We are back with another group 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.
Arron Afflalo has scored at least twice his career average in the majority of games this season. Orlando’s winning percentage, however, is better when he doesn’t.
Kirk Hinrich does whatever it takes to put his team in a position to win. He missed all eight of his three point attempts tonight, as he was clearly aware that it had been almost two years since he last missed five-plus three pointers in a losing effort. The five game win streak in such games was snapped, however, as the Bulls lost in triple overtime (losing four and winning only one of the seven periods played).
There were 49 three point attempts in the Spurs/Hawks game as both teams struggled to get to the free throw line (22 total attempts). The low free throw number is surprising when you consider that there were 90 points scored in the paint. Can you imagine what the ratio would have been if Kyle Korver was active? In a fitting end to an odd game, Tim Duncan knocked down a fall away jumper from the elbow on a designed down screen.
The Jazz are 3-4 since the return of Trey Burke, a major improvement over their 1-11 mark to start the season. They won their second game in a row tonight, but the MVP during the season long winning streak hasn’t been the talented rookie, rather it’s been his backup. Alec Burks is shooting 60% from the field (80% from distance), scoring 17 points, grabbing three rebounds, and turning the ball over once for every nine assists over that stretch.
Paul George is a flat out star and he proved as much by pouring in 43 points against the red hot Portland Trail Blazers tonight. Surprisingly enough, it was the first time in over a year that his point total surpassed his minute total and only the second time in his career.
Starters for the Milwaukee Bucks played 64% of the minutes, yet they were out-rebounded by the reserves. In the same game, there were 76 points scored in the final 12 minutes after just 81 points were scored in the previous 24 minutes.
Andre Drummond has more missed free throws this season (40) than he has career assists (36). I should mention that he is only attempting a shade over three freebies a night.
The Charlotte Bobcats haven’t scored more than 27 points in a quarter in more than a week: the Warriors outscored the Raptors by 27 in the fourth quarter last night.
The 76ers scored 126 points in a double overtime win over the Magic last night and recorded as many offensive rebounds (20) as assists in the process. The effort on the offensive glass (Michael Carter-Williams led the way with seven o-boards) allowed Philadelphia to overcome committing 23 turnovers.
The Grizzlies “big two” on the inside took over, scoring 44 points on 75% shooting while grabbing 21 rebounds and blocking four shots. Not too shabby when you consider that Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph missed this game with injuries. Jon Leuer and Ed Davis led Memphis to their most impressive offensive performance in more than a month.
For the first time since February 2012 and just the second time in his career, Ty Lawson recorded more missed shots than assists in a regular season game in which he handed out at least ten dimes.
In 19 games for the Hawks, Paul Millsap has already set a season high in three pointers made. At his current pace, he will match the 31 three pointers he hit in 540 games as a member of the Utah Jazz in just 42 games in Atlanta.
Speaking of the Jazz, they are 3-5 since getting Trey Burke back from injury. Oddly enough, his assist-to-turnover ratio seems to be indirectly correlated with the team’s success. In the five losses, the rookie is handing out five assists per turnover (including a nine to one ratio tonight). In the three victories, his ratio drops to 2.2.
Dwight Howard failed to block a shot for the fourth consecutive game, matching the longest streak of his career. The jury is out as far as what this means, as the Rockets beat the then second best team in the league (San Antonio) but lost to the worst team (Utah) in those four games.
The Thunder are a talented team, but only one player had more than one assist in a losing effort against the Blazers. In fact, 80% of the starting lineup (112 total minutes played) recorded more turnovers than helpers. In contrast, Portland had three players hand out at least five assists, with 80% of their starters notching more dimes than turnovers.
The Knicks beat the Nets and have now won four games on the season. In those four wins, J.R. Smith has attempted a total of 16 shots (he was inactive for two of them). He’s averaging over ten shots per game in losses. Coincidence? I think not.
Blake Griffin made all four of his free throws and handed out at least five assists for the second time this season and fourth time in the last three years. Oddly enough, not a single one of those games have come at home.
The Miami Heat have won nearly 78% of the games since Ray Allen came over from Boston, but they are a mere 3-3 when he attempts at least as many free throws as field goals.
There are four players (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Paul George) who average at least 24 points and are shooting at least 45% from the field. Those four combine to take a shot once every 2.17 minutes of game time, the exact same frequency as Tony Wroten.
I know Kyrie Irving likes to dress up and play in the streets as Uncle Drew, but who is dressed up and playing for the Cavaliers as Irving? He went 0-9 from the field tonight and is now shooting 39.4% for the season. He has made more than half of his field goal attempts just once this season: he had done so four times at this point last season … and he was inactive for nearly half the games!
Who didn’t see this coming? The Celtics, who rank dead last in team assist-to-turnover ratio, handed out 25 helpers and turned the ball over only twice while the Nuggets, a top ten team in AST/TO, had 11 assists and 14 turnovers. The strong passing performance allowed Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, and Kris Humphries to score 58 points on 71.4% shooting from the field.
The Knicks were never as bad as they looked for the first month of the season, but they also are nowhere near as good as they have looked over the past few days (back-to-back 30+ point victories). In those two games, they have made three more three pointers than free throws they have attempted.
The Jazz attempted ten more shots than the Trail Blazers did and outscored them by six in the fourth quarter … and lost by 32. Portland buried 74% of their three point attempts, a greater conversion rate than Utah has from the free throw line this season (news flash: there were NBA players defending while Portland was firing away, something that is not allowed when taking free throws).
This is kind of what we expected to see from the Pistons at times. Their “big three” combined to score 23 points on 9/32 shooting from the field. But their size proved to be too much for the Bulls to handle, as the trio grabbed 36 rebounds, three more than Chicago’s entire starting unit.
LeBron James attempted only five free throws and didn’t once launch a three pointer in the Heat’s nice bounce back win over the Timberwolves. It was the third game this season in which his FTA+3PA was less than six, Miami’s winning those games by an average of 17.7 points.
Robin Lopez has been the definition of a “role player”, a title that may not be sexy, but has significant value. Portland lost to Dallas by two points in a game they would have no chance to win if not for Lopez having more offensive rebounds than the entire Trail Blazers team and attempting only one shot from outside of four feet.
Steph Curry notched his best passing performance of the season, handing out 15 assists and turning the ball over only once. In the previous two games, Curry totaled 15 assists but threw the ball away 11 times.
The Pacers win over the Spurs is a nice confidence booster, but don’t read too much into it as a way of determining playoff power rankings. As expected, San Antonio refused to take any one game too seriously and had only one player (Kawhi Leonard) play more than 26 minutes. The Pacers treated the game as a way to earn respect and played their studs extended minutes (six players played more than 26 minutes). I like the win and think Indiana can compete for a title, but be careful before you declare that they are better than San Antonio on the heels of this impressive victory.
The Celtics beat the Knicks by 23 points in the first quarter: it was less than a month ago when Boston failed to score23 points in a single quarter against the Bobcats.
There were 30 three pointers attempted in the Heat/Pistons game … by players 6’8” or taller.
Dwight Howard pulled down 22 rebounds against the Magic, giving him at least 18 in three straight games. He’s totaled 58 rebounds over that stretch, his best three game total that didn’t include a game against the Bobcats since December of 2010.
Oklahoma City has a ton of play makers, but they are getting nice production from an unexpected source. Heading into tonight’s game, Perry Jones led all Thunder players (minimum of seven home appearances) in points per shot during home games (1.79). He made all three of his field goal attempts in his four minutes of action tonight.
In what felt like a mini TV show titled “Mamba Returns”, Kobe Bryant had twice as many turnovers as the Lakers did fast break points. At their game pace, Toronto would have had to play another 118 minutes without an assist to have twice as many team turnovers as transition points.
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: David Vertsberger (@_Verts) is the author of this week’s questions
1. What’s one player/team/narrative that will be overlooked during the 2014 season that should be paid more attention to and why?
Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin): Exactly how good Kevin Durant is from a historical perspective. When we talk about Durant, we say that he’s a top-5 player (at worst) in today’s league. And when we talk about current players’ place in history, we talk about LeBron and Kobe and Duncan (among a few others). But Durant’s level of play through six seasons hasn’t really been exceeded among forwards not named “Bird” and “James.” This never seems to come up in discussions about Durant. People seem to assume that because he isn’t the best current player in the league (and never really has been), he’s not much more than a historical footnote. But that isn’t the case.
Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla): The race for the 6, 7, and 8 seeds in the West will probably be the most exciting in basketball. We’ll have five or six teams by season end, all of whom will have, barring big-time injuries, will have won between 44-48 games. The standings will change nightly. Everyone will be swept up in the Houston/OKC/LAC battle for the No. 2 seed behind San Antonio (see what I did there?) but the real action will be happening further south in the playoff chase.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): How good the Indiana Pacers are going to be. It’s easy to fall in love with the Derrick Rose story and get swept up in the dynastic Miami Heat, but this Pacers team is good. Really good. Paul George is a superstar no matter how you cut it and this is an elite defensive squad that is only getting better. The addition of Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, and C.J. Watson to a constantly underrated starting unit should pay dividends as the season progresses. In my preseason power rankings, I’ve got the Pacers as the second best team in the NBA (not the East, the NBA), but I feel as if they aren’t portrayed as a title contender by the public/media.
Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh): The Philadelphia 76ers. Not because they’re going to be terrible and not because they might be sneaky good, but because they’re a franchise in the very beginning stages of fundamentally remaking themselves. I can’t think of another recent example of an organization that has so quickly shifted gears and headed in the opposite direction stylistically. The trappings of traditional basketball processes are all being questioned and everything appears to be on the table. Nothing about this season (except maybe their opening night win) should be bright and flashy, but watching their transitions everywhere from the margins to the middle should be incredibly interesting.
Dan Lewis (@trueDanLewis): How the new coaches fare in the league. There was a record number of new head coaches this offseason, and many of them came into situations with teams that had losing records. I am interested to see how new coaching staffs use rotations, manage personalities, and adjust systems from previous years. Are you interested to see how Boogie Cousins reacts to a new head coach?
Cole Patty (@ColePatty): All the teams that aren’t going to be playoff teams, but also aren’t tanking. Tanking has already consumed the minds of NBA’s viewers on the first day, but really there might only be six teams that are participating in it. As for the teams that are going to be left out in the race for the eight-seed on both sides, it will be unfortunate. However both eight seed races will be a lot of fun.
Andrew Johnson (@countingbaskets):The Atlanta Hawks, they’ve seemingly been on the treadmill of mediocrity, but I think Ferry has done some good things to position them moving forward dumping bad contracts and making good draft picks like Dennis Schroeder.
Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu): I don’t think any narrative/player/team can be that much under the radar in this day and age. I guess it depends on what outlet you’re coming from. The guys at CBS Sports or SI or Grantland are going to be on top of Gordon Hayward’s breakout season even if SportsCenter isn’t leading with that every night. Though if there’s one player I’d admit to us losing focus on; it’s got to be Kevin Durant. Another great season overshadowed by LeBron James and it appears much of his great play will be relegated to a substandard — at least for them — Oklahoma City season.
Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone): The Spurs. San Antonio will probably win another 50 games and garner a top 3 or 4 seed in the West. Yet they will fly under the radar to all but the most focused NBA fans because they want it that way. They won’t be heavily marketed, their stars won’t be flashy and Pop will rest his guys. But come playoff time this team will contend for a Western Conference and NBA title. It is what they do.
Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): There are no longer overlooked stories and certainly not overlooked narratives. If anything, narratives have gone the other way to the point where they’ve become fluffy or flaky and without much substance. There are more bloggers than NBA players and in our vain attempts to provide new and uniquely personal perspectives on this great game, we cover the league’s happenings like a heavy quilt draped across North America …. and winter’s coming, so get cozy.
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.
They say that when you stop caring about how others define you, the sting of negative judgment lessens. For a long time, we witnessed the effect of hype plague LeBron James while he struggled to cement his ability with results. None of us can begin to imagine the weight of expectations that followed him for nearly ten years.
LeBron surmounted the insurmountable on Thursday when he led the Heat to their second consecutive championship. He topped his performance with a grand MVP speech:
“Listen, I can’t worry about what everybody says about me. I’m LeBron James, from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here. That’s enough. Every night I walk into the locker room, I see a No. 6 with James on the back. I’m blessed. So what everybody says about me off the court, don’t matter. I ain’t got no worries.”
Of course, it’s easy to shout those carefree words when basketball’s two biggest trophies are in your hands (and four MVP trophies are in a shiny cabinet elsewhere). But the story of one who beats the scrutiny is a great one, and it’s been a compelling experience to observe him withstand the swarming media cloud that rains on him daily. We don’t know what’s in store for his future, but 2013 will be a major turning point in the biography of LeBron James.
It feels like these nine months of basketball have gone by so quickly that I didn’t realize how much has actually happened, until I stepped back and thought about it. Here’s a look back at stories that may have gotten lost in the day-to-day events of the NBA’s 67th season and playoffs.
As ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz wrote, professional basketball is immensely difficult. Coming into the season, the Miami Heat were poised to be the leaders again after their 2011-12 championship. The Los Angeles Lakers took much of the spotlight early on. When they faded, the Heat’s 27 game win streak ruled the headlines. They made the game look tremendously easy. They solved modern NBA offense. And while all this happened, we began to think of them as invincible in our heads. When they temporarily stumbled against the Indiana Pacers, not expecting the series to reach seven games, some of us forgot how hard this game actually is. A 27 game streak doesn’t make you better equipped to beat a legitimate Eastern Conference #3 seed. Hard work does.
The Pacers and Spurs were excellent teams, both deftly constructed and strategically smart. They were real challenges for the Heat, and we shouldn’t be surprised it took them seven games each to dispatch them. Unfortunately, the narratives of mental barriers or an unwillingness to tap into the talent they clearly possess (“passive LeBron”) re-emerged. This attribution takes away from the Pacers, who don’t get enough credit for being a superb team.
Coaching matters. A lot. Frank Vogel, who demonstrated solid X’s and O’s chops when he took the Pacers gig, showed further growth and was instrumental to the success of the team, as were his assistants and staff. None of the Heat, Pacers, Spurs, Bulls, and Grizzles are who they are without Spolestra, Vogel, Popovich, Thibodeau, and Hollins. Stephen Curry may have carried the Warriors to the second round, but Mark Jackson played a key part, too, outmaneuvering George Karl.
It’s probably not a coincidence that half the Bulls were injured in the second round after being maxed out for 40 minutes a game during the regular season. Conversely, the Spurs’ stars were tired, yet healthy to play an outstanding Finals. Check out the combined regular season and playoffs minutes played of both teams’ top players (thanks, Basketball Reference):
Luol Deng played nearly 200 minutes more than Tony Parker, despite his Bulls exiting in the second round. Think about the weight of the marginal minute played when so much effort has already been exerted, and you begin to see why Chicago couldn’t stay competitive against Miami.
Obviously, without Derrick Rose, the distribution of minutes was certainly tighter for Tom Thibodeau. There were many opportunities to afford some rest for his sturdy defenders though, as Gregg Popovich showed over the season (he did so, conceding the #1 seed). I fully expect sports analysis will dive into health and kinesiology in the near future, and these two teams gave us one hell of a case study.
For all my talk about coaches, management rarely gets credit when things go well. They could very well be the central brain behind substitution patterns or playing time. Likewise, assistant coaches, many who have gone unnamed, tend to get lost behind their bench leaders.
The cap space allowed then-GM Larry Bird to sign mid-range weapon David West for a fair $10 million while other teams were scrambling just to create more room on their payrolls. Next, Kevin Pritchard facilitated the George Hill acquisition. Going forward, he has the cap space to re-sign David West, and the mid-level exception to add a bench asset.
Finally, looking back at it all, basketball analytics have truly exploded this year. Corner threes, publicly a nascent concept, became regular and understood terminology. The doctrines of the mid-range shot emerged. Overall, writers are paying close attention to shot selection. They’re being explained with ease and clarity. Lineup data is now available. SportVU made its name, even finding its way into daily recaps. Video is practically required as supplementary evidence now. Teams are reshaping their methods with specific hires. All of this is happening, yet what I find most admirable is how cognizant we are about the limitations of analytics. There is so much more to learn.
We’ve been peppered with excellent analysis all year, and we should applaud that. Whether you’re a fan or an NBA champion, it’s been a great season.
Stephen Curry has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break, keeping his career-long ankle troubles from holding back the barrage of threes and slick dimes that have wreaked havoc around the league with no end in sight. His name no longer unknown, (we can’t be friends if it took you this long to realize who he was) Curry is now perched on the “superstar” pedestal, being only 25 years of age and yet dominating the NBA with ease. His averages on the year: 22.9 PPG, nearly 7 assists a night on 45.3% shooting from downtown and 90% from the free throw stripe. However, like most superstars, Curry is not an unstoppable force and can be contained when defended correctly. Let’s dive in, using footage from Games 2 and 3 against San Antonio in the second round of these Playoffs.
Pick & Roll
The focal point of Curry’s attack has been the pick-and-roll, where 32.1% of his offense is created, according to mySynergySports. Curry attempted the most threes out of the pick-and-roll compared to any other categorized play, shooting 43.9% on 173 shots from behind the arc. His defender going under the screen allows too much space for a Curry jumper, and when he goes over the pick his big man needs to step up and not allow Curry the three-point look. Big men will oftentimes be too slow to react or merely show and drop back, which usually ends up as three points on the board for Golden State.
Tim Duncan hesitates before stepping up to contest Curry, and it costs San Antonio three early points. In the closing quarter of this same game, Tiago Splitter awaits Curry around the screen and forces a tie up.
When a screen is called for Curry, the best way to counterattack it is with a trap or a switch in which the big gets right up on Curry. The Miami Heat are the league’s chief user of the pick-and-roll trap, and in Curry’s single game against them this season, he only attempted 10 shots and 3 threes with a 45% eFG% compared to his season averages of 17.8 FGA, 7.7 3PA and a 54.9% eFG%. A one-game sample size means nothing really, but it’s something to consider. As for the risk of Curry easily blowing by a big man coming up to meet him, I’ll address this in my next point.
_____ Force Curry inside
As deadly as Stephen Curry is from the perimeter, the same cannot be said for when he attacks the rim. Blame it on his skinny frame or ankle troubles but Curry is a very poor finisher near the basket. Notice his shooting percentages at the basket and right near it during the regular season:
These percentages have been no better during the postseason:
Thus, a continuous thread throughout this post is forcing Curry inside. Obviously wide open layups are never shots you want to give up, but with the right amount of help, Curry will struggle to find his mark. There is always the threat of him finding the open man as Steph has tremendous court vision and passing ability, but this is something that will have to be dealt as your primary concern in defending Golden State is shutting down Curry. Danny Green has the right idea in the clip below, sticking right to Curry and not giving him any room for a jumper.
_____ Spot in transition
According to Synergy, the transition game is where Curry finds the next biggest portion of his offense, behind only the pick-and-roll. It’s easy to understand why, with Steph flourishing from behind the arc on fast breaks or semi-fast breaks, shooting an unconscious 52.3% from downtown. This is a product of late reactions from the transition defenders, not realizing that Curry is on the break and that he will launch the ball from deep and will likely make it. Watch Danny Green and Tim Duncan allow Curry the space he needs to drain a three:
The key here is to spot Curry whenever the Warriors are on a break and send one man over to guard him. Even if this results in a lay-in, the three-point shot would have been prevented. Watch how Danny Green eyes Curry before he crosses halfcourt here, and is able to stop him from creating anything out of this semi-break:
_____ Off-ball defense
The Warriors will often put point guard Jarrett Jack in the game to run the offense with Stephen Curry running around screens to get open looks. Curry’s quickness and agility are hard to match, so the best course of action here is to simply switch on any off-ball screens or crowd him, making it more difficult for him to maneuver about. Watch Bonner here leave his man in a switch to go meet Curry at the catch, restricting the open three and instead forcing Steph to create something inside, where Harrison Barnes makes a terrific random cut to draw the foul.
_____ He’s still Stephen Curry
Like all superstars, you’re going to have to deal with getting beat sometimes. Even defended perfectly, the best scorers in the game will still find a way to burn you. Curry is no different, and sometimes you need to just take it and move on to the next play:
Admit it, even if you were removed from the womb to hate the Lakers, the hair on the back of your neck stands up and your heart rate increases when the clock ticks down to zero and Kobe launches a 20-foot fadeaway that splashes through the net. It’s hard not to feel the emotion of those moments.
But, if you are reading this post on Hickory High, you probably have an appreciation for the finer things in life – fancy cheeses, silk Snuggies, and a perfect rotation on defense to prevent a corner three.
This isn’t a top three list of best dunks – this is a list of the beauty of basketball demonstrated on the canvas of a hardwood court. This is a list of things that are right about basketball, things that may not necessarily raise thousands of fans out of their seats in adoration and exuberance, but are done effectively, efficiently, and successfully.
Actual plays – take notes Sacramento.
Coming in at number three …. the Corey Brewer transition basket
I’ll admit, there is a little fandom here. If you follow me on Twitter, you should know that I enjoy watching the Nuggets. But watching Corey Brewer in transition is a thing of beauty.
The Nuggets finished the season with an average of 58.0 points in the paint per game, an insane number that was 11.5 points higher than the second place team (Detroit). Over the length of the season, they attempted 60.95 percent of their shots in the paint,
They also finished first in fastbreak points per game, with 20.1, 1.5 points ahead of second-place Houston.
A huge part of that is because of Corey Brewer. He finished the season with 7.4 of his 10.6 attempts per game coming at the rim or from behind the arc, two of the most productive shots in the game.
Watching C-Brew race down the court just is pleasing to watch. It’s common knowledge that the ball moves faster in the air than it does on the ground. Seeing the Nuggets in-bound the ball after a MADE basket, then push it up the court to Brewer, who has somehow ran behind the defense, for an emphatic two-hand slam reaffirms that theory, and it is one of the top plays in the NBA.
Zach Harper broke down Brewer’s ability to score on the fastbreak in detail earlier this season, and I’d recommend reading it as well.
For a limited time at number two … Atlanta Hawks pick and roll
But wait, not just any pick and roll, this is special big-to-big motion! Sorry for the music, not my original video.
Complain as much as you want about Josh Smith and his ill-advised jumpers from distance, here is what he does best: defense, passing, dunking. Those final two things are as maxed out as a college student’s credit card when he gets jiggy with Al Horford in the fourth quarter.
It’s a brilliant play. In the adored HORNS set, the Hawks will put Horford and Smith at the elbows, late in the game, and get buckets. Oftentimes the play culminates in Smith passing the ball to Horford for an easy layup, but it’s just beautiful.
Here’s what I love about it. First, pulling the two best shot-blockers away from the rim is a good idea normally – it’s why stretch 4′s have value. Second, most teams don’t run 4-5 pick and roll sets, so the players on defense aren’t accustomed to the nuances of defending this play together. Third, Josh Smith is really quite good at passing the ball. Fourth, Al Horford is really quite good at positioning his body and using proper footwork to avoid having his shot blocked and getting to the rim.
I, for one, will be curious to see if Smith re-signs with Atlanta, or is able to develop great chemistry elsewhere like he has with Horford (please choose Cleveland!).
And the top spot goes to … Tim Duncan pick and roll
Bask in the glory of Tim Duncan!
Now, Duncan has had an excellent season. He isn’t playing as many minutes as he used to (third lowest per game of his career, 5.0 under his career average) but he has been very effective this year. He hasn’t blocked this many shots (2.7 per game) since he was 27 years old, back in 2003.
I don’t have the Synergy numbers, but from what I’ve seen this season, Duncan is still a force in the pick and roll game.
The Spurs will often have Duncan come up, and spin the pick and roll after he has established position near the left elbow. Camping there creates space for Tony Parker to drive with his right hand into the lane for a shot or a pass out to a shooter on the wing. It also is right in Duncan’s sweet spot this season, an area where he is shooting 49.2 percent this season.
If the defense fails to cut off a path to the rim for Duncan, he is still able to saddle up his horse and drive to the rim. A lesson for the ballers old and young out there – you’d better rotate fast from the weak side to cut off those looks near the basket! Because if you don’t, you’ll get dunked (or scored) upon, and you’ll look like a fool.
Moment of Kyrie Zen
Special consideration was given to Kryie Irving for this play against Damian Lillard. You gave me great joy on League Pass Kyrie … those were some great times.
Back in the day when I was still a capable guard and ballin’, my center and I would orchestrate a method before tip-off to snag the first possession. I would stand outside the circle, and as the referee tossed the ball into the air, my center would intentionally graze the ball, barely touching it. The opposing center would easily tip it back, but I would rush into our opponent’s side, jump, and grab the ball. With my speed, I would dart though the surprised jerseys and race for a layup. It worked about 70% of the time, with the other 30% resulting in hilarious backfires.
This piece is obviously about the opening tip off in basketball games, and you’d think I’d come up with a better introduction since I’m literally talking about the first play of the game. But all I have is that anecdote, which never actually happens in the NBA.
Ultimately, the winner of the tip-off undoubtedly means nothing, because basketball is a game of equal, alternating possessions. Still, I decided to dive into play-by-play data provided by ESPN.com and discover who the best jump ballers in the league are. I’m interested in this data because tip-offs are generally an isolated play, free of noise. It’s a simple matchup between two bigs and their raw ability to time and leap.
There’s already some previous research on jump balls. My data will be somewhat different from Weakside Awareness’s study. I excluded middle-of-game jump balls to avoid mismatches. I only want to capture situations where the coach sent their perceived “best man for the job,” not happenstance jump balls when two players fighting for possession were whistled. This way, I’d omit matchups where a big faced off against a guard. Furthermore, such jumps would have a more random result due to the man-to-man positioning of the other eight players. In opening tip-offs, the point guard is stationed alone in his backcourt, where he can gain possession from his teammate’s successful rudimentary backward tip1.
So my data is essentially composed of center court tip-offs: those occurring at the beginning of the game and any overtime period. There isn’t much else, so let’s get right into 2012-13’s leaderboard (minimum 20 tip-offs, including March 15th games).
And here are the ten worst.
Position and height are loosely defined by Basketball Reference. There’s a minor element of bias in the second list; any team tracking their big man’s record should, hypothetically, cease such duties for the poor jump baller, which is why we might observe lower samples for these bigs. This is unless you’re the Sixers, and you’re stuck between three men without much vertical in Lavoy Allen, Kwame Brown, and Spencer Hawes.
Weakside Awareness did a great job detailing the effect of height in these matchups. I’d be interested in a few other variables to see if winning percentage can be modeled: weight and vertical. I’d posit that the latter is most significant; unfortunately I can’t prove that, as the data is scarce and limited to draft combines (more on this later). We can note though, that the top 10 list hosts the league’s more athletic bigs.
Luckily, there are some methods to find out whether these tip-off stats can be verified as meaningful. Vertical is also a basis for performance in sister stats like rebounding and blocks. I gathered that data from HoopData and ran some quick individual correlations (sample of 151 seasons, minimum 20 tips).
As predicted, there are positive, statistically significant correlations between tip-off success and rebound rate, as well as blocks. Keep in mind, these are two dependent outcomes I’m correlating(I’ll talk about how tip-off win rate could be interpreted as an independent variable later).
There’s a discussion to be had on how much jumping utility constitutes a player’s performance in these related stats. Tip-offs are an independent event, so height difference, timing, and vertical should be the major indicators. But for rebound rate and blocks, basketball aptitude and surrounding players would contribute a fair share too, especially in the continuous flow of a game. This is likely why our R-squared is small, but still statistically significant.
What’s also worth exploring to me is year-to-year correlation: is winning tip-offs a repeatable skill? I paired together data in consecutive years from 2010-13, and kept only players with 20+ tip-off matches in both seasons. I plotted those 68 player seasons’ year-to-year win rates2. My data can be found here.
We’re comfortably above the threshold of stability. Year to year, Anderson Varejao doesn’t waver far from 50%, Tim Duncan is holding consistently at 67%, and Al Jefferson will need springs on his sneakers to ever budge from 45%.
Though that reliability exists, the more compelling cases are those with larger residuals. What in fact, explains the variance? Well, it would be naïve to assume absolute consistency year-to-year. For an action that relies heavily on timing and athleticism (things we can’t quantify), I would speculate that tip-off performance is dependent on the improvement or decline of those native abilities.
On the positive side of the spectrum this year is Emeka Okafor, who went from winning 40% last year to 61%. Not quite obeying his aging curve is Roy Hibbert, who fell from over 50% to under 40%.
Here are the deltas of at least ten percentage points. Year represents the season’s end year.
My first reaction to these was noticing some correlation with overall player performance. LaMarcus Aldridge took a clear step forward in 2011, and Roy Hibbert has regressed this year, without question.
I thought about what might cause these residuals. Perhaps they correlated to the other athleticism related statistics above? I found small, positive correlations with the respective deltas in defensive rebound rate, total rebound rate, and percentage of own shots blocked. My sample size was too small (by pairing seasons together) to draw significant conclusions, though. By using these deltas, we’ve introduced lots of noise.
However, I wouldn’t discount the idea of change in tip-off performance being related to simply a player’s raw growth or decline. The hypothesized effect might just exist for some cases. Such cases aren’t necessarily outliers, either. Each player can be his own data set.
DeAndre Jordan, Serge Ibaka, and Josh Smith are young bigs who are rising toward their peaks. They’ve also remained healthy over their entire careers. Take a look at their year-over-year tip-off win rates.
It’s not surprising to see these three athletic big men improve on tip-offs each year. The more interesting question is whether we’ll see continued progress, or their peak. Two players in my four season data set have eclipsed Jordan’s 77% (minimum 60 tips): Samuel Dalembert (64-18, 78.0% at age 28), and Andrew Bynum (54-15, 78.3% at age 22). Both of these monstrous records occurred in 2010.
It’s harder to identify cases of deterioration. As I remarked before, a smart coach would pull their designated tip-off man when the symptoms of aging manifest, such as decreased vertical. This prevents us from witnessing a decline in the data.
This brings me to a question that’s been underlining my analysis. Given that timing and athleticism are skills that we can only measure with our eyes, can the rate of winning tip-offs be a reasonable proxy? Can I estimate a player’s vertical/jumping utility by their success on tip-offs?
Proving this would be difficult. Players perform a variety of tests at draft combines and camps, which we don’t always have access to. But suppose we did have a quantitative assessment of timing and athleticism. Could combining them with age, height, and weight provide us with enough input variables to model a player’s success on tip-offs? This would help us determine the potential causation between vertical and tip-offs.
(A few things: there would likely be Shaq-sized covariance in those inputs. And yes, we’d have to adjust for quality. And I could be totally wrong; height might ultimately matter more.)
I’m making some assumptions here. The primary one is that tip-offs solely rely on the raw ability to time and leap, as I mentioned at the beginning. Related to that assumption is the idea that other on-court players have minimal influence on the result3. Lastly, competing players must be jumping to their maximum vertical each time. I don’t think any of these is a stretch: as I said, tip-offs might be the most isolated play in basketball after free throws. That lack of noise can really be helpful in determining the factors that influence the result.
Unlike free throws however, tip-offs don’t monumentally affect the game. Evidently, I’m making quite a big deal about a minor basketball play that is literally complete in a second. In context of a game, it’s mostly irrelevant. But I think there are intriguing questions to consider regarding the players competing in tip-offs.
The minutiae of sports are fascinating, because you never know what insights can be gleaned from them. Perhaps my questions are overblown. But it won’t stop me from being curious and asking questions about basketball. Whether they’re trivial or provoking, we can always learn something new.
1. I’m going to be making reference to the receiver of the ball again, so here’s a chart listing the breakdown of who caught the tip-off, by position. These aren’t the positions assigned in the particular game – just what Basketball Reference deemed the receiving player for that season.
I’ve calculated these for sanity, rather than analysis. There is year to year consistency and no surprises, a good result to move forward with this study with.
2. Playoff data is excluded. I thought about this extensively, but decided that there could be some “matchup abuse” that would inflate and deflate the numbers, as well as unfair sample size skewing. For example, Serge Ibaka won every tip against the Mavericks’ Brendan Haywood in their quarterfinal series last year. If you’re keeping track, yes, Brendan Haywood is still terrible at just about everything.
3. Related to footnote one, I contemplated limiting the data to tip-offs where a guard received the ball. Such situations would be a clear indication of a direct backward tip (i.e. a clean tip-off win by the big). Doing so would cause sample size concerns, though.
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.