Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sorry KD and MJ: Steph Curry's redefining efficiency

Through 22 games, Stephen Curry is on pace to become the most efficient NBA scoring champion in modern NBA history (since 1985-86). Aaaand, it ain't close.

(Having trouble viewing the image? Click here.)
Some thoughts:

  • Over the past 30 years, the two gold standards for scoring volume and efficiency have been Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant. It's only been 22 games, but Steph is absolutely obliterating them and every other scoring champ. (Also, 22 games is actually a fair sample size when you're looking at something so freakish.)
  • Kobe Bryant '06 was such a force of nature.
  • That Allen Iverson MVP is looking grim in retrospect. Actually, I'm not sure it looked that pretty in the moment either.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The most prolific three-point shooters, 2013-2015

You're not going to believe who's at the peak of these charts. #MVP

(Having trouble seeing the charts? Click here.)
All stats from Basketball Reference.

Some quick takeaways:
  • Is there any way we can get Kyle Korver on the same team with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry? Maybe just for a week or something? Sorry Hawks fans - I'm not trying to antagonize you, I promise. I just want to see my own head explode.
  • Danny Green is not just A Product Of The Spurs System (TM). He's an amazing shooter with serious flammability potential in any game. 
  • I expected Damian Lillard to be higher in efficiency. Maybe that's just me.
  • Some players I didn't expect to see so high: Joe Johnson, J.R. Smith, and Randy Foye.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Threes and frees: James Harden is the all-time king

Daryl Morey's vision for the Rockets is built upon taking and making the most efficient shots on the court: two-pointers at the rim, free throws,and three-point shots. We don't have historical data for layups and dunks, but we can take a look at who's scored the most points from 3PT and FT in a season.

(Having trouble seeing the chart? Click here.)

Conclusion: James Harden is Daryl Morey's cyborg.

It's hard to imagine that just three years ago, it wasn't clear whether or not Harden was worth a max contract. As is often the case, the theme here is fit really matters. Would Harden still be an All-Star in a more conventional offensive scheme? Sure. But would he singlehandedly push the boundaries of shot efficiency? Probably not.

A couple of other notes:

  • Harden unseats former teammate Kevin Durant from the top spot by ever-so-slightly edging him in both 3PT and FT made. Harden attempted 64 more three's than KD did last season.
  • Gilbert Arenas with two of the top 5 on this list? Yessir. Gil's 2005-06 season is almost identical to Harden this season in terms of 3P% (37.5% vs 36.9%) and 3PA (555 vs 540). But Harden shot much better (and a little more frequently) at the charity stripe.
  • Stephen Curry followed up his top-20 all-time finish last season with an even better show this time. All it took to get to the top 10 was nailing 44% of his threes and missing only 29 FTs all season. Read that last sentence again.
  • The all-time leader without making a single 3PT? That would be Jerry West, with 840 freebies in 1966. Wilt Chamberlain is just behind him with 835 free throws made in 1962. Of course, it took Wilt almost 400 more attempts than West.
  • In case you were wondering: LeBron James reached his "threes and frees" peak in 2008-09,when he scored 990 combined points from those areas. That's good for 32nd all-time (incidentally, he also has spots 33 and 34 on the list).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Usage vs efficiency for the new season's top scorers

Of course it's early, but...

Let's take a look at the usage and true shooting percentage for each of the NBA's 20 ppg scorers right now.

(Having trouble seeing the visualization? Click here.)

Some takeaways:

  • Dear Stephen Curry: if you intend to continue shooting 57% on twos, 41% on threes, and 97% on FT's, can we just time-machine out to May and watch you in the second round of the playoffs? Please?
  • Kobe Bryant... look, his true shooting percentage is 48%. The rest of the Lakers: 56%.  Even if you want to argue Kobe's presence frees up space for others, that's an imbalance that simply doesn't mesh with a 38% usage rate.
  • Tony Wroten? Tony Wroten! For all of his (and his team's) faults, TW can certainly get to the line (8+ attempts per game). It's a shame he doesn't hit more than 65% of them. That's inexcusable for a guard.
  • James Harden is actually tied with Mr. Bryant for the lowest FG% of anyone on the chart. But he's getting to the line an almost comical 10.9 times per game - and hitting 90% of them. Don't let the visceral ugliness of James' game distract from its lethal potency.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Karl Malone refused to decline

Happy birthday, Karl Malone. Most of us know he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and that he retired as possibly the greatest power forward of all time. But to me, his greatest legacy has always been that he had arguably the greatest late-career stretch of any player in NBA history. Here's how his age 32-39 years compare to the others who won MVP's in the 1990's - Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Charles Barkley.

Where Malone's peak fits in with the other superstars is debatable. His playoff successes and failures deserve the attention they always seem to attract. But his unparalleled ability to stay at an elite level - it's remarkable and frankly unprecedented, and it should be the first line of his NBA biography.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Who should win Defensive Player of the Year?

Since practically the first game of the season, it's seemed like the Defensive Player of the Year award was headed to Roy Hibbert. And his case remains strong - Indy still leads the NBA in defensive efficiency, and Hibbert's interior presence is the most integral piece of that.

But there are worthy challengers. I'm going to look at four candidates here - Hibbert, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan. (I thought long and hard about other guys, including Serge Ibaka, but ultimately I think these four stand above the rest based on a combination of individual and team success.)

Let's start with some data on one-on-one defense:

In terms of one-on-one defense, Hibbert is clearly the best inside - he's tops in field-goal percentage at the rim, and in isolation plays. But Noah is exceptional covering in space, both against the screener / roller in pick-and-rolls, and guarding spot-up shooters. Not surprisingly, he's also asked to play out in space far more often than Dwight or Roy. That's obviously a function of the defensive scheme, so we're not penalizing Howard or Hibbert for it, but it does point to Noah's versatility.

Of course, DPOY is (or at least should be) about more than just one-on-one field goal percentage. Next, let's look at how many minutes these guys are actually on the floor, and how they're doing on defensive rebounding (since an opponent's possession isn't over until you secure the ball).

Hmmm, tough times for Hibbert, and the real strength of Jordan's case. Dwight, Joakim and especially DeAndre all play significantly more minutes than Roy, and are all far better defensive rebounders. This is a bit tricky, because Hibbert's per-game rebounding totals are going to be affected by the presence of David West, Lance Stephenson, and Paul George, all of whom rebound at above-average clips for their positions. But the last chart above, based on SportVU data, shows that Hibbert also simply doesn't snare as many rebounds even when he's in prime position (within 3.5 feet of the rim). And his defensive rebounding rates have declined each of the past three seasons, even though West is playing fewer minutes himself this season.

Finally, let's look at team performance, both with these four on the court and off.

Yeah, Hibbert and Noah are awesome. They're both taking fantastic defenses to an entirely different level when they're on the court. I'm shocked by Jordan's stats here - the Clips don't exactly roll out stud defenders when DJ goes to the bench. Speaking of stud bench defenders, you have to take Dwight's position on this chart with a generous grain of salt because he's backed up by the superb Omer Asik. And he's often covering for three minus defenders around him, including James Harden, who went from Thanksgiving to St Patrick's Day without giving a single crap about defense.

So who should win the Defensive Player of the Year?

Man, is it tough to select one guy. Hibbert is the most dominant defender inside, and the lynchpin of the best overall defense. But he plays the fewest minutes and has really faltered on rebounding. Dwight is still a very good all-around defender, but he's not at the all-time level he set a few years ago in Orlando. And Jordan, while vastly improved in coverage and the league's undisputed best rebounder this year, still has inconsistencies at the rim and in pick-and-roll situations.

Which leaves us with Noah - the candidate with the fewest blemishes. He defends the entire court exceptionally well, he's been durable, and he's captained the second-best defense in the NBA even after losing ace perimeter defender Luol Deng mid-season.

Time to celebrate, Jo!

Data sources: NBA.com/stats, basketball-reference.com, Synergy Sports