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.