relies on a high volume of shot attempts, that’s a flaw that cannot be overlooked.
The Phoenix Suns have been a surprising team this year in large part due to the play of Eric Bledsoe. That being said, they took the Brooklyn Nets to overtime in spite of their best player. For the 40 minutes he was on the court, the Suns were outscored by 15 points. The cumulative +/- of all other Phoenix guards was +13. Go figure, they lost by two points.
Roy Hibbert swatted eight more shots tonight, giving him at least five blocks in six of nine games this season. The blocked shots are nothing new, but he made all of his free throws, a statistic that he rarely pairs with his paint protection. He had gone 251 straight games without blocking at least five shots and shooting 100% from the charity stripe (minimum five attempts).
Tony Wroten, a second year guard out of Washington, has very quietly been offering strong production for 76ers over the last two weeks. After dropping in 22 points tonight against the Hawks, he now has 91 points over his last seven games (11 days), matching his total number of points in his entire rookie campaign (160 days).
A player who has a well defined role? LaMarcus Aldridge. The Trail Blazers power forward (who, for my money, is one of the most underrated players in the game today) took18 shots in a 27 point effort against the Celtics, the seventh consecutive game in which he has attempted between 17-20 field goals.
LeBron James was insanely efficient on his way to a season high 39 points as he made 14 of his 18 shots from the field, made his only three pointer, and missed just one of his 11 three point attempts. But is “insanely efficient” really the right way to describe this effort? After all, over his last 41 games, The King has scored at least 27 points on 60% shooting from the field almost 32% of the time.
Yea yea yea, LeBron is great. But was he the MVP of Miami’s win over the Bobcats? Consider this: the difference in terms of plus/minus between LeBron (+7) and Charlotte’s starting SF (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, -3) was 10. The difference between Rashard Lewis (+21) and Charlotte’s reserve PF (Anthony Tolliver, -9) was 30.
Monta Ellis failed to make a three pointer for the third consecutive Saturday. The only odder trend than that nugget is the fact that this is his second streak of at least three three pointer-less Saturdays in 2013.
Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith combined to miss one fewer shot (28) than the Hawks three leading scorers took.
John Wall dished out 12 assists while committing only one turnover, a stat line you’d expect to be directly correlated to success. Not so much. The Wizards have lost a game in which Wall notched double digit assists with one turnover in all four of his professional seasons.
The Celtics and Pelicans took the same number of shots from the field tonight. Boston scored 88 points while New Orleans score … 135.
The Trail Blazers won for the sixth consecutive game in which LaMarcus Aldridge made at least ten field goals. That may seem obvious, but Portland had won just one of the previous seven occasions.
Wondering where the difference was in the Grizzlies 11 point win over the Kings was? Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley were Memphis’ top three scorers and managed 60 points on 25/38 (65.8%) shooting from the field. In contrast, Sacramento’s top scoring trio (Travis Outlaw, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Thornton) scored 45 points on 16/39 (41%) shooting.
Steve Blake had 16 dimes and four steals in the Lakers win over the Hawks. The point guard had totaled just ten assists and one steal in Los Angeles’ first three wins. From the same game, the Hawks have now allowed at least 34 points in a single quarter in each of their last five losses.
“Just because you’re naked
Doesn’t mean you’re sexy,
Just because you’re cynical
Doesn’t mean you’re cool.
You may tell the greatest lies
And wear a brilliant digsuise
But you can’t escape the eyes
of the one who sees right through you.
In the end what will prevail
Is your passion not your tale.
For love is the Holy Grail,
Even in Cognito.
So better listen to me, sister,
and pay close attention, mister:
It’s very good to play the game,
Amuse the gods, avoid the pain,
But don’t trust fortune, don’t trust fame,
Your real self doesn’t know your name
And in that we’re all the same:
We’re all incognito.”
-Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito
Last night Russell Westbrook took the court for the Thunder, weeks earlier than expected, playing without a restriction on minutes and looking a lot like the Westbrook we all know and (mostly) love. There was no shortage of exuberance and no trace of lingering physical limitation from his rehabilitated knee. In short, it was everything Oklahoma City Thunder fans could have hoped for. But, for me at least, it felt strangely unsatisfying.
In absentia, Westbrook’s legend grew. As the Thunder faded out of last year’s playoffs it became clear how much of the distinction between playoff fodder and championship contender rested on his shoulders and all of his shortcomings were forgiven when the absence of his production proved to be a problem a thousand times worse. But watching him play last night was a subtle reminder that even at his best, Westbrook is still Westbrook.
I don’t mean that as a negative. The criticism directed at deviations between his game and the idealized point guard are incredibly reductive. Idealism doesn’t touch Russell Westbrook, or anything he does on the court. He is stylized to the nth degree, a cubistic uprising against the staid structures of conventional point guard play. But the “Let Westbrook be Westbrook” movement is equally reductive. The idea that style and individuality can somehow be a singlehanded stand-in for results misses the fact that basketball is an athletic competition, not performance art (despite Ricky Davis‘ attempts to convince us otherwise). Westbrook somehow exists in this strange middle-ground, simultaneously better and more impactful than perception implies, but still deeply-flawed and with numerous areas of skill and decision-making to improve upon.
What the Thunder lost last year with Westbrook’s meniscus tear was not just an opportunity to compete for a championship, it was a chance to solve the puzzle of building a richly complex offense around Westbrook and Durant’s talents without relying quite so heavily on just the individual nature of those talents. It was a chance to definitively answer questions about their approach to team building and the real weight of the James Harden trade. It was a chance to continue moving forward and growing, fully inhabiting the brilliant future everyone seems to see for them. What they lost was time, playoff experience and the forced evolution that often comes from those playoff experiences. The Miami Heat are what they are today, in large part, because of the challenges they faced in the playoffs the past three seasons. Regular pairings with elite teams forced them to find a game plan besides overwhelming talent, utilizing creative scheming to spackle the cracks that talent alone couldn’t fill.
Right now the Thunder are still mostly stuck in that place the Heat were in three years ago, where talent defines them more than execution or creativity. Evolution is not an evenly distributed process, it happens in spurts. The playoffs are the perfect primordial soup of raw materials to rapidly accelerate that process, but the Thunder missed the opportunity to re-immerse their most crucial elements and configurations last year. So as wonderful as it was to see Westbrook out there being Westbrook last night, it was also a nagging reminder that while the rest of the league can wrap themselves in the hope (in some cases rapidly dwindling) of new rosters and new systems, the Thunder have been on pause for six months.
We are back with another season of statistics that have found a way to fly under the radar for the week that was in the NBA. No player is safe from these far reaching oddities, 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.
Carlos Boozer torched the Miami Heat for 31 points and seven rebounds while connecting on 13 of his 18 field goal attempts. The veteran power forward broke a near eight year (14 games) string of consecutive games at Miami with at least as many rebounds as field goals made.
Lance Stephenson converted eight of his 12 shot attempts on his way to scoring 19 points to go along with his seven rebounds. While those numbers are nice off the bench, I’m more encouraged by his 5:1 assist to turnover ratio. It wasn’t until December 28th that Stephenson recorded his first such game last season.
Xavier Henry shocked the Clippers by pouring in 22 points in the Lakers upset victory. How surprising was the performance? The Kansas product scored 23 total points in the first month of last season. He only made one three pointer in that stretch last season but made three triples in this showdown.
Andrew Nicholson had a second consecutive nice night (13 points and seven rebounds in 19 minutes) but did not attempt a free throw for a seventh straight game (122 minutes played).
Jeff Green scored 25 points in a season opening loss to the Raptors, continuing a streak of high level scoring from the end of last season. In fact, over his last 18 games, Green has scored 359 points, just four fewer than Dirk Nowitzki.
The Timberwolves won for only the second time in seven career games in which Kevin Love has made at least three three pointers and ten free throws.
Kevin Durant made 22 free throws against the Utah Jazz, putting him on pace to make 1,804 freebies this season. There were 15 teams that didn’t attempt that many FT’s last year. Durant made only seven two point buckets on his way to 42 points, the same number of made two pointers that Carlos Boozer averaged last season (16.2 ppg).
Anthony Bennett started his NBA career in a very similar to how he started his final collegiate season. The first overall pick attempted more three pointers (three) than two’s (two), something the Cavaliers aren’t exactly counting on him to do. On the bright side, he did so in his first game at UNLV last season but didn’t do it another time all year long.
The New York Knicks were beaten by Derrick Rose with less than six seconds left, as the Bulls overcame being outscored by 18 points from downtown. The Knicks had won five of the last six games in which Carmelo Anthony attempted more three pointers than free throws. This trend reversing is something I expect to continue this year: The Andrea Bargnani Effect.
New year, new coach, same old Jamal Crawford. The gunner made the same number of field goals in 23 minutes of action as the rest of the bench and J.J. Redick (the player who starts at shooting guard over Crawford) did in 70 minutes.
For the second time in 2013, Kyrie Irving has missed at least ten fields and picked up at least three personal fouls. He didn’t do it once in 2011 or 2012.
Six Orlando Magic players tallied double digit point totals in a convincing win over the Pelicans. They scored 94 points tonight, not bad for a group of players that averaged a total 44.9 points for their NBA careers entering this season.
The Milwaukee Bucks had as many starters reach double figures in points as they had reserves not reach ten points (one). Zaza Pachuila reached double digits on free throw makes alone, not exactly a common stat line for a player who was averaging just 2.1 FTM during his career coming into this season.
For the seventh time in his last nine games, James Harden recorded at least half of his points from 3PM and FTM.
Ricky Rubio broke a streak of 13 straight double doubles in which he attempted at least ten shots from the field. Before he rattled off those 13 double doubles with ten-plus shots, four of his previous six double doubles were of the single digit FGA variety. I don’t know if he’d be a great one-on-one player, but he can be (and for my money, is going to be) the point guard on a playoff level NBA team as early as this season.
The “defensive minded” Memphis Grizzlies have either scored or allowed an opponent to score 100-plus points in every game this season. Surprisingly enough, this is the fifth straight season in which there has been a 100 point performance in at least three of the Grizzlies first five games.
We all agree that Jonas Valanciunas looked great this offseason (Summer League MVP), but will the Raptors benefit from what figures to be an increased offensive workload? For the second time this season and the sixth time in seven such games, Toronto won when their big man totaled 7-9 points.
Carlos Boozer should be in every fantasy lineup for the first month of the season. Over his last 23 road games played in the first month of the season, Boozer is making almost nine field goals per game on 59.2% shooting. His 22 points on 9/16 shooting may sound like a strong outing, but it actually less efficient than the past data would have predicted.
Tim Duncan took 23 shots today in a 105-115 loss to the Portland Trailblazers, 49.4% more FGA than he averages over his career. The heavy workload is a surprise, but did you know that Duncan has attempted just 20 field goals on this exact date (November 2) over the last 12 years?
For the second time in his career, Steph Curry made at least as many three pointers as he missed total FGA in consecutive games. His Warriors, however, are only 1-3 in those games.
Paul Gasol made two big free throws to win the game against the Hawks, and while statistically speaking it wasn’t his best game, he has been very reliable this year with Dwight Howard out of the picture. For the seventh time in his last 13 games, Gasol has totaled at least 29 points + rebounds. He reached that plateau only four times in his first 44 games to start last season.
Every Detroit Piston that attempted a free throw shot a higher percentage from the field than from the stripe.
The comeback story of Shaun Livingston is a great one and I love to see him healthy, but his assist totals have been directly correlated to losing efforts. The Nets were blown out by the Magic in a game in which Livingston dished out seven assists, the sixth consecutive seven-plus assist game that his team has lost.
The Thunder welcomed back Russell Westbrook tonight, celebrating with a nice comeback win over the Phoenix Suns. It was their eighth win in the last ten games in which Westbrook missed all of his three point attempts (minimum one attempt).
Another day and another big early season performance for Kevin Love. Remember when he put 31 and 31 up on the Knicks in November of 2010? Since that point in time, Love is averaging 24.2 points and 14.9 rebounds in games played in the first month of the season (32 double doubles in 35 games).
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.
Nothing in sports is immune to over-narrativization as it provides such a tidy — if situationally incorrect — picture that quickly surveys the immediate past and tosses out probable directions. These are not always right but that’s not really the point. They are manifested on multiple timescales and carry with them all kinds of strange baggage. LeBron James always turns back into a frog at midnight, Paul Pierce is a proud Eskimo alone on an iceberg over and over again until it isn’t true. When their careers are finished, these noble warriors of meaning have redeemed themselves and won solace, or they have failed because of tragic flaws or whatever and they’re free to unmoor themselves and float off into the sunset. If you didn’t win a title, well you can still be in a slideshow. You are a story.
Almost no real-life cases exist in such a linear space of course; theory inherently rounds corners that are naturally jagged in order to provide methods of stacking things up. This is not to say that NBA basketball is complicated beyond any hope of solid classification or analysis, but more often than not, chaos triumphs over schematics. The trick of narrative-centrism is that any new developments simply get folded into the existing story. New plot points to fit preconceptions, or prove the fabled haters wrong.
The rise of the Oklahoma City Thunder from awful 3-29 team led by P.J. Carlesimo to perennial challengers for the championship is such a popular and ingrained story-arc because it happened so fast. Teams who make the leap from slumping around the bottom of the standings in hopes of assembling an able core to playoff berths usually run into all kinds of trouble, and the process usually takes a few seasons. Conventional narratives render this period as a time to pay dues, where a team must ‘earn’ their place in the postseason before usurping an older team’s playoff spot. The appeal of the Thunder was that they spit in the face of ‘tradition’ and overcame older, wiser teams on their way to the NBA Finals. They were anti-heroes, but only in the sense that they were preternaturally talented whippersnappers.
Another crucial element of the Thunder mystique was that they were all nice boys, good guys who would carry your groceries off the court but apparently had a switch they could flip at will and transform into ruthless basketball demigods when they chose. This is who we are told our athlete idols should be. Hypercompetitve and merciless when playing sports, and genteel, selfless, and humble everywhere else. This distinction is an iffy binary, but Oklahoma City — at least Kevin Durant — seemed to fit into the schema perfectly. When Russell Westbrook refused to defer to his leader in the postseason, he was castigated for daring to step outside the ‘natural’ order of the team. Of course, it turns out that more Westbrook is a good thing for the Thunder, evinced by numbers and the Thunder’s quiet exit from the 2013 playoffs. It says a lot about the fiery, seemingly irrepressible Westbrook that such an elite team fell so quietly. Before Westbrook’s knee crumpled, his 2012-2013 season was probably his best ever and the team had it’s best regular season in their current incarnation. However, what makes Russell Westbrook so refreshing and lovable is his violent, lurching style, able to render any team of defenders into a pile of jelly and bones. He is everything right about sports.
And now he’ll miss his first season opener ever due to knee surgery. An essential part of the myth of Westbrook was that he’d never missed a game, and the shattered streak is reminiscent of a sadder truth about the complex, entropic world of the NBA. These streaks rarely work out in the long run, but Westbrook felt like a superhero. His game is built upon an overlapping series of clashes and explosions, mutually eroding interactions that would not normally be sustainable. Westbrook endured the externalities of his violent drives with no problems for long enough that it seemed he was immune to human unravelling. However, now the secret is out. Westbrook isn’t an alien or a robot and he can’t float above bad fortune forever.
What happens next is that thing where narratives contort over themselves to incorporate new data next to the old stuff. If Westbrook comes back from his injury with the same genius and scowling athletic menace that preceded it, well then, Westbrook is once again exalted. The narrative confirms itself and we all go home happy. If it turns out his meniscus tear costs him some of his springs or lateral freedom and his team suffers, characterizations of Westbrook will be scrambled and basketball fans will have to settle for a less-athletic version of one of the best guards in the league. This projecting of the future is a silly game to attempt. The only truly scary scenario is the one where Westbrook is plagued by chronic injuries, a la Penny Hardaway, and he never graces the court without an assemblage of knee braces and only serves as a depressing touchstone of his past triumphs.
Regardless of how much new Russell Westbrook looks like pre-injury Russell Westbrook, the Thunder will probably be able to retain their place towards the top of the Western Conference. Reggie Jackson is good at basketball, even if he isn’t a shapeshifter, and Kevin Durant is still going to shimmy his feet together and articulate his limbs to form an array of unreachable and accurate shots. What’s at stake isn’t team wins and losses, but a sense of possibility. Basketball is full of spectacle, but Westbrook is way off the bell curve. Aside from the glum feel of a Westbrook-less NBA, a league without Russ is a league that feels a bit more earthbound. The sense of creative possibility and magic that comes with basketball would fade, even if only temporarily. Westbrook isn’t the best player in the NBA but he is the most fun, and that can sometimes be even more important than being the best.
We still have nearly two months until the return of actual NBA basketball games. If you’re like me that feels like an interminable stretch, a monumental journey across a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic landscape. The staff of Hickory-High has been languishing as well, struggling to preserve an oasis of creativity in this arid hellscape. I decided to share some of the meager reserves I’ve been rationing and tossed out a few questions to be discussed, roundtable-style. Here’s what we’ve got.
1. Last week Michael Beasley was bought out by the Phoenix Suns. I won’t ask you to rehash the circumstances of his departure from Phoenix, or wade into the incredibly complicated and ultimately unknowable question of whether his career is salvageable. But at this point, would you be interested in having your team take a flyer on him?
Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): Yes, I’d be interested in having him on my squad as long as there’s some level of veteran influence. If I’m the Bobcats or Sixers or Kings, no thanks. If I’m Memphis or Brooklyn , let’s roll them dice.
David Vertsberger (@_Verts): I’ll have to take a pass. If by ‘your team’ you mean my favorite team, well let’s just say the last thing the Knicks need is a patch-up job for a troubled young player.
Jacob Frankel (@jacob_frankel): There’s never really any harm in a one year deal. I wouldn’t want a young team to pick him up but I see no ways in which it hurts an established team.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): My team? No. The Raptors are not exactly a stable franchise that can take on a player with this sort of baggage. That being said, if you gave me an elite level franchise/ownership, I’d at least bring him in for a look. He’s 6’19” and athletic, something that has the ability to speak louder than any past transgression. Still only 24 years of age, Beasley is a 14-and-5 guy who has (in theory) untapped potential. I get that the off the floor stuff is troubling to say the least, but in a vacuum, is he more of a risk that Greg Oden?
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): Most teams, I say yes. People are worried about the kind of pull Beasley would have in a locker room, but I feel like someone like Anthony Bennett would listen to Kyrie Irving 99 times before he takes any Beasley advice. NBA players – like any profession ever – have had some sticky situations, but I’m sure young players are fully aware, or could be made aware, of what kind of trouble Beasley has gotten himself into. There are many risks that can be worse than fielding him on your team as a 13th man at a minimum salary for the year to see if he gets it.
Patrick Redford (@patrickredford): Totally. Perhaps this is a product of cheering for terrible teams for years, you find things that distract you from how poorly you’re doing in the win-loss column. Beasley has a real bummer of a narrative, but none of us really know a whole lot about what makes the dude tick (EXHIBIT A). He won’t cost much, and at worst he is a more colorful, talented, fun version of the flotsam available still.
Andrew Koo (@akoo): On a good team, give him a strict rotation role. If he doesn’t cost much, there’s minimal harm in a tryout. Easy enough to cut him.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): Sure, if you’re a team that enjoys terrible shot selection and lack of defense. Luckily, my team isn’t the New York Knicks. In all seriousness, the Warriors could use someone of Beas’ potential and ability to create for himself. There aren’t many, or any, iso players from the perimeter on the team. And given the strong leadership and core (MJax, Curry, Lee), there’s a chance he could pan out. I just don’t want to find out, no matter the cost.
Kevin Ferrigan (@nbacouchside): Yes. The talent is there, and with the risk being so low- a roster spot and likely minimum salary money- it’s basically a no lose proposition. I’m almost always in favor of betting on talent, unless the talented person is some sort of terrible monster, which Beasley is certainly not. He’s more of a misguided soul, in my view, than a bad guy.
Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla): I can’t think of an environment in which Beasley could perform well today. He appears to be uninterested in playing for a losing team, but why should a winning team waste a roster spot on a guy who’s two years removed from being merely a league-average player? At this point it’s too difficult to forecast his physical upside (there once was plenty) and mental upside (if there is any) to even consider signing him to a minimum deal. I’d let another team take a flyer on him.
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): No.
Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone): Definitely not on the Bucks. They just purged the locker room of some obviously bad chemistry and are clearly trying to bring in good, stable people to influence guys like Larry Sanders and John Henson. Beas is clearly the farthest thing from stable. Also the guy pulled the Mookie Blaylock (hat tip to Andrew Lynch for the term) and had more shot attempts then points scored last year so I wonder if the talent is actually still there.
2. Which connective tissue has more pressure on it going into the 2013-2014 season – Russell Westbrook’s ACL or Kobe Bryant’s achilles?
Fenrich: I’m not really sure what this means. The Lakers have the look and feel of a lame duck season while OKC’s going to be in the competitive mix out west. OKC needs Russell’s ACL more than LA needs Kobe’s achilles.
Frankel: Westbrook’s and it isn’t close. Count me shocked if the Lakers win more than 35 games.
Soppe: Kobe and the Lakers will put more pressure on him to return, but the answer here is Westbrook. Westbrook and the Thunder can be title contenders when he is right, and that’s a lot of pressure. That being said, they are a playoff team without him, so the pressure is more long term than anything. Pressure is felt when one has something to lose. The Thunder could lose a shot at taking down the potentially dynastic Heat. Kobe has nothing to lose, as we expect the Lakers to struggle and for him to try to carry them. If he fails, it’s the rosters fault. If he succeeds, we all hail Kobe. That’s not pressure.
Patty: Westbrook, but I also really don’t think the Lakers will be relevant in May unless they are next to the name Andrew Wiggins.
Koo: Westbrook. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kobe plays less games though.
Liu: Pressure to succeed? Westbrook. He’s on a playoff team. Pressure to push himself to play a certain amount of games or to score a certain amount of points? Kobe.
Ferrigan: This one seems pretty simple. It’s Westbrook’s knee. The Thunder are legitimate contenders to win the title, whereas the Lakers almost certainly won’t make the playoffs.
Karalla: Westbrook’s ACL. Westbrook’s entire game is predicated on his unbelievable athleticism. If his knee problem limits his explosiveness, OKC will have a hard time competing in a stacked West. Even if Kobe comes back at full strength on opening night, the Lakers still probably won’t make the playoffs. There’s no pressure there.
Cianfrone: Westbrook. With THE Westbrook we have grown accustomed to seeing the Thunder are title contenders. Without that version of him or better, they are still really good but I don’t think they could realistically be considered title contenders.
Redford: Westbrook. There’s been a lot of guff about how the Thunder are slipping and could fall victim to their now highly-motivated ex-compatriot in Houston. Narrative-wise, Westbrook’s knee is essential to any chance the Thunder have of reasserting superiority, whereas there are almost no real expectations of greatness or even goodness for L.A.
3. O.J. Mayo and Monta Ellis essentially swapped places. Who landed in a better situation? Which team is better off?
Fenrich: This is an apples and oranges thing. Not to turn this into a civic issue, but Ellis landed in a better city. The brief time I spent in Milwaukee was unilluminating. A traffic cop hassled me for jaywalking across a trafficless street at midnight on a weeknight. But Mayo didn’t go there because Milwaukee’s tough on crime. He went there for the money whereas Ellis took a paycut to go to Dallas. I think what we have here is a case of young men with divergent motives. “Better” means different things for each man. And the same can be applied to the teams.
Frankel: I’ve actually grown a fair bit on the Ellis signing in Dallas. He should play off Dirk well, won’t be the primary option in the offense, and I think Rick Carlisle will reign in his shot selection a bit. Mayo may be the top option on the Bucks offense, which makes me shudder.
Soppe: Ellis is probably in the better situation, but is either team any better off? Mayo is two years younger, so I guess I like what Dallas did better? I’ve got very little faith in either one of these “professional bucket getters”, so if you assume both volume shooters play to the same age, the Mavs sped up the cleansing process by two years. In all seriousness, I would prefer Mayo as a player, I just don’t think this swap moves the needle much for either squad.
Patty: I’ll take Mayo, if only because he’s younger and statistically had a decent year for the Mavericks last season. I don’t know if either player will actually get it, but I really don’t see teaching an old Monta new tricks anytime soon. Even if Mayo is just as apathetic on defense as he has been in the past, Larry Sanders playing behind him should help. Plus, I’ll take a guy who shot 40% from three over any long-two aficionado.
Koo: Dallas is the better situation as long as Dirk plays. I’m not sure Milwaukee wins 30 games. Ellis in Dallas with Rick Carlisle is an interesting season storyline. Maybe this is trusting Cuban and co. too much, but they wouldn’t have signed him to be that same player, right?
Ferrigan: Monta went to a team with an established, if aging, superstar and a good shot at the Western playoffs. O.J. went to a hot mess of a team in the Bucks, who I’d be surprised to see win 35 games this year. I’d say Monta wins because, though the longer term picture for both teams is pretty mediocre, Dallas will more than likely be better.
Karalla: From a lifestyle standpoint, the only places I’d rather live in America if I made $8 million per year than Dallas, are New York and L.A. Maybe Miami. On the floor, Dallas is the better situation and quite honestly it’s not close. It’s unclear if Dirk’s game will mesh immediately with Monta’s, but Dirk has never had a problem making adjustments to play with a small guard. Dirk, when healthy, had Dallas playing 50-win ball during the second half of last season with a roster that by comparison to this year’s was pitiful. Sanders and Knight are nice pieces, but I’d rather play for three years in Dallas with Carlisle and Old Dirk than four years in Milwaukee.
Cianfrone: Honestly I am not sure either situation is all that good but I guess since Dirk is the best player on either team Monta is in the better one. But by virtue of no longer having Monta the Bucks are better off. But the real winners and losers in this swap are Ian and I. He now has to watch plenty of Monta in Dallas which is pretty terrible and I get Monta off my favorite team and can probably not worry about hating basketball when the Bucks play. I can’t wait.
Liu: Monta Ellis. He doesn’t have to do more than he has to, though I’m sure he’ll want to. The Mavericks will be sneaky good while the Bucks will be blatantly bad.
Redford: Monta. There are a lot of guard-bros on the Mavs, but they likely won’t push Monta too hard for minutes. Plus playing with Dirk and Carlisle always helps. Meanwhile, Mayo is guaranteed slightly more touches, but there’s something too nonsensical about Milwaukee to convince that this is more than a pile of tires about to be set on fire.
4. Brandon Knight and Brandon Jennings. Same question.
Fenrich: These older, upper-midwestern cities just depress me. I already referenced my Milwaukee experience. I also got lost in a parking lot after a Brewers game once and needed a stadium employee to give me a lift in a golf cart to help me find my car. Detroit is depressing for obvious reasons. When I think about Detroit and Milwaukee, I picture post-industrial wastelands where the sun’s been blotted out by lingering smog from long dead and rusted out factories. I don’t think hope is riding into town on the backs of Brandon Jennings or Brandon Knight. Hoop-wise, I’m more interested in the cozy relationship between Joe Dumars and his former assistant GM, John Hammond who’s now running the Bucks. I wonder how the politics of their personal relationship could bleed into their professional relationship.
Soppe: I prefer adding Knight as a piece to the future to Jennings, but Detroit is in better shape here.The Pistons are building an odd roster, but I trust Big Shot Billups and believe he’s got as good a chance to help develop a still raw Jennings as anybody.
Patty: I’ll take Jennings, which sucks to feel like I’m writing a 21 year-old Knight off so soon. This is more about Jennings however, and how I feel he has become slightly underrated. He’s a much better passer than Knight and his efficiency was killed by playing such a huge offensive role in Milwaukee. On a team that has more offensive options – even if most come close to the basket – I like his potential improvements with less usage.
Ferrigan: Jennings is more talented than Knight, and the Pistons’ roster is now more talented than the Bucks by a pretty clear margin. Jennings running pick and rolls with Andre Drummond should be pretty fun. Fit-wise, there are some worrying things with Jennings and Josh Smith’s potential for chucking and bricklaying, but hopefully having more talent around him will make Jennings more judicious with his shot selection, even if already we know it won’t stop Josh from continuing to lob up ill-advised J’s.
Karalla: Detroit is in better shape in the short-term. Now that Jennings finally has a couple bigs to feed, he might not feel the need to jack up six 3s a night… OK, OK, who am I kidding? He’ll still let ‘em fly, but Drummond and Monroe will be there to eat up the leftovers. Milwaukee, meanwhile, might be able to find a decent offensive rhythm now that every possession won’t end in a forced 20-footer, but if I’m Knight, I’d wish I was still in Detroit.
Cianfrone: Jennings is in the much better situation. Remember as a rookie with a healthy Andrew Bogut behind him Brandon was actually at least an average defender if not better. The past few years he was miscast as a number one option and the frustration was evident. Now as the third guy things may go back to that rookie year. Honestly I hope so because I really like the guy. Detroit clearly is the better situation too. The team is more talented and should have a clear offensive hierarchy which will put Jennings behind Josh Smith and Greg Monroe and should curb some of his bad shots. If he at least makes efforts again on defense the Pistons should be a playoff team.
Liu: Brandon Jennings will now have the ability to brick not one jump shot, but two in a single possession, thanks to Smith, Drummond and Monroe manning the boards. Also, the pick-and-rolls and defensive prowess will cover many of Jennings’ flaws. Ultimately, talent wins out. It usually does.
Redford: Definitely Jennings. Unlike the Bucks, Detroit makes sense and has a heap of talented contributors in the fold now, rather than a set of skinny dudes with potential. Jennings is the perfect dose of pyrotechnics on a team that’s been too earthbound for a while.
5. Challenge: Convince me that DeMarcus Cousins is anything but a heaping pile of inefficiency, in ten words or less.
Vertsberger: If you say he is he will dunk on you.
Fenrich: Inefficient production is still production … you just need more.
Frankel: 20 points per 36 minutes on 47% shooting. Lots of offensive rebounds.
Soppe: 20-10-5 upside in the right situation/city.
Patty: Efficiency is hard in Sacramento.
Redford: Numbers are boring. Celebrate subversives. Fun matters.
Ferrigan: Rightly or wrongly, teams double him. Opens opportunities for teammates.
Karalla: Almost unfair to judge him when playing for that franchise.
Conlin: “Inefficient” and “not valuable” should not be synonymous.
Cianfrone: What Cole said.
Liu: Trade him to the Spurs.
6. Which problem would you rather have – trying to create offensive spacing in Detroit with Jennings, Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe? Or trying to defend the rim in Los Angeles (Clippers) with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins?
Fenrich: Oh, if I could pick and choose all my problems in life. In this wonderful world you’ve dreamt up, I’d take the Pistons problem. Offensive spacing is something that can be taught, drilled, repeated, learned. Defensive protection is more dependent on the opposition and with the Clippers, the opposition is led by the great deceiver, Chris Paul.
Soppe: I’d rather work with the Pistons offense. With this option, you have a fallback plan: just roll the ball out there. Spacing would be tough, but maybe the lack of space will finally give J-Smoove some sort of limited area to work, increasing his efficiency in the process. On the flip side, if you don’t have the bodies to matchup with Lob City, what in the world are you supposed to do? I guess you go with one of two plans: foul them every time or hope they foul you every time on the other end. Either way, that mixture of size and athleticism is something I want no part of defending. In this day and age of social media, the odds of a poorly run pick and roll is a lot less likely to define your legacy than an … uhhh … Brandon Knight moment.
Patty: One of these teams has CP3, but this is a vacuum question. I’ll take the spacing issues in a vacuum because the Pacers and Grizzlies just had playoff success with this set of problems. Spacing makes the game beautiful and for that we love it, but not being able to protect your own rim can get any team in a heap of trouble in a hurry. I’m also really interested in what any coach not named Vinny Del Negro can do with DeAndre Jordan.
Ferrigan: I’d rather have that Pistons problem. Although, I will say that Blake Griffin and DeAndre are rather underrated defensive players. Not perfect or anything, but they are not nearly as bad as their reps suggest. It’s more holdover from being awful when they were younger, I think. Plus, most people look worse when Vinny Del Negro is their head coach. Just look at how much Derrick Rose improved defensively once VDN was sent packing.
Karalla: I’d rather have the Pistons’ problem. Even if those four guys don’t run a single set all game, they’d each still score at least 12-14 points every night. The Clippers play in a conference with a dominant interior team (Memphis), a phenomenal pick-and-roll team (San Antonio) and a team with perhaps the best isolation center in the game (Houston), all of which demand excellent post defense. It’s difficult to envision the Clippers beating any of those teams in a seven-game series without someone to protect the rim, let alone worrying about LeBron in a potential Finals matchup.
Conlin: In previous years, teams like Miami and Washington (2013 version) and Philadelphia (2012 version) have shown that well-coached defenses can find ways to close off the paint and the front of the rim through non-traditional means. For that reason, I’d rather have the Clippers problem. It seems like it’s easier to construct a cohesive defensive unit than it is to manufacture space on offense.
Cianfrone: Give me the Clippers front line but just barely. This time last year it seemed like Larry Sanders may be on his way out of the league. Then the games started and he suddenly became one of the best rim protectors in the game. Sometimes bigs just take time and maybe this year with Doc Rivers at the helm DAJ finally gets it.
Liu: Would I rather coach a playoff team with championship aspirations and talent or a middling fringe contender in the crapshoot portion of the Eastern Conference? I’ll take the team with Chris Paul, even if he doesn’t tangibly help defend the rim. As for the question itself, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have the talent to protect the rim, in theory. Detroit can’t shoot and that’s hard to fix, given that their big men aren’t high-IQ guys anyway. That Memphis solution isn’t happening. Give me the team that actually has the talent to fix their problems.
Redford: The one that involves Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Spacing and rim-protecting are essential tasks, but both can be softened with strengths in other areas. I would feel much more confident if I could soften my team’s problem with Chris Paul.
7. Brad Stevens, first ballot Hall-of-Famer?
Fenrich: Assuming he’s getting in for contributions as a pro coach, the odds have to be significantly stacked against Stevens. To be a first ballot guy, he’s got to win a title — or multiple titles — or die at a young age, promise unfulfilled. Without researching, I don’t think there have been many college coaches who won pro championships. Larry Brown is the only guy who comes to mind. So here’s to hoping for a long, healthy, non-first ballot life for Brad Stevens.
Soppe: To my knowledge, no member of the Hall-of-Fame has lacked the ability to grow facial hair. If he accomplishes that feat, I don’t see why not. At the very least, he has a long leash given the Celtics offseason moves, so he won’t flame out. That being said, he needs to succeed sooner rather than later, it doesn’t take long for people to forget about success at the college level.
Patty: Likely not, because we get many washout coaches before any Hall-of-Famers. I’m just going to say yes, but just because he’s a stats guy that I’ve always liked.
Redford: Who is Brad Stevens?
Ferrigan: Can we let him coach one pro game before we ask insane questions like this? Okay, like probably more than one. Many. I’d like to see many, many games before I even begin to contemplate such a question. I’m on his side, though, just because he listens to and incorporates quantitative analysis of the game into his coaching approach.
Karalla: I wonder what he’d have to accomplish to get in on the first ballot. Two consecutive Final Fours in college is a heck of a feat. He’d have to win at least one or two titles, but unfortunately because of Boston’s dreadful roster he might get canned before he gets the chance to build a consistent contender.
Cianfrone: Predicting coaches is really hard so I will say no. But he seems to be the kind of guy who has a chance to be really good. The fact that he buys into analytics in this day and age is huge and he has proven he can win with inferior talent, even if it was at the college level. It may take a bit of time but I am actually kind of excited to see what he can do with a talented roster.
Liu: I’m all-in on Stevens. College success doesn’t portend pro success. A roster filled to the brim with no-namers means a tanking season for the Celtics. And yet, a guy that is only 36 years old (just 5 years older than Gerald Wallace), was one of the best leaders in college hoops. Take a look at this. So no matter how hard it is to project not just his coaching, but the players that come through Boston in his career, I expect him to lead, and win. If it isn’t Boston, it’ll be somewhere else.
The Memphis Grizzlies are playing as good a brand of basketball as any of the eight teams left in the NBA playoffs, with the emergence of Mike Conley
being a big reason why. But when Tony Allen
, following an emotional road victory in which Conley led the way (26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists), declared that his floor general was “one of the top five point guards in the league,” it smelled a lot like an overreaction. As an elite perimeter defender, I value Allen’s opinion on this matter, but the conversation regarding Conley and the top five point guards in the Association is a short one: he’s not there right now.
That being said, he safely resides in the next tier of point guard and is more than capable of heading a championship level team. I hardly have the NBA experience of Allen, but as a reasonably efficient high school point guard in my day (Kyle Soppe, the pAssman), here are my PG rankings with a regular season Conley (25 years old) related tidbit for each. It is important to note that these rankings are for next season. This isn’t a “you’re starting a franchise now and need a point guard” list, but rather a snap shot as to where we stand at the PG position for the 2014 regular season.
1. Chris Paul (28 years old) – Regardless of where he plays, he is simply the gold standard when it comes to properly running an offense. The six time All-Star and four time All-NBA Defensive team member has a career 4.03 assist to turnover ratio, 25.2% better than Conley’ best season.
2. Russell Westbrook (24 years old) – The explosive leader of the Thunder has the ability to do things athletically than Conley simply will never be capable of. Westbrook’s shot selection is as criticized as anybody’s, but his FG% over the last two seasons (44.7%) is better than any season Conley has ever produced in the NBA.
3. Kyrie Irving (21 years old) – The general public seems to have forgotten just how special (brief reminder) this former Blue Devil is just because he isn’t still playing. He’s a high level athlete that has playmaking abilities and instincts than cannot be taught. Since leaving college, Irving has scored 1.25 points per FGA while Conley has averaged 1.20 over the same stretch.
4. Stephen Curry (25 years old) – Yes, I’m buying this postseason breakout to a greater degree than that of Conley. We all know that Curry has arguably the sweetest stroke we’ve ever seen, but he is far from a one trick pony. In fact, the baby-faced Curry has muscled up for 30% more rebounds than Conley over his career and holds the edge in steals per game.
5. Derrick Rose (24 years old) – Say what you will about this season, but Rose at full health is as tough a cover a there is in the league. His size and athleticism demand the attention of the opposing team’s best defender (players like Tony Allen), thus creating mismatches for his teammates. All you have to do is look at his 2010-2011 season to realize that his ceiling is significantly greater than that of Conley. In Rose’s MVP campaign he scored 2,026 points, a 70 point edge over Conley’s total number of points scored in the last two seasons combined. Scoring is his greatest attribute, but he does average 23.6% more assists per game over his career than the Grizzlies’ guard.
OK, so that settles the debate over the top five point guards in the league today. Conley has been excellent this postseason and is developing into a very good point guard, but he simply isn’t in the class of the five listed above. I’d listen to an argument at placing him anywhere in this next tier of PG’s, but I’ve got him sandwiched between Holiday and Williams.
6. Rajon Rondo (27 years old) – It is entirely possible that Conley is playing at a top-five level (based on his hot streak and the rash of injuries among the PG’s ranked above him), but that wasn’t the quote. Rondo is the best table setter in the league (149 more assists than Conley over the past two season despite playing 51 fewer games) and among the best defensive options at the point. Those qualities are well known, but did you know that since Conley entered the NBA in 2007-2008, Rondo actually averages more FGM per game (5.02 to 4.60)?
7. Tony Parker (30 years old) – The elder statesmen of this strong crop of point guards will turn 31 in less than a week, but Parker is showing more signs of improvement than decline. His experience is a factor that cannot be measured statistically, so let’s stick with some numbers. As a five-star recruit, Conley was part of a loaded Ohio State team that lost in the national championship. During that season, Conley shot 51.8% from the field against comparatively inferior competition for the most part. Parker has shot a higher percentage from the field than that in two of the last three seasons.
8. Ty Lawson (25 years old) – His choice in headband style may be declining, but every other statistic is on the uptick for this road runner. In each season of his budding career, Lawson has increased his point, assist, and steal totals. His extreme speed is an advantage he holds over nearly every point guard in the league, making the fact that he owns a better career 3P% than Conley icing on the cake. I trust Lawson’s ability to penetrate/create a bit more and believe that he is a slightly tougher matchup on the perimeter.
9. Jrue Holiday (22 years old) – It is easy to forget just how young the 76ers leader is, especially when you consider the increasing maturity of his game. This past season saw Holiday tally 17.7 points and 8.0 assists on a nightly basis, numbers that may define the ceiling for Conley. When comparing Holiday’s 2012 season totals with the totals from when Conley was 22 years old (424 more points and 200 more assists), it is clear that Holiday is on the fast track to ascend to the top of this second tier. After a strong campaign in his first season as the 76ers go-to player, Holiday proved more than capable, a quality that is hard to find in players (especially point guards) his age.
10. Deron Williams (28 years old) – It feels like DWill was atop this list not very long ago, and while he has dropped off a bit, he still deserves to be considered a strong option. He has developed a lethal outside game (169 3PM this season, three more than Conley over the last two seasons), allowing him to stretch defenses and thus create single coverage situations in the paint. Williams has a higher scoring upside than Conley but lacks general consistency on both ends to still be considered with the best PG’s in the league.
This list doesn’t include Damian Lillard (need to see more), Ricky Rubio (my favorite player, but he’s a poor man’s Rondo at this point), or whoever you consider to be the point guard in Milwaukee (inefficient and lacking the ability to lead a team).
What did I get wrong? Tony Allen has forgotten more today than I know about basketball, but is he too close to the situation to properly analyze where his teammate ranks? Or am I just off my rocker and failing to accept that Memphis is home to an elite point guard? I’d love to hear your thoughts (@unSOPable23) and see how you’d rank the top point guards in the NBA for 2014.
With a short week and reserves aplenty, we took a week off from the Stat Study. Here are the stats you missed and trends that were ignored from the past seven days in the Association.
- In the last three weeks, Jimmy Butler has taken at least 10 shots on seven occasions. The Bulls are 2-0 when he does it against a playoff team with wins over Brooklyn and Miami, but are only 2-3 when he does so against teams that will be picking in the lottery this offseason.
- The term “run and gun” has not been used about this year’s Pacers team (rank in the bottom third of the league in nearly every scoring metric), but they beat Kyrie Irving and the Cavs by turning their elite defense into easy points. They were one of two teams in the NBA to record more steals than turnovers, allowing them to win the transition battle by 26 points (crucial in a five point victory). If the Pacers can continue to turn defense into offense, there is no reason they can’t advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
- There are cold streaks and then there is whatever Ricky Rubio is going through. While he continues to contribute (at least five rebounds in three straight and 6+ assists 12 straight), the Timberwolves point guard is shooting 23.2% from the field this month and is stuck in a 1/23 stretch right now. Remember when LeBron James was on that historic shooting run? He missed 22 total shots in an eight day stretch, averaging 31 points on 15.4 shots while he did so. In the past two games, Rubio has averaged 7.5 points on 11.5 shots, misfiring just as many times.
- Almost five years into his NBA career, Eric Gordon has established himself as a scoring threat that has the potential to take over games. That being said, his carelessness with the ball may be stunting the growth of the youngsters playing alongside him and the team as a whole. In tonight’s loss to the Lakers (where New Orleans held a five point lead at halftime and was even headed into the fourth), Gordon tallied five turnovers and only three assists, the sixth time in his last 12 games with at least as many TO as AST.
- John Wall is averaging 32.33 points in April games that he doesn’t attempt a three pointer and 18 points when he does.
- The Magic, a prime contender from the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, have been experimenting with very young lineups for about a month now, something typically labeled as tanking in NBA circles. But can you call it that if their youngsters give them the best chance to win not only in the future but right now as well? Their three top scorers, whose average age is 21, tallied 76 points on 59% shooting.
- I’ve touched on this before, but Dion Waiters feels a lot like Gilbert Arenas 2.0 to me. Over the last month he has scored 75 points on 71 shots when Cleveland loses, taking more shots than points scored 50% of the time. A volume shooter like that has a place in the league, but rarely does he find himself in the perfect situation like JR Smith has in New York.
- D.J. White, out of Indiana, is hanging onto a roster spot with the Celtics by playing like every second is his last. He took his first shot of the month last night and brought his April minute count to a whopping seven, but he has sparked a scoring spurt in both appearances. In his seven minutes of action, the Celtics have outscored their opponents by 14 points, but for the remaining 89 minutes in those games, they have been outscored by 32 points.
- The Kings lead the league in very few things, but I have a hard time imagining that a team has allowed 100+ points in a higher percentage of their wins over the last month and a half then Sacramento. Since we flipped the calendar to February, 64% of the Kings victories have featured a losing team reaching triple digits, a number that jumps to 82% if you change the parameters to 98+ points allowed.
- A.J. Price played more than 28 minutes, nearly assuring the Wizards of a loss. Since Valentine’s Day of 2011, AJ Price’s team has lost 16 of 17 games in which he attempts at least 10 shots, and given his career average of 0.3571 shots per minute, 28 minutes is the cut off.
- “Carmelo Anthony is awesome dude! He dropped 36 on the defensive minded Bulls … too bad his team couldn’t come through for him.” If you hear something like this, please respond with the following statistic. It is true that Anthony bullied his way to 36 on Chicago, but it took him 34 shots to do so. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Kirk Hinrich combined to score 40 points on 33 shots, and not one of them shot better than 45.5% from the field. I don’t care that the Knicks almost won this game; they aren’t going anywhere if two players are taking 59% of their shots.
- Nate Robinson came off the bench to bury five of 11 three pointers and all ten of his free throws on his way to 35 points. He now has as many games where he has 10+ 3PA and 10+ FTA as Kevin Durant this season.
- Russell Westbrook turned the ball over six times in 30 minutes of action against a porous Golden State defense that gave up 116 points to the Thunder. Coming into the game, Westbrook had turned the ball over just seven times this month (140 minutes) against the likes of the Knicks, Spurs, Pacers, and Jazz.
- Kevin Martin gave the Thunder 19 of his most productive minutes of the season, tallying 23 points on 8/10 shooting. The rest of the Oklahoma City bench combined to score 15 points in 108 minutes on 6/18 shooting.
- I understand that a big man is not out to rack up assists but you’d think, with two of the league’s premier marksmen, each member of the Golden State front line would record a dime or two by accident. Richard Jefferson recorded the only assist for the eight front court players for the Warriors (138 minutes played).
- They say “you live by the three, you die by the three”, but the Warriors have been dying when Steph Curry lives by the three against good teams. Golden State has lost all four games against playoff bound teams in which the Goliath from Davidson connects on at least seven triples.
- The novice NBA fan would look at the Rockets box score and blame the loss on James Harden’s 7/24 effort from the field. The statistically obsessed fanatic would put the loss squarely on the shoulders of their star’s free throw shooting. Sure, he shot 79% from the stripe, but he missed three times. Houston has not beaten anybody besides Golden State since late November (eight games) when Harden misses at least three free throws.
- Let’s have some more fun with free throws. Lance Stephenson was the only Pacer to miss a freebie, going a pitiful 1/6 while his teammates converted all 20 attempts. Stephenson had missed five or fewer free throws in 40% of the months this season entering April.
- Remember when Kemba Walker got as hot as any player we’ve seen in the last 20 years and lead UConn to a national title? Well, scoring in bunches like that hasn’t been a rewarding as a member of the woeful Bobcats. They have lost four of the last five games in which he has surpassed his season scoring average (17.6), with the average loss coming by 22.5 points.
- Luol Deng’s growth as a player has impressed me this season, as he has been forced into the “lead” role with Derrick Rose struggling to regain health. He made only three of nine shots and totaled 10 points, but he was able to keep his team close by handing out eight assists and 0 turnovers. While this performance took place on the road, Deng has gradually been improving his AST/TO numbers at home, numbers that will translate to the road eventually. In his last eight home games, Deng has turned the ball over only six times in 313 minutes.
- Less is more when it comes to the number of three pointers in which JJ Redick attempts this year, as his team dropped to 0-4 this season when he jacks up double digit triples. The cumulative record of the teams that handed Redick’s team an L in those games is 109-210.
- Josh McRoberts nearly recorded a triple double, falling just one assist and one rebound shy against the Bucks. The nine assists (in 39 minutes of action) nearly matched the total number of dimes the Duke product had in Charlotte’s four game losing streak (10 in 153 minutes played).
- The Boston Celtics had four players score 10+ points while shooting at least 70% from the field on their way to a 32 point blowout of the overmatched Magic. There were four other players that reached that plateau in the entire NBA tonight.
- DeAndre Jordan recorded 16 points and 12 rebounds against the strong front line of the Grizzles, his first double double away from Los Angeles in over two months. Oddly enough, that didn’t mean he had an overwhelmingly positive impact when he was in the game. During his 36 minutes of action the Clippers were outscored by five points, while during his pine time the Clippers were +9.
- Ricky Rubio was his in prime pocket picking form again; recording five steals in the Wolves win over the Suns. He now has 20 steals in Minnesota’s four victories this month, 17 more steals than one of the best one the ball defenders in the league (Iman Shumpert) has – and Shumpert’s team has won 50% more games this month.
- Shawn Marion poured in 21 points against the Hornets, increasing his average to 17.4 ppg in April. “The Matrix” has averaged more than 17 points in only three months since 2006, with two of those occurrences coming in April. With 31 points in his final two games (Memphis and New Orleans), Marion will make it three out of four 17+ point months coming in April in the last seven years.
- With another strong 16 points and 20 rebounds, Carlos Boozer continued his late season surge. The elder statesman in Chicago is now averaging 7.6% more points post ASB than pre ASB. That difference in scoring is magnified when you consider that Boozer had averaged 21.2% more points before the ASB than after it over the past two seasons.
- Reggie Evans once again attempted zero field goal attempts but managed to impact the game in a big way on the glass. In those six games with 0 FGA this year, Evans has averaged 9.2 rebounds and 21.5 rebounds per 48 minutes.
- Jason Kidd did a lot of things for the Knicks (four rebounds, five assists, four steals, and 0 turnovers) but scoring the basketball was not one of them. For the tenth time in 39 games, Kidd failed to score in a game in which he shot exclusively three pointers.
- James Harden can obviously score with the best of them, but his ability to pass when defenses focus on him is far ahead of where most thought it would be this season. He handed out nine assists and Houston upped their average point production to 113.5 points when he does so.
For this week I decided to chart the importance of turning turnovers into points. In the 52 games this week, the winning team scored 18.12 points per game off of turnovers while losing teams managed just 14.02 points. That may not seem like much, but when you consider that 17.31% of the games this week either went to overtime or were decided by four or fewer points, the ability to score points off of turnovers is a game changer.
The victorious team averaged 1.23 points directly the result of a turnover, 13% greater than the rate at which losing teams converted turnovers into points. This week long study strengthened the common thought that forcing “live ball” turnovers is the best way to get easy buckets and win the game, especially for undermanned teams.
One more full week of the regular season which means one more chance to suggest a #StatStudy. Shoot me ideas @unSOPable23 and we can work out the details for the next seven days. Here are some stats you may have missed from the last seven days:
This week’s Stat Study was done with the intention to determine the impact of playing a back to back in terms of total shooting percentage (TS%) and turnover rate (TOR). To understand this study, one must be familiar with these metrics. Total shooting percentage created a total metric of shooting accuracy looking at three-pointers, two-pointers and free throws. Turnover rate is a simple tally of the percentage of possessions that end in a turnover.
TS% = Points Scored / (2 * FGA (0.44 * FTA)))
TOR = (TO * 100) / (FGA + (0.44 * FTA) + TO)
David Vertberger (@_Verts), was confident that a study along these lines would prove that fatigue does in fact set in, and that a team playing on the second night of a back to back is at a distinct disadvantage. But not so fast.
Surprisingly, 60% of teams had a greater TS% and 62.1% of teams had a lower TOR on the second day of a back to back (this week) than their season average entering action. On the week as a whole, the average team playing on consecutive nights saw their TS% jump 0.9% and their TOR get worse by 8%. The increase in TS% may not seem like a lot, but the fact that teams were more efficient this week when playing the night before is stunning.
The Los Angeles Lakers (Monday) and Toronto Raptors (Sunday) were the only two teams all week (there were 30 instances in which a team played the second game of a back to back this week) to buck the trend and support the common train of thought (decreasing TS% and increasing TOR). On the flip side: Dallas, Brooklyn, Minnesota, Portland, New York, Memphis, Chicago, and Sacramento all increased their TS% and decreased their TOR in such games this week.
Product of a small sample size? Maybe. But is it possible that we are over-blowing the impact of a back to back? The numbers would indicate an over reaction by the general public, myself included. An interesting result from a great study topic paves the way for another set of 35 unique stats and trends from the week that was in the NBA.