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: nba.com/stats)

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: NBA.com/stats)

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.