Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The top three-point shooting duos in the NBA

In today's NBA, virtually every team wants at least two (and preferably more) long-range shooters on the floor at all times. This opens up space inside for both post players and drivers, which can boost free throw rates and overall offensive efficiency as a result.

So which team has the best duo of three-point shooters?

I mapped 3P% vs 3PA/gm for each team's top two shooters, measured by total 3PA. (I put a minimum of 3.5 attempts/gm for each player, so if your favorite team isn't listed here, it's because you didn't have two players who met that criteria.)

Some takeaways:

  • It will surprise absolutely no one to see the Splash Brothers near the top-right of this chart. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are just doing their usual record-breaking thing (though Curry's 41.3% is really dragging his teammate down).
  • But how about Portland? Wesley Matthews continues to shoot out of his mind, and Damian Lillard may already be the second-best shooting lead guard in the league.
  • Kyle Korver is shooting precisely 50% on threes. I just... I mean... it's the only thing he really does, and teams still have no answer for it.
  • I love the way that Mike D'Antoni has deployed Jodie Meeks (46% from 3PT) and Steve Blake, as well as Shawne Williams and others, in his early-in-the-shot-clock, long-distance attack. It'll be interesting to see how this changes, in both volume and efficiency, with Kobe Bryant's return.
  • The fact that the Celtics with frickin' Jordan Crawford and Jeff Green are in the top left of this chart may be the strongest data point yet for Brad Stevens' Coach of the Year candidacy.
  • Ray Allen: under 39% so far. Shane Battier: hovering around 30%. These will improve - well at least Ray is guaranteed to, since he's a cyborg. And when they do, Miami's LeBron James-fueled, record-pace offense may get even better.
  • You knew the Pistons were going to suck here, correct?What you may not have realized is that Brandon Jennings is actually up to a respectable 36% from three-land. Josh Smith is at 27%. And has already chucked up 100 attempts, and is showing no signs of slowing down. (More on Smoove in the day ahead.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

10 great stats from NBAwowy

Here are five quick nuggets from the treasure trove that is

  1. With Marc Gasol on the floor, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph have true shooting percentages of 59.5 and 55.1, respectively. Without Marc, those dip to 50.2 and 50.6. Get better soon, Nasty.

  1. Just in case you thought (as I suspected) that Monta Ellis' growth this year was mostly from playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki: Monta with Dirk on the floor: 27.9 usage, 53.3 TS%. With Dirk on the bench: 27.5 usage, 59.5 TS%.
  2. The Kings are scoring 100 points per 100 possessions with Greivis Vasquez on the floor, which would rank about 20th in the NBA team rankings. Without Vasquez, they're scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 2nd in the NBA, just behind the Heat's 108.8.
  3. Speaking of Miami, are we still pretending Udonis Haslem is integral to this team? With Udonis on the court, Miami scores 107 pts / 100 possessions and gives up a whopping 118 pts / 100 poss. With Udonis in the cheering section, the Heat outscore opponents 117.5 - 102 per 100 poss. More amazingly, in the 108 minutes that Haslem and LeBron James have played together, the Heat have been outscored by 20 points. UDONIS HASLEM CANCELS OUT LEBRON JAMES!
  4. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have been outstanding for the Blazers, and Wesley Matthews is shooting like Steve Kerr on steroids. But the real MVP for Portland might be Robin Lopez. With Lopez on the court, the Blazers outscore opponents 112-104 per 100 possessions. That's championship-level material. Without him, it's 110-109... basically a .500 team.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The best rebounders in the NBA, featuring Andre Drummond

Who are the best rebounders in the NBA? Looking at rebounds per game gets us a partial answer, but it doesn't account for a couple of important factors. First, different players get different numbers of opportunities for rebounds. Second, not all rebounds are created equal. Some are uncontested, while others are most definitely not.

The two charts below should give us some more insight. The top chart maps rebounding chances per game against the percentage of those chances that actually get rebounded. (We're including every player who gets at least 14 chances per game.) The second chart looks at the leaders in rebounds per 36 minutes, and breaks those rebounds into uncontested (in purple) and contested (in orange). defines "contested" as those rebounds where an opponent is within 3.5 feet of the rebound.

Having trouble viewing the chart? Click here.

Some takeaways:

  • It's probably premature to say definitively that Andre Drummond is the best rebounder in the NBA. But... not by much. He's leading all 29 players in the top chart by pulling in a whopping 73% of rebounding chances. If he's near the ball, he's getting it. Even more impressively, he's doing it the hard way - he's second in total rebounds / 36 mins, and has more contested rebounds AND fewer uncontested rebounds than any of the other top 9 players in that category. What a beast. Oh, did I mention he turned 20 this summer?
  • When it comes to board work, Kevin Love dishes out quality and quantity. He's averaging over 21 rebounding chances per game - nobody else in the game earns over 18 chances. That's proof of both his ability to stay on the floor and his incredible nose for the ball.
  • If Drummond is the best young rebounder in the game, DeMarcus Cousins certainly isn't far behind.
  • Only 29% of Dwight Howard's rebounds this season are contested, compared to 44% for Drummond and 41% for DeAndre Jordan. I have no idea what to make of this, honestly.
  • Speaking of Jordan, his improvement on the boards from past seasons has been remarkable. It's partly because he's staying on the floor, playing over 35 mpg after never even breaking 29 mpg in previous season. But he's also grabbing far more rebounds on a per-36-minutes basis (13.0 this year, compared to a career average of 10.8). Combined with Blake Griffin's usual rebounding excellence, the Clips at least have a solid 1-2 punch inside. (Too bad they also have the not-so-solid 3-4-5 punch of Ryan Hollins, Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens.)
  • Shout out to Carmelo Anthony, grabbing almost 70% of his rebounding chances. He's easily setting new career highs in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates, which is doubly impressive given his sky-high usage rate.
  • Anderson Varejao. Struggling.
(Primary data source:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How efficient are the NBA's highest-usage players?

Here are the true shooting %'s for the 25 players with the highest usage rates in the NBA right now (min 240 mins played).

(Having trouble seeing the chart? Click here.)

Some takeaways:
  • LeBron James is killing the NBA softly with his efficiency. By the way, the modern-era record for TS%  (min 500 FGA) is 70.2%, by Artis Gilmore in 1981-82. The record for non-centers is Cedric Maxwell at just under 68%. LeBron has a great shot at busting that mark - while taking almost 50% more shots than Cornbread did.
  • Does Kevin Durant curse the existence of LeBron every day, or is it a weekly ritual? Durant's efficiency is startling and borderline historic... except it's overshadowed by this other guy at every turn. Let's just relish them both.
  • Monta Ellis finally does have it all! After posting TS% of 51% and 49% the past two years, Monta is over 59% this year. That's better than Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and Kevin Love. How is this happening? Simply put, he's doing everything better: taking fewer three's, shooting them more efficiently, and getting to the line at a far greater clip than ever before (7 FTA / 36 mins, compared to 4.5 FTA / 36 the past two seasons.) By the way, if this amazing transformation keeps up, this may become one of the strongest points in the Hall of Fame resume of Dirk Nowitzki. (Speaking of Dirk, he just misses the top 25 in usage on this chart, but his TS% is over 60%. That's a hell of a two-headed foundation for an offense.)
  • I'm going to excuse Russell Westbrook's inefficiency for now because he's coming back from a serious meniscus injury.He's been over 53% TS each of the past three seasons, and I expect he'll be back there soon.
  • What's up with DeMarcus Cousins? After a 28% usage rate last year, he's approaching 35% this year. His shooting isn't horrible, and he's actually passing pretty well (a 16% assist rate), so it'll be interesting to see if he can sustain this new level of volume and efficiency. Has losing Tyreke Evans has been addition by subtraction for DMC?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Leaders in three-point attempts: how well are they shooting?

Here are the top 30 players in 3PA /game so far in 2013-14, plotted against their 3P% (minimum 6 games played):

(You can also see the chart here.)

Some takeaways: 

  • It's old hat at this point to bow to the awesomeness of the Klay Thompson - Stephen Curry duo in Golden State. Everyone knows they can shoot. But then you see a chart like this, and... holy hell. Every good team has its unique advantages. The Warriors' unique advantage is a nuclear jetpack.
  • One of the keys to Portland's blazing start: check out Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews on this chart. Wes' current accuracy is unsustainable, but he can drop by 6-8 percentage points, be close to his career marks, and still be an ace safety valve for Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
  • Kyle Korver is approaching 500 3PA during his time in Atlanta. He's currently shooting 46.3% on those 450+ attempts. So, yes, not a fluke.
  • James Harden's 3P% the past three seasons: 39% (last season in OKC), 36.8% last year, 31.5% this year. His attempts / game: 4.7, 6.2, 6.6.
  • Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings are combining to jack up over 10 3PA / gm. The better of the two is shooting 32%. Spacing problems? What spacing problems?
  • It'll be interesting to see where guys like O.J. Mayo and Jodie Meeks end up. Both are blowing away their past performance, but on the other hand, both have also changed their responsibilities this year, and that may account for some of the improvement. We'll see how much proves sustainable.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Where every NBA team scores its points

How many points does each NBA team score near the basket? On long two's? Three pointers? Or at the line?

Here's the chart for every team, broken into six distances on the floor.

(Chart can also be viewed here.)

Some takeaways:

  • Interesting how similar Memphis and Miami look... until you get to 3PT, where Miami scores 26.4 ppg and Memphis clocks in at 13.8 ppg. That's the difference between a potentially  all-time great offense and one with a gaping, probably upside-capping hole.
  • It's been often stated how Daryl Morey's vision for Houston's offense is to focus almost exclusively on 3PT, FT, and close-in shots. It sure looks like - with James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard in tow - that vision has been realized. No team in the NBA scores less on shots between 5 ft and the 3-point line than the Rockets, and it's not particularly close.
  • Portland is practically the only team that bombs away on long-range two-pointers and still has a potent offense. Why? Primarily because LaMarcus Aldridge is the new Dirk Nowitzki.
  • The Spurs are getting only 12 ppg from free throws, lowest in the NBA. The early struggles of Tim Duncan obviously have a lot to do with that. But thanks to Tony Parker, they're killing it close to the rim anyway.
  • Speaking of close to the rim... Sixers? 43 ppg inside 5 ft? Last year, Philly was 8th-worst in getting points at that distance. Well done, Michael Carter-Williams and Spencer Hawes (among others).

(Primary data source:

Later this week, I'll be back with a look at how efficient teams are from each distance.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Godzilla of mid-range

(Primary data source:

Through the first few games of this season, here are the 25 players who've taken the most mid-range FGA per game, mapped vs their fg% on those attempts.

Some takeaways:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge led the NBA in mid-range attempts last season as well... but that was with 10 attempts per game, and hitting (a still very solid) 43% of them. What he's done early this year in terms of both volume and accuracy is otherworldly. And frankly, unguardable. Pray for regression to the mean, future Blazers opponents.
  • Obviously, it's VERY early, so I discount the FG%'s pretty significantly if they're out of whack with what a player has historically done (cough, Monta, cough).
  • The number of attempts is probably more meaningful because it may tell us something about the player, their team's offensive scheme, or both. For example, the fact that Charlotte has two players chucking a ton of mid-range shots might be related to their offensive philosophy, and is almost definitely correlated to them being 27th in points / 100 possessions right now. Eh, I'm sure they'll figure it out.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Is Michael Carter-Williams having the best start by a point guard... ever?

Here's a brief recap of what Michael Carter-Williams has done through his first three NBA games:

Scored 62 points. Dished 27 assists. Nabbed 14 rebounds. Grabbed 13 steals. Helped beat both Miami and Chicago. Saved the city of Philadelphia from itself (temporarily at least). Rescued a kitten.

Not a bad start, especially for a rookie who didn't make a first-, second-, or third-team All-American squad in either of his years in college. So how historic is MCW's start? Is it maybe the best start by a point guard in NBA history?

Before we see what the numbers say, one critical caveat: full game logs were only available starting in the 1985-86 season, and that's when our data starts. So Oscar Robertson (or Magic) may have started his career in full Beast Mode, but we just don't have access to the full details.

Let's start with all players who've tallied at least 30 total points and 15 total assists in the first 3 games of their career. The first chart maps their assists per 36 mins vs. points per 36 mins. I've highlighted John Wall (in blue) and MCW (in red) because they're so close to each other on this chart. Just for giggles, I've also highlighted LeBron James in gold.

So the only player who beats MCW (and Wall) in both Pts/36 and Ast/36 through 3 games is Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who played only 67 total minutes in his three games.

But of course, points and assists haven't been MCW's only contributions to date - far from it. Witness:

So how does MCW compare to the above players in other stats? Let's check out rebounding, steals, and protecting the ball. (Again, Carter-Williams in red, John Wall in blue, LeBron in gold.)

So comparatively speaking, Carter-Williams is strong in rebounding, third-best in assist:turnover ratio, and first in steals. Wow.

What does all this portend for Carter-Williams' future? I haven't a friggin' clue. He's certainly old for a rookie, especially one with only two years of college experience. (Krie Irving is five months younger than MCW.) On the other hand, his physical attributes are completely unlike other older rookies like Damian Lillard or Damon Stoudamire.

Regardless of what happens from here out, though, the start has been historically special.

Friday, November 1, 2013

5 early gems from the new NBA player tracking tool

If you haven't seen the new NBA Player Tracking tool yet, check it out. It uses SportVU cameras and software to track the movements of every player on every court for every NBA game. That means it can chart the movements and speed of every player, touches and passes, rebounding, defensive opportunities, and much more. It's going to be an amazing tool for fans to get a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the game.

Like for example, by jumping to impossibly early conclusions based on two games of data! But hey, it's fun, so here are five early nuggets that I found interesting and we'll keep tracking in the future. (Note: I'm only including data for players who've played two games so far, not one. See? I care about sample size!)

1. How some notable centers are doing defending the rim (min 6 FGA / gm at the rim):

Against Roy Hibbert: opponents are shooting 26% at the rim (btw, David West and Ian Mahinmi both qualify as well, and are at 38% and 37% respectively)
Chris Kaman: 17% (!)
Tyson Chandler: 32%
Andrew Bogut: 50%
Pau Gasol: 54%
Nikola Vucevic: 56%
Chris Bosh: 62%

2. Catch and shoot FG% (min 5 such FGA/gm):

Klay Thompson: 73%
LeBron James: 62.5%
Ray Allen: 41.7%
Carmelo Anthony: 40%
Wesley Johnson and Pau Gasol: 36% each
Arron Aflalo: 25%

Bonus: Stephen Curry doesn't qualify yet, but (yawn) he's at 75%.

3. Leaders in player time of possession per game (number of mins a player possesses the ball in mins):

Chris Paul: 7.9 mins out of 37 mins played
Derrick Rose: 6.6 mins, 32.9 mins played
Jameer Nelson: 6.2 mins, 35.5 mins played

Bonus: Klay Thompson has possessed the ball for just 1.1 mins / gm in order to score 24 ppg. That's 66 seconds per game.

4. Leaders in average speed on the court (in mph, min 20 mpg)

Norris Cole: 4.7 mph
JJ Redick: 4.7 mph
Kirk Hinrich: 4.6 mph
Steve Blake: 4.6 mph

5. Leaders in assist opportunities per gm (passes in which the teammate then attempts a shot):

CP3: 21.5 opptys/ gm, translating to 13 apg
Jameer Nelson: 18.5 opptys/ gm, 7.5 apg
LeBron: 18 opptys/ gm, 10.5 apg

Bonus: Poor D-Rose and Melo: each have 9.5 opptys/ gm, but only 3.5 apg

FINAL bonus: D-Rose has attempted 13 pull-up jumpers so far this season, and has made 0 of them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

LeBron James vs. the other active MVP's

Through 10 seasons, how does the career of LeBron James stack up against the other active MVP's? Here's a look at the year-by-year PER and minutes played for LeBron, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, and Derrick Rose. (Yes, I excluded Steve Nash. Trust me, he doesn't really compare well on a season-by-season basis to these dominant stars.)

Quick Takeaways:

- Good God, LeBron. The combination of dominance and durability is frightening. On a year-by-year basis, he "wins" 8 of his 10 seasons so far vs. all these other Hall-of-Famers. Even if he starts experiencing a dip within the next year or two and follows the same trendline as others have, he could still be pumping out 26+ PER seasons until at least his mid-30's. Those are MVP caliber seasons. Until his mid-30's. Or later.
- Dirk's peak 4 years were really, really great.
- KG's peak was even (ever so slightly) better.
- I'd argue that Kobe's biggest strength isn't his peak (his two best seasons are lower than LeBron's, Garnett's or Dirk's), but rather how well he's held up in years 12+. It really adds to his legacy when you compare his later years to the other older superstars.
- D-Rose's growth from year 1 to year 3 was unusually strong. Let's hope his (real) year 5 brings more of the same.

I'm going to run this visualization again later in two other ways: once to pit LeBron against current stars like Durant, Dwight and Wade, and then to pit him against all-timers like MJ, Bird, Magic and Hakeem. Let me know if there's anyone in particular you want to see on either of those visualizations.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The greatest rebounders in modern NBA history

Let's look at the best rebounding seasons in modern NBA history (1974-2013) in two different ways.

First, who's dominated rebounding on both ends of the court? In Sheet 1, I've plotted the 48 player seasons that had the highest mix of rebounding on both ends of the court, as measured by DRB% and ORB%. (Those are the percentages of all available rebounds that the player collected while they were on the court.) The size of the circles represents the number of minutes played (min 1500 mins to qualify). Thanks to Basketball Reference for the stats.

Next, I wanted to look just at defensive rebounding dominance over time. Why isolate on just def rebounds? Two reasons:

1. Offensive rebounding opportunities are often determined by the team's scheme. For example, the Doc Rivers-era Celtics teams punted on offensive rebound opportunities almost completely to focus on getting back on D. Kevin Garnett didn't forget how to grab offensive rebounds when he went to Boston. He was simply instructed not to.
2. Players with high usage rates on offense are generally less likely to have offensive rebound chances than someone who's allergic to the ball and just camps out at the basket.

So Sheet 2 shows every player since 1974 who's had multiple seasons of DRB greater than 28%. I'm looking for guys who've dominated the glass year after year.


- When it comes to combined rebounding on both ends, as with most things, Dennis Rodman is on another planet. His 1994-95 season is statistically the best mix of offensive and defensive board work in modern NBA history, and it's not close. But bear in mind he played only 49 games that season, thanks to a mix of butting heads with the Spurs organization and injuries. Personally, I'd put his 1992-93 at the top of his rebounding list. He played over 3300 minutes that season, grabbed over one-third of all defensive rebound chances and 18% of potential offensive boards. It's an amazing combination of stamina, talent and effort.
- Moses Malone, y'all. Young Moses was relatively thin, quite good on the defensive glass... and a preposterous beast on the offensive boards. He started in the ABA at age 19, and led his respective league in total offensive boards eight of his first nine pro seasons. Moses finished his career with just over 7300 off rebs. No one else in modern NBA history has over 4800. (Bear in mind, they didn't keep off reb stats during the Russell-Wilt era.)
- I knew Maurice Reggie Evans had a great rebounding season in 2012-13. I didn't realize his defensive board work was the best in the past 40 years. Hoovering almost 38% of available boards... wow.
- Get / stay healthy, Kevin Love and Dwight Howard. You're both on historic paths if you stay upright.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Visual proof that Steph Curry is an alien

Here's a graph of every player from the 2009-2013 seasons who attempted more than 6 3PA / game, plotted against their 3P%.