Friday, January 31, 2014

2014 All-Stars and snubs, by PER

Now that the NBA All-Star teams have been announced, here's a look at how the 23 players selected (not including the injured Kobe Bryant) have performed this season, as measured by Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and minutes played per game. I've also included 11 players who've been often mentioned as "snubs", at least from the original announced list.

(Having trouble seeing the chart? Click here.)

Some takeaways:

  • Is this why they call Joe Johnson "Iso-Joe"? I tweeted this yesterday:

  • But hey, at least they took someone who's young, up-and-coming, on a great team, and throws down thrilling dunks. Give the people what they want, Joe!
  • Ignore Roy Hibbert in the bottom left. PER understates defense, and Hibbert is running away with the Defensive Player of the Year vote, at least at the halfway point.
  • The only semi-plausible reason I've heard for excluding Anthony Davis is the time he missed due to injury. But the thing is... he's played more total minutes than Dwayne Wade, DeMarcus Cousins, Tony Parker or Chris Paul. If he's not Adam Silver's pick to replace Kobe, I'd be shocked. Then again, Joe Johnson.
  • I honestly feel for Cousins, Goran Dragic, and Mike Conley being left out, and I double-feel for Kyle Lowry, who should be sticking pins in a Johnson Nets voodoo doll right about... now. The only consolation is that voters tend to remember the snubs the following year if they maintain their torrid play. Those young guys are likely to be rewarded, just a year late.
  • I understand Lance Stephenson is on an exceptional team, and that he's often the offensive fulcrum for the Pacers. I would've had no problem with him over DeMar DeRozan, though it's close and I'm OK with it either way. But I wouldn't take Lance over Lowry, who's been a better scorer and floor general, and is probably about equal defensively.
  • Ty Lawson, anyone? Anyone? 
And finally, just a friendly reminder...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, game by game

Here's a look at how Kevin Durant and LeBron James have progressed throughout the 2013-14 season, as measured by average overall Game Score. (Game Score was created by John Hollinger to give a rough measure of a player's productivity for a single game. The scale is similar to that of points scored, (25 is an excellent performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.)

(Having trouble seeing this chart? Click here.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Driving to the basket: Who's the best?

Here are the 25 NBA players (through Jan 20) who drive to the basket the most, mapped against their FG% on those drives. ( defines drives as "any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks.")

(Having trouble seeing this chart? Click here.)

Some takeaways:

  • In terms of sheer volume of drives, Tony Parker, Ty Lawson and Monta Ellis are in a class by themselves. They also produce quality along with that quantity, albeit each in different ways. Lawson is excellent at finishing, but even better at setting up teammates with drive-and-kicks; no one in the NBA produces more team points directly from drives than Ty's 13.1 ppg. Parker, with his array of floaters and either-hand layups and scoops, is the best pure finisher of the trio. And Monta is the best (this year, at least) at drawing fouls from drives. He's actually leading the league with 8.0 individual ppg from drives.
  • Jeremy Lin, everybody! This chart highlights Lin's biggest strength - the ability to drive and finish creatively. He may be a third guard at this point, but what a third guard. By the way, look at Lin, James Harden, and Chandler Parsons all bunched together on this chart. They're combining for 22 drives per game, shooting a combined 53% on those drives, and obviously hitting each other for open threes along the way. That's an incredibly efficient, dynamic foundation for an offense... especially with Dwight Howard waiting inside.
  • Maybe LeBron James should be driving to the basket more? Maybe we could say the same (to a lesser extent) about Kevin Durant? The truth is, of course, that even for the two best drive-finishers in the game, it's a bit more complicated than that. Driving takes energy, and it's hard to achieve when the entire defense is focused on you. I expect both of them will penetrating a lot more in the playoffs. They'll be playing more minutes, and playing those minutes with Dwayne Wade and Russell Westbrook, respectively, should open up the court.
  • Five of the six lowest on this chart in terms of FG% are quick guards who aren't necessarily known for their strength (except perhaps Dion Waiters, but he has the separate problem of not actually knowing how to play basketball). That's not to say guys like Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague and Kemba Walker aren't valuable on drives, but that they're a little easier to control from a team defense perspective than guards like Parker and Lawson.
  • Damian Lillard isn't far from being the perfect offensive point guard, and he's already at the helm of the best offense in the NBA right now. But his troubles finishing drives are probably his biggest limitation right now. If he can improve to just league-average at that, combined with Portland's other three-point shooters and LaMarcus Aldridge draining shots from the elbow and post... oof. Good luck stopping that.
UPDATE: A Tableau user named "RS" extended my data by looking at teammate points per drive and overall points generated. Check out his / her awesome work here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The five most improved NBA offenses - and five that have plummeted

Here's a chart of how every team's offensive efficiency has changed from 2012-13 to 2013-14, as measured by points scored per 100 possessions. (Through the games of Jan 16. Thanks to for the data.) The five teams in green have shown the most improvement, while the five in orange have decreased efficiency the most. The NBA average is in purple.

(Having trouble seeing the chart? Click here.)

Looking at the 5 most improved:
  1. Blazers: Thanks to Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum, Portland is second in the NBA in both 3-point attempts and percentage. No one else is hitting more than 10 threes a game. And no other team is hitting 82% of their free throws either.
  2. Suns: Phoenix had the 2nd-worst offense in the league last year. Now they're in the top ten. How? Losing Michael Beasley helped (a lot). So did spacing the floor with at least 3 shooters all the time. Gerald Green, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Channing Frye and Marcus Morris are each taking at least three 3PA per game - and each is hitting at least 35%. Kudos to Jeff Hornacek.
  3. Timberwolves: A healthy Kevin Love. Kevin Martin doing K-Mart things. Nikola Pekovic bruising people inside (53% FG). It's a dynamic offense that also doesn't give away possessions (3rd-lowest turnover rate in the NBA).
  4. Wizards: The worst offense in the league last season (and especially brutal without John Wall), Washington is now just slightly below-average. When healthy, they're big, athletic, and can space the floor juuuust enough to succeed.
  5. Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki is back to being his hyper-efficient self. Monta Ellis played out of his mind for the first two months. And Jose Calderon is hitting 47% of his threes. Yowza.
And the 5 teams that have plummeted the most on offense:

  1. Knicks: Last year, New York led the league by a mile in 3PA, and had the 5th-best 3p%. This year they're 8th in attempts and 17th in percentage from downtown. So they must be trying to make it up inside, right? Nope: dead last in free throw attempts and 22nd in 2P%. This offense has to be elite to compensate for the Knicks' myriad issues on defense. Right now, it's not even leaue-average.
  2. Bucks: Wait, is Milwaukee actually missing Brandon Jennings? I don't know if I'd go that far... except that their three highest-usage players (Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal) are shooting a combined 41% on all two-pointers. The guards don't get the ball to John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo enough, and the entire team avoids the free-throw line like the plague. Yet somehow, even with that overall passivity, the Bucks have the 5th-highest turnover rate in the league. Also, Gary Neal is one of your three highest-usage players??
  3. Lakers: First, without Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have cratered in offensive rebounding (13th last year, 26th this year) and getting to the line (2nd last year, 14th this time). These are both symptoms of the bigger issue: every possession is a struggle to get a quality shot.
  4. Thunder: Turns out it's hard to sustain the most efficient offense in the NBA without Russell Westbrook. And with Kendrick Perkins. And Thabo Sefolosha forgetting how to shoot.
  5. Jazz: Given that 5 of the top 6 Jazz players in minutes played are 23 or younger, ranking 23rd in offensive efficiency isn't bad. (The league-worst defense, on the other hand...)

Friday, January 10, 2014

The masters of getting to the free-throw line

Here's a chart of the 25 players who are getting to the free throw line the most this season (as measured by FTA / 36 minutes), and how they're doing once they get there.

(Having trouble seeing the chart? Click here.)
Some takeaways:

  • Perhaps nothing illustrates the growth on offense of DeMarcus Cousins better than this: in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, Cousins averaged between 6 and 7 FTA / 36 minutes. This year, he's the only qualified player in the NBA averaging over 10 FTA / 36. He's hitting 71% right now, right in line with his career average. If he can pull that up to 75% or higher... good golly, how do you stop him?
  • LOL Dwight Howard. Let's start with the good news: he still gets to the charity stripe a ton, and he's hitting free throws at a higher rate than in either of his past two seasons. So that's nice. On the other hand, he's missed 154 FTA so far. No one else on this chart has missed more than 86 (Blake Griffin). Dwight has missed 25 more FTA than Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kevin Love combined, and that trio has taken 550 more total attempts than Howard.
  • Speaking of Durant, he's one made 3P and four FT away from shooting 50% 2P / 40% 3P / 90% FT. Amazingly, each of those percentages is actually down from last season.
  • LeBron James started the season red-hot (by his standards) from the stripe, shooting almost 80% through the end of November. Since then, however, he's been just a shade over 70%. His career average is 75%.
  • Tony Wroten? Tony Wroten! Philly has to be delighted that he (and his backcourt mate Michael Carter-Williams) are able to get to the line at will, especially when both are still under 21 and barely understand NBA offense. Unfortunately both of them are among the five worst on this chart at hitting their freebies. By the way, Wroten hit 72% last season in Memphis, but his 58% mark this year is exactly in line with what he shot in his lone college season, so I'm going to consider last year the outlier until further notice.
  • Check out the teams that have a pair of players on this list, and how they rank in offensive efficiency. The Rockets (with Harden and Dwight) are 4th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions. The Wolves (Love and Kevin Martin) are 5th, the Clips (Blake and Chris Paul) are 7th, the Pelicans (Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans) are 8th, and the Suns (Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe) are 10th. Even the less-heralded Hawks (Jeff Teague and the ever-professional Paul Millsap) are 13th. That's not a coincidence - if you can consistently run two-man actions in the half-court that get you free points, you're well on your way to a powerful offense.
  • And finally, I can't not mention Swaggy P. Nick Young is getting to the line on a career-best 32% of his FG attempts, which is propelling him to a career mark in true shooting percentage as well. I understand the numerous criticisms of Mike D'Antoni - many of which are valid - but he's demonstrating again an amazing ability to put limited role players in a position to succeed on offense.