All numbers prior to games played on 11/5/13
Statistics has never been more fun.
To the writer, numbers are meant to be a sworn enemy. You become an English or journalism major at college solely because you know it’s an escape from math, and the only numbers you see are at the bottom of a page. You only wish there was a way numbers could be put into situations that make them practical and memorable.
Then the NBA added SportVU, and nothing was the same. SportVU is an addition to the Stats page of NBA.com that goes more in-depth than any analytical source has before, answering all the questions that we have long asked. Questions such as “which player travels the furthest per game and what’s their average speed?” or “how many of player X’s rebounds were contested?” can now be answered with a simple visit to the league website.
You’re starting to see what I mean by pure, raw excitement, right? Who doesn’t want to know how many passes Chris Paul makes in a game or how many points per game LeBron James scores off of drives?
SportVU is just another innovative, analytical look to break down the game of basketball into a series of formulas and algorithms that are utilized to pinpoint efficiency and inefficiency. It no longer leaves vague stats such as rebounds or points as go-to numbers to judge a player or a team.
There are too many variables in the game to simply base it on what you see in a box score. As the game continues to move along into a new age, the numbers outside of the box score become more useful as they carefully examine the intricacies that make specific players and teams tick.
Although sample sizes are ridiculously small and it would be unfair to make any sort of judgment or rash statements at the moment, it’s still interesting to take a look at some numbers that we probably never envisioned going into the season, as seen in a few of the five intriguing stats below.
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1. Chris Paul is the league’s top facilitator and it’s not even close
With the lone exception of an onslaught of shots made by the Lakers’ bench in the fourth quarter of their season opener, the Los Angeles Clippers have played borderline flawless basketball.
The 3-1 start that recently included a blowout victory over the Houston Rockets where they scored 137 points, shot 52 percent and finished with 33 assists has been facilitated primarily by Chris Paul, an extremely early candidate for the league’s MVP award.
Paul led the way for the Clippers in their win over Houston, recording nine of his 17 assists in a 42-point first quarter for L.A., and has done so in every other game thus far. He has recorded at least 10 assists in each of his team’s four games, dishing out at least 15 dimes twice. He leads the league in PER at 41.3, has an assist ratio of 37.3 and a turnover ratio of only 8.4, and is, obviously, leading the league in assists at over 13 per game.
Oh, and while he’s doing absolutely everything in his power to set up his teammates, he’s also performing the service of scoring on his own. Paul is tied for second in the league at 26.5 points per game, helped by the 42 points he dropped in a win over Golden State.
SportVU only magnifies the numbers and puts them into a more intricate and detailed perspective. This is where CP3’s greatness can truly be observed, as he is leading the league in nearly every category involving facilitation and passing, including passes per game at 82 and assist opportunities at nearly 22 per game.
Perhaps the most revealing stat is the 30 points the Clippers are creating solely through the assists of Paul. Per 48 minutes, CP3 is accredited with creating over 40 of his team’s points. The next closest player that plays at least 30 minutes is Stephen Curry, who is creating 35 of his team’s points per 48 minutes.
However, is too much Chris Paul a good thing in the long run? Because judging by the number of touches and possessions involving CP3, this team is significantly and deeply invested in the services of Paul, who leads the league by a wide margin in touches per game and total touches.
He’s averaging 107.5 touches per, yet no other player in the league averages more than 95. Even LeBron James is averaging only 77 at the moment. It’s downright disturbing when you take notice of total touches overall, where Paul has 83 more touches than second place.
The main recipient of all of these touches and passes would be Blake Griffin, who ranks in the top 25 in touches per at nearly 76 and is second in the league in close touches, defined as “all touches that originate within 12 feet of the basket”, only trailing Utah’s Derrick Favors.
In terms of time of possession, Paul is at the forefront, once again, aand has the ball solely in his hands for seven-and-a-half minutes per contest. Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose are tied for second at 6.8 minutes per.
Naturally you’d expect these absurd numbers from Paul to drop as the season progresses. But does that occur when there is obviously so much success when the ball is in his hands any moment he’s on the floor? The Clippers are arguably the best team in the league at the moment solely because their starting point guard has a monopoly on facilitating and dictating the offense. It’s nothing to worry about now since we’re only four games deep into the season, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Clippers continue to go to Paul so heavily.
2. Omer Asik and Dwight Howard, as expected, dominate the boards
In one of the most unsurprising relevations of the young season, the Houston Rockets, heralded by a unique frontcourt that includes non-shooting bigs in Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, are utterly impossible to rebound against.
Howard is the current league leader in rebounds at 15 per while Asik boasts nearly 11 per. That’s 26 rebounds, and nearly six off the offensive glass, coming from two players. The next teammates that come close to matching their total are Minnesota’s Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
Thanks to SportVU, we have been introduced to one of my early favorites for stats, which is the measurement of what type of rebounds, contested or uncontested, players are grabbing. When it comes to uncontested rebounds, Howard leads in a landslide at 11.5 per game. Second-place Al Horford is only grabbing nine in comparison.
However, Howard’s impact on contested boards is far less, as he’s only grabbing 3.5 of his rebounds when an opponent is within three-and-a-half feet. This is where Asik excels. While Howard is not even in the top 25 in contested rebounds per, Asik is third in the league among players whose sample size exceeds more than a game played. He’s grabbing 5.8 contested rebounds and has 55 percent of his total rebounds come when he’s battling with the opposition.
By comparison, only 23 percent of Howard’s rebounds are contested. Then again, there’s a possibility the numbers are skewed depending on how many of his rebounds were contested in his Rockets debut where he grabbed 26 boards. With such a small sample size, it’s entirely possible Howard’s contested rebounding numbers are surprisingly low only because of the lack of contested rebounds that come his way. In fact, you can check out all 26 of his rebounds here:
Howard is such a presence in the paint with a notoriety for rebounding that it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he’s gaining so many uncontested rebounds, and so few contested, on account of the reluctance of opponents to contest.
This is a stat that will have to play out, but the main point of these observations is the fact that Houston is doing exactly what we expected: Establishing a significant presence under the rim. This is perpetuated by the fact that Houston is allowing only 39 rebounds per game, good enough for third in the league in terms of boards allowed. This stat really becomes eye-popping once you consider Houston is allowing their opponent to average over 91 field goal attempts per contest.
Their rebounding different of plus-eight is second in the league, only behind a Toronto team that will come back to earth sometime. The Raptors are currently being led in rebounding by Rudy Gay at over nine per game, so take it for what it’s worth.
By the end of the season, we should expect to see the Rockets leading the league in rebounding and the distinct possibility that both Howard and Asik end up grabbing at least 10 boards a night.
Off topic, but Dallas’s Shawn Marion is averaging eight rebounds per, with six of those being contested. He’s the only non-power forward/center within the top 25 and is second in the league in contested boards per.
3. The league’s top driver is… Jeremy Lin?
With SportVU — I swear I’m not advertising, I just love this product — one can also observe just who the league’s best driver is.
Naturally, you’re probably assuming either Chris Paul or Tony Parker or LeBron James taking the top spot. Why wouldn’t you, right? Just based off of eye tests, it seems apparent that any of those three would lead the league in total drives or points off of drives, right? Not exactly.
The Houston Rockets make another appearance in the show, but it’s still not who you would expect. Not James Harden. Not even Chandler Parsons. But Jeremy Lin.
Yes, after an entire week of basketball, there is no player who drives to the rim more than Jeremy Lin and there’s only one player in the league who has more points off of drives than Lin. That player, of course, is James Harden, but Lin is only four points behind.
But when it comes to total drives, Lin doubles up Harden with 48 drives to James’ 24. In fact, there isn’t another player in the league who has more than 37 drives. Jameer Nelson is a surprising second, while Monta Ellis, Kyrie Irving and Goran Dragic round out the current top five. LeBron is far behind with 22 and only has 12 points off of those drives.
So, how exactly did this happen? How did Jeremy Lin, who also ranks first in how much his team scores per game off his drives and is shooting 53 percent on said drives, become the league’s most difficult player to keep out of the paint this past week? Well, it helps to have so many distractions on the floor. Lin is gifted with the opportunity to play alongside arguably the league’s top shooting guard in James Harden, while also receiving the benefit of running pick-and-rolls with arguably the league’s top P&R man in Dwight Howard, as well as another solid P&R player in Omer Asik.
You can see in Lin’s performance against the Charlotte Bobcats how he’s able to get into lane so easily when the likes of Howard and Asik are setting picks for him:
Thirty-six percent of Lin’s offense this year, per Synergy, has been generated through pick-and-rolls. Fourteen percent of Houston’s total offense this year has been initiated through these plays that the Rockets backcourt creates, and they have been extremely successful at it, shooting 53 percent as a team.
You can also consider it a statement being made towards the Houston coaching staff that was planning on giving his starting job over to Patrick Beverley. Those plans were derailed, however, once Beverley suffered a torn muscle. (Although he did return last night against Portland to play 29 minutes off the bench.)
Lin also has motivation from over the offseason following reports of Houston’s attempt at shopping him. He’s shot out of the gate this season, featuring an improved jumper, and taking advantage of the resources that surround him.
4. Brook Lopez: defensive deterrent?
I couldn’t believe it, either, when I first saw. But, alas, it’s true: Brook Lopez was arguably the league’s top post defender this week.
Save your gasps for later, even though it is jarring to know that there were few centers in the league who defended field goal attempts at the rim better than the Brooklyn Nets All-Star center.
Aside from averaging 3.7 blocks, sending back 11 shots in only three games, Lopez is allowing opponents to shoot a paltry 27 percent at the rim on the 10 field goal attempts he’s allowing near the basket. Once again, it’s a small sample size — he’s only faced 19 field goal attempts overall — but it’s still a sight to see when Lopez is the anchor of Brooklyn’s defense.
But he still pales in comparison to what Roy Hibbert has accomplished thus far. The Indiana Pacers center is averaging nearly five blocks per game and is forcing opponents into shooting 22 percent when they attempt shots near the rim.
But we knew Roy Hibbert was a great defensive player. The same can’t be said for Lopez, who was allowing 110 points per 100 possessions when on the floor as recent as 2011. That was essentially the lowest point of Lopez’s career as he ended the year with a career-low 1.9 defensive win shares.
That number shot up to 2.6 last year following a 2011-12 campaign where he played only five games. It could continue to gradually climb if he’s capable of slightly improving from last year, where he averaged a career-high 2.1 blocks after four consecutive years of less than two.
There could be several explanations as to why Lopez has gotten off to such a hot start. It could be because it’s early in the season and he wanted to start off strong. Being paired alongside Kevin Garnett would improve anybody’s defense. Or maybe Lopez is just improving as good NBA players are inclined to do.
Either way, it’s a great look for a Nets team that is going to need Lopez, considering the 37-year-old Garnett isn’t the same player he used to be. They’re going to need this sort of play from him all year, especially come postseason time when he possibly faces off with the likes of a healthy Joakim Noah or Roy Hibbert.
5. Be afraid of the Warriors backcourt. Be very afraid.
Unlike Brook Lopez becoming the league’s top post defender or Jeremy Lin being the league’s top player at getting to the rim, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson getting off to hot starts and treating the rim as if it were a canyon was something we all saw, or at least should have seen, coming.
I recognize I’m pointing out the obvious here, but that doesn’t make the stats any less impressive. It’s not any less impressive that Klay Thompson leads the league in points off of catch-and-shoot and is shooting 56 percent on such opportunities. It’s also not any less impressive that Curry leads the league in points per game off of pull-up jumpers at over 17.
What’s impressive, and depressing for Golden State’s opponents, is that these two are on the same team, where one player can go off for 38 points one night and the other can do the same exact thing the next. What’s impressive is that these two are as close to automatic as you’re going to get.
You can limit drives by throwing a bunch of people in the paint and daring your opponent to shoot. You can’t limit jumpers, especially when both backcourt players can match each other shot-for-shot. You don’t want to stop a player from taking jumpers because those are supposed to be low-percentage shots for the average human being. That’s not in the cards for Golden State and their fearsome backcourt, which features a point guard that is shooting 48 percent on 15 pull-up jumpers per game and 48 percent on pull-up attempts from beyond the arc.
The only player that even comes close to matching that is Damian Lillard, who is taking four less attempts overall and a full three-pointer less per than Curry. There is no player in the league, and possibly in the history of the game, with as lethal a shot off the dribble as the Warriors point guard.
It’s numbers like these that give leverage to the championship contention status the Warriors have risen to following the acquisition of Andre Iguodala and the healthy return of Andrew Bogut over the offseason. In fact, the only reason we don’t commit to arguably calling Golden State the best team out West is due to the weariness surrounding the health of Bogut, who played only 44 games in the last two years.
As long as the Warriors have this current backcourt healthy, they’re going to be a serious threat to any team that’s unfortunate enough to draw them in a postseason. Don’t forget that this was the only team out West that actually challenged San Antonio en route to the NBA Finals.
What have been your biggest takeaways from the season’s first week?
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