Scouring through the NBA’s new, in-depth, advanced take on stats with its SportVU add-on has changed the game for good, from the minds of the front office personnel who may use it to the fans who educate themselves on a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
From figuring out who the league’s fastest and most agile players are to which big men are the best rebounders in traffic, the SportVU tool can put an end to any type of NBA-based argument because of how advanced it is when it comes to the numbers it produces.
The best part of it, by far, is putting an end to former stereotypes, which composes a few of the stats that are soon to be brought up in this piece. You’d be surprised to find out how some of the players supposedly among the league’s worst rebounders are actually not that bad, as well as how players who were thought to only score off of drives are actually incredible shooters.
It also gives credit to those who may not be recognized by the larger mainstream outlets. SportVU allows viewers to observe the numbers of even the most obscure players who may be killing it with their underachieving team, without the bias or slant of certain sources.
For example, there’s a player out in Milwaukee who has become one of the league’s best defenders and a player coming off the bench on Charlotte who should be recognized as one of the league’s top players at getting to the rim.
Those realizations would have never been brought to the light if not for the research that goes into finding out the percentages of stat categories we always wish we knew about, stats such as contested rebounding percentage, field goal percentage allowed at the rim, or even the points per game a team scores off of drives.
Using this tool, we found five more interesting stats that will have you reconsidering previous facts you thought you once knew, as well as uncovering just how prolific and effective certain player are.
*** *** ***
1. The Los Angeles Clippers are still Chris Paul or bust
After two years of assimilating to his new team, Chris Paul is having a season with the Los Angeles Clippers that is similar to those in his time with the New Orleans Hornets, averaging double-digit assists per after three consecutive seasons of averaging less than ten.
The 11.4 assists he’s averaging is nearly two more assists per game than what anybody else in the league is averaging, and it’s also only a few percentage points short of the career-high he set back in 2008, only the third year of his career. His assist percentage, the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while on the floor, of 54.2 percent also shatters anything he’s put up since 2010. Not only is he leading the league in assist percentage and assists per, he’s also leading in secondary assists per game, or the hockey assist, used to give credit to the player who passed to the teammate who was credited with an assist.
Naturally, he’s also leading in points created off his assists at nearly 26 points per contest. Once again, this is far-and-away the best mark in the league, nearly four points more than second place. He also has 86 more assists than second place. He’s good at what he does and nobody in the game can control the tempo or make it look as easy as he does.
The Los Angeles Clippers may not be a playoff team without him making every play happen. When he’s on the court, the Clippers are generating 108.7 points per 100 possessions, but only 100.5 points per 100 possessions when he’s off.
Lineups that play without Paul have some of the worst field goal percentage and assist numbers of any that are utilized by the Clippers. The lineup that plays the most minutes without Chris Paul — the Collison, Bullock, Crawford, Jamison, Hollins lineup that’s played 37 minutes in seven games together — is shooting 40 percent overall, 11 percent from three, and has come up with more turnovers than assists.
The Collison-Crawford-Dudley–Griffin–Jordan lineup has also struggled, shooting only 41 percent from the field and 33 percent from three. Of lineups that have played at least 30 minutes together this season, the two without Chris Paul are by far the worst.
Both of those lineups are the only ones to play 30 minutes together and not average at least 100 points per 100 possessions. However, they do provide good defensive numbers, giving up 84.2 points and 99.1 per 100 possessions, respectively.
Even the two-man lineups indicate how much Paul means to this team. When Paul is put alongside a starter, whether it’s Griffin, Jordan, Dudley, Crawford or Redick, all of those lineups are generating at least 107.6 points per 100 possessions. The Paul-Redick backcourt is actually ringing up 113.7 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, there are three five-man lineups with Chris Paul that have played over 30 minutes together and are shooting at least 50 percent. The worst lineup, in terms of field goal percentage, that he’s used in is shooting 43 percent.
Chris Paul is going to have those robust numbers because he’s such a great point guard, as well as the Clippers needing him in order to generate offense. The six-most used lineups on this team all involve Paul facilitating. It’s understood that the point guard, especially one of Paul’s caliber, will produce the best offensive numbers, but the dropoff without Paul is something that could prove to be crippling once the playoffs begin.
The Clippers are touted as championship contenders, yet they are clearly dependent on one player to make everything work on offense or else they’re stagnant. He’s averaged at least 37 minutes per game in his two playoff appearances with the Clippers and that number could go up this year with Eric Bledsoe no longer an option to go to.
Things will pickup once J.J. Redick makes his return, but he won’t be the answer to the Clippers’ extreme dependency on Paul.
2. Ramon Sessions is one of the league’s best drivers and Damian Lillard is one of the worst finishers
When you scroll through the NBA’s top drivers, you see the familiar names that you’ve come to expect from the players that make a living on either finessing or barreling their way to the rim.
Monta Ellis and Ty Lawson are the league’s top drivers, in terms of drives per game, and LeBron James‘ 62 percent field goal percentage on takes to the rim is the best among those with at least 150 drives.
But there are two oddities in this category, those being Ramon Sessions labeled as one of the league’s top players when it comes to taking it to the rim and Damian Lillard having one of the worst field goal percentages among those who frequently drive.
Sessions, Kemba Walker‘s backup point guard on the 29th-worst offense of the Charlotte Bobcats, is getting to the rim, despite only converting 24 percent of his three-pointers and playing in only 21 minutes per game.
Despite the low minutes, Sessions has recorded 212 drives this season, which is more than the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and backcourt teammate Kemba Walker. Of the league’s top 25 players on total drives, there are only four players averaging less than 30 minutes of playing time per game. Those other three are Tyreke Evans, Tony Wroten and Dion Waiters. However, each of those players is averaging at least 26 minutes of playing time per night, five more than Sessions.
The only other players with as strange a correlation in relation to minutes per game and drives would be J.J. Barea, 172 drives in 19.1 minutes per game, and Xavier Henry, 126 drives in 21.8 minutes per.
Not only is Sessions getting to the rim, but he’s also finishing, too. The 49 percent he’s shooting on drives is ranked 16th among those who have at least five drives per game. Strong numbers for a point guard who has never been able to hold down a starting role. Since being drafted in 2007, Sessions has already spent time with five different teams and has never averaged better than 15 points per game, nor has he ever shot better than 47 percent. Per 36, though, he’s averaging 18.3 points this year and getting to the line eight times per game. He got to the line 16 times in 34 minutes in a game earlier this year against New Orleans.
He’s extremely agile and he works well in pick-and-rolls, ranking 41st in the league, per Synergy, in points per possession when utilized as the ballhandler, which composes 40 percent of his offense, allowing him to get to the rim and draw fouls.
Meanwhile, if you look at the bottom of field goal percentages of those who drive at least five times per game, you’ll find Damian Lillard, who is only a few points ahead of Russell Westbrook.
On 233 drives, Lillard has only made less than 33 percent of his attempts. But he has made up for it by being able to distribute when he attracts the attention of the opposing big, generating 8.4 points per game on drives, which is 14th among those with at least five drives per game.
Also among those you may not have expected to have such a low field goal percentage on drives is Rudy Gay, shooting only 34.7 percent.
3. John Henson has been one of the league’s best post defenders
With hardly anybody paying attention to the middling Milwaukee Bucks, currently the league’s worst team, there hasn’t been much attention being drawn to their second-year center, John Henson.
Henson entered the season coming off the bench after a rookie season where he only averaged 13 minutes of playing time a night, started only nine games, and played in only 63. He was given two starts early on this year, but was then sent back to the bench for another three weeks before earning a start after a six-block effort against Charlotte.
His response was to drop 13 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks in a rare win over Boston. He’d go on to drop at least ten points over the next five games, capped off by a 25-point, 14-rebound, six-block performance on a Chicago team that was defending Henson with Nazr Mohammed and something named Erik Murphy for most of the night.
He also recorded a season-high 17 rebounds in a win over Washington. It’s certainly not the first time Henson has had such high rebounding numbers, though, as he also had 18 in a loss to Miami last year, 25 in a loss to Orlando, and 16 in the season-closer last year against Oklahoma CIty.
The first-round pick out of North Carolina is taking advantage of his new role in the rotation and is responding with strong averages of 12.4 points on 53 percent shooting, eight rebounds and 2.3 blocks. His PER of 20.3 would rank him ahead of Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard. He’s improved at nearly every aspect of the game without anyone outside of Milwaukee noticing. The 42 percent he’s allowing on shots at the rim is the second-best percentage any post-defender is allowing among those who have to defend at least 7.2 shots at the rim per contest. The only other player with a lower percentage is Roy Hibbert, who will most likely be crowned the league’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Although the Bucks possess the league’s 23rd worst defensive efficiency, they only rank 13th in points in the paint given up per game, and are also allowing six points less than they were last season.
His 2.3 blocks per game is tied for third in the league with Serge Ibaka and he’s only trailing Anthony Davis and Hibbert. How have we been missing this? There’s more talk about the kid from Greece and his name than there is about Henson putting up elite defensive numbers.
As for rebounding, Henson is averaging eight per contest and has had 41 percent of his rebounds labeled as contested. Maybe we should start paying attention.
Milwaukee, stand up for a player that has actually been playing well and will anchor a strong frontcourt with Larry Sanders, who has played only four games this year.
4. Chris Bosh isn’t as bad a rebounder as you think
Even when Chris Bosh wins, he loses.
He’ll always be the other guy of the Big Three that supposedly puts up below-average stats, shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer and may not even be considered an All-Star in certain, misinformed circles. But Bosh perseveres. He takes advantage of the looks he receives, shooting 53 percent overall and 35 percent from three, and 80 percent from the foul line, is constantly coming through in clutch situations and is regarded as one of the league’s top big men when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll.
He’ll keep getting criticized, though, mainly for his rebounding. Those critics will look right at the career-low 6.5 boards per game and assume Bosh just somehow keeps getting worse at rebounding, somehow distancing himself from the player who averaged over ten boards three times with Toronto. If you look deeper, you’ll see that Bosh is only taking advantage of the chances he’s getting.
The Miami Heat rank dead-last in both offensive rebounding and rebounding for a number of reasons, with one of them being they don’t miss too many shots, as they lead the league in field goal percentage, meaning they’re less likely to grab offensive rebounds and rebounds overall. Also, Heat opponents will circle those games on their calendars, exerting far more of an effort than they will against most other teams. A lot of the missed rebounding opportunities for Miami come as a result of the opponent simply outworking and outrunning the Heat for the board.
Bosh is no reason to blame the Heat for their rebounding woes. They could be better, but they also can’t be much worse considering the few rebounding chances they get.
A rebounding opportunity is defined by SportVU as “the number of times a player was within 3.5 feet of a rebound”. Bosh is only receiving 10.2 of these opportunities per game on account of him being a perimeter player, making him less likely to grab an offensive rebound as post players would. The Heat has made it known through Bosh’s increase in three-point shooting that they would prefer him to be far away from the rim on offense, in order to keep defenders away from the basket and out of LeBron James’ and Dwyane Wade‘s way.
Of those few chances Bosh is receiving, he’s grabbing 64 percent of them, and 36.2 percent of his rebounds have also come as contested, superior to that of the likes of Josh Smith and Carlos Boozer.
His per 36 numbers are also superior to what he was putting up last year. Because the bench has been so dependable this season, it’s allowed the Heat to give more rest to the Big Three, resulting in career-lows in minutes for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, who is averaging only 29 minutes per game. He’s garnering 7.9 rebounds per 36 minutes a year after only averaging 7.3.
Bosh is the Heat’s center by default. He’s a true power forward, but plays the center position because it not only helps Miami drag out the Roy Hibberts and Joakim Noahs of the league out of the paint, but also in their plans to space the offense.
Chris Andersen is the only true big on this team to receive any minutes. The roles of Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem have been minimized and rendered obsolete, while the team continues to wait on the Greg Oden experiment to officially begin.
Bosh may not be the best rebounder, but he’s putting in work for someone who willingly plays out of position and has to defend the likes of Hibbert or DeMarcus Cousins. He also certainly makes up for any missed rebounds with one of the league’s most pure midrange shots and the ability to fit in with Miami’s effort-driven, constantly-rotating defense.
5. LeBron James is the league’s most efficient player and it’s not even close
Alright, this may not be as much something you didn’t know as much as it is something that will surprise you with just how impressive some of the numbers are.
LeBron James’ current PER of 29.6 is tops in the league, although it’s hardly the career-high 31.6 he had last year. Were he to finish with the league’s highest PER, it’ll be the seventh consecutive time he’s done so.
It’s just another well-rounded year thus far for LeBron, averaging 25.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Although the points and rebounds per are the lowest numbers since his rookie year, it also comes at the expense of the career-low 36 minutes he’s averaging. But don’t think for a second that LeBron isn’t putting up big numbers somewhere. While his minutes have caused some of his stats to diminish, he is making up for it with otherworldly percentages.
LeBron is attempting to create his historical benchmark percentage-wise of 60-40-80. At the moment, he is shooting .592 from the field, .402 from three and .762 from the foul line. I know, what a disappointment, right?
The 59 percent he’s shooting is good enough for fourth in the league, trailing only centers in DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond and a power forward in Amir Johnson. None of those guys are taking more than 9.5 shots per game, however, while LeBron is attempting nearly 16 per. He currently has a higher shooting percentage than Dwight Howard.
There are only two non-power forwards/centers in the top 14 in field goal percentage. One of them is LeBron, the other, naturally, is Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh is only two spots behind him.
Try not to be that “LeBron’s percentages are high because he takes it to the rim so much” guy, either. He’s hit on 50 percent of his spot-up opportunities, per Synergy, 62 percent on post-ups, and is also shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc on 3.3 attempts per game for a second consecutive season. He’s also shooting 53 percent on 3.2 catch-and-shoot attempts per game, as well as shooting 37.5 percent on 3.4 pull-up jumpers per game. By comparison, Stephen Curry is shooting 45.5 percent on 3.9 catch-and-shoot attempts per game, while Carmelo Anthony is shooting 35.5 percent on 5.6 pull-up jumpers per game. LeBron’s only taking 4.4 drives per game and is shooting a league-best 62 percent on them.
LeBron’s effective field goal percentage, or when the normal field goal percentage is adjusted to take into account that made three-pointers are 1.5 times more valuable than a two, of 63.4 percent is the best among the league’s top 25 scorers by a landslide. In fact, there’s no other player within the top 25 with an eFG% above 60 percent.
The second-best eFG% in that category would belong to the 56.3 percent of Brook Lopez. If you want to use an active player, then it’s, surprisingly, Arron Afflalo and his 55.7 percent.
His true shooting percentage of 67 percent, or when a player’s overall shooting percentage takes threes and free throws into account, also decimates the league’s leaders in scoring and PER. Kevin Durant and his TS percentage of 63 percent is the only player within the top 50 in PER that even comes close. Not even the LeBron from last year is matching that with his 64 percent. It’s quite impressive when you consider how far he’s come since his initial year in Miami when he was only at 59 percent.
Each shot LeBron takes is extremely calculated. He doesn’t take the same bad shots he was taking in Cleveland or even the looks he was taking in his first year with Miami. It wasn’t until after the 2011 Finals when LeBron began taking a conscious look at where his shots were coming from.
So after shooting 51 percent in his first year with Miami, he raised it to 53 percent the next season. Just when we thought he couldn’t do himself any better, he shot 56 percent to go along with a career-high 40 percent conversion rate on three-pointers last year.
He’s currently shooting a higher three-point percentage than Ray Allen. Don’t assume the sample sizes are completely different, though, as Allen has taken 109 threes to LeBron’s 106.
This comes from someone who shot below 42 percent as a rookie. What a difference ten years can make in a player’s mindset.
What do you think?
Follow John on Twitter at @JFriel1990.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.