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Impact Percentage: A New NBA Fingerprint

No two teams in the NBA are alike when it comes to the mixture of player tendencies, lineup combinations and styles of play. One metric that tells a story of player involvement (and furthermore, can serve as a team’s fingerprint) is usage percentage. This estimates the portion of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor. In other words, it shows us how often a player ends his team’s possessions. Players like Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, and DeMar DeRozan currently lead the league in usage percentage.

Using our revolutionary STATS SportVU data, we have recently developed an improvement upon traditional usage percentage. Now, not only can we tell how frequently a player terminates a possession (with a FGA, FTA, or Turnover), but we can also quantify how often they impact a possession (with a drive, a ball screen, an isolation or a post up). We’ve appropriately named this value impact percentage.

Why is this valuable? Consider players like Goran Dragic and Mike Conley, who rank 38th and 49th, respectively, in usage. Although a glance at these numbers might persuade one to think that these two aren’t chief possession-influencers, they are both among the top 10 in the league in impact percentage.

This new statistic was mentioned in ESPN the Magazine’s newest analytics issue, which hit the stands on March 17. Today, we are going to use it to analyze Monday’s matchup between Oklahoma City and Golden State.

As mentioned earlier, Russell Westbrook leads the NBA in usage percentage – but he also sits at the top of the leaderboard in impact percentage. When you look at OKC exclusively, no one comes close to the amount of impact that Westbrook has on their possessions.

ImpactPercentage

Usage plays a part here, but when you break down OKC’s SportVU plays – drives, isolations, post ups, and ball screens – it’s evident that these are where the bulk of Westbrook’s impact lies. Westbrook accounts for over 51 impactful plays per game on average. The next closest Thunder player is Victor Oladipo at 16.

ImpactPlays_OKC

Let’s talk about variability. In statistics, standard deviation measures how spread out a distribution is. A low standard deviation tells us that most of the numbers in a sample are close to the sample’s average – in other words, there isn’t much spread. A high standard deviation tells us that the numbers are more scattered. Unsurprisingly, due to Westbrook’s outlandish numbers, OKC has a very high standard deviation when considering impact percentage.

The Thunder’s standard deviation comes to a whopping 15 percent. In comparison, Golden State, before Kevin Durant’s MCL sprain on February 28th, had a standard deviation of 8 percent.

ImpactPercentage_standard-deviation

The biggest and most obvious takeaway here is that these are two completely diverse teams when it comes to how the ball is facilitated, and further, who the offense revolves around. Yet, a deeper dive into the Warriors’ Impact numbers reveals that they’ve had to adjust their strategy in KD’s recent absence.

ImpactPercentage_KD-Table

Steph Curry’s impact percentage has increased from an already team-leading 49 percent to an even higher 55 percent while Klay Thompson’s has shot from 31 to 37. This is all expected. What’s more compelling, though, is how a guy like Ian Clark is doing exponentially more with his limited minutes.

In his first eight games* since Durant’s injury, Clark has nearly doubled his ball screen usage (2.6 to 4.8 per game) and increased his drives (1.2 to 1.9 per game). On top of that, his minutes slightly decreased – even with him playing 34 minutes March 11 against the Spurs as Steve Kerr rested all his stars.

It’s important to mention that impact percentage is not necessarily a reflection of efficiency. Just because a player is influencing his on-court possessions doesn’t mean that he’s influencing them positively. It’s no secret that the Warriors are struggling to fill Durant’s shoes, especially when it comes to productivity – but it does appear as if guys are at least stepping up to the challenge and getting involved.

With all of this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how OKC handles a Golden State team that finally seems to be adjusting to Durant’s absence.

*all numbers are as of 3/17/17

Photo By: AP Photo/Alonzo Adams
Illustration By: STATS/Andrew Skweres

Kingdom of Kevin: Why Durant is the NBA’s first-half MVP

If it seems like a basketball lifetime ago that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all shared the same hardwood, that’s because it was.

It’ll be five years this June since one of the most talented Big 3s we’ve ever seen disbanded before the NBA would truly grasp the potential that Oklahoma City trio had, none having reached his 24th birthday prior to getting the little brother treatment from LeBron James and friends in the 2012 Finals. Harden was shipped to Houston before the following season began, and after four years of not quite getting over the hump together, the Durant/Westbrook duo broke up with the former’s decision to bolt for the Bay Area.

Each finally has a franchise to pilot on his own, and in the case of Westbrook and Harden, that’s being taken quite literally. Jilted at the altar by Durant, Westbrook has channeled his manic on-court energy into a one-man show the league has rarely seen. His 41.1 usage rate is the highest since the league started keeping track in 1997-98 – Michael Jordan’s swan song from relevant hoopdom (sorry, Wizards). The season Kobe averaged 35 for a mediocre Lakers team? The era of Iverson’s “practice” rant? Both positively passive compared to what Russ is doing.

Harden is just three spots behind, using 34.3 percent of the Rockets’ possessions while leading the league in minutes. As he continues to rack up assists in his new role as Houston’s point guard, Harden has touched the ball 5,730 times this season. Only Westbrook (5,504) is within 1,000.

Either has a perfectly good case as the league’s MVP. Westbrook has kept the Thunder firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture by himself. He’s averaging a triple-double. He’s pulling down basically the same number of rebounds per night as DeMarcus Cousins while carrying a team that scores 106.6 points per 100 possession with him on the court and just 97.2 – think last season’s 10-72 Sixers level – when he’s on the bench.

Prior to New Year’s Eve, no player in NBA history had recorded a 50-point triple-double. Before the end of January, Harden had done it twice. Until 2016-17, there had been five seasons in NBA history where a player had averaged double figures in both assists and free-throw attempts – all by Oscar Robertson in the 60s. Westbrook and Harden are on pace to give the Big O company for the first time in a half century.

And neither should be the NBA’s midseason MVP.

Durant left a good situation in Oklahoma City for a historically great one in Golden State, and while there’s not going to be a follow-up 73-win season for the Warriors, make no mistake – this is a better team than the regular-season juggernaut of 2015-16. They’ve been 12.6 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, a full point above last year’s 9-loss squad and 3.6 ahead of the league’s next-best team (San Antonio) this season. For as incredible as Golden State was last season, the Spurs had a better point differential.

It wouldn’t have taken a fortune teller to figure out that Durant would score less for the Dubs than he did with the Thunder, but he’s still leading Golden State by averaging 25.8 points – just 2.4 fewer than he did last season on 2.2 fewer shots. Durant is producing 1.52 points per field-goal attempt, second best in the league other than the DeAndre Jordan/Rudy Gobert/Dwight Howard troika which rarely takes a shot outside the restricted area.

Who’s the only one ahead of Durant? That would be Harden (1.55), but the Rockets’ star is getting there with a 52.5 effective field-goal percentage. Durant’s at 59.5. His true shooting percentage of 65.2 is the best of his career, better than any non-big other than the Wizards’ Otto Porter.

Durant’s shooting 37.4 percent from 3-point range, which while far from a bad number is his lowest since 2010-11. But consider what he’s doing from inside the arc. As NBA.com’s John Schumann points out, he’s finishing at an elite level both inside the paint and from mid range.

Schumann_graphic

What Durant has done when he drives to the basket separates him from any MVP candidate, LeBron James included. Seventy-five players in the league have driven toward the hoop at least 200 times. The only player scoring more than one point per drive is Durant, and he’s nearly a full quarter of a point (1.14) ahead of No. 2 Tobias Harris. Last season, no one was higher than 0.88 per drive – Durant himself.

Perhaps an even better measure is team points per drive, which takes into account more than just the individual’s finishes. Durant’s head and shoulders above the rest of the league here, too, with a top eight that’s basically a who’s who of NBA megastars.

Drives Team Points Per Drive
1. Kevin Durant (GSW)
235
1.55
2. Chris Paul (LAC) 212 1.36
3. LeBron James (CLE) 490 1.35
4. James Harden (HOU) 628 1.32
5. Stephen Curry (GSW) 336 1.32
6. DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 520 1.31
7. Kyle Lowry (TOR) 565 1.30
8. Jimmy Butler (CHI) 473 1.29

In the two years STATS SportVU data on drives has been fully available, the top finishers were Harden (1.37 in 2014-15) and Curry (1.38 in 2015-16).

Durant is shooting 72.4 percent when meeting resistance at the rim, tops in the league among 108 players with at least 100 contested field goals. Finishing in the restricted area overall? 78.1 percent, 2.7 above LeBron James at No. 2 and miles better than any big (Howard, Jordan, Whiteside, et al) who makes his living inside the few feet around the basket.

It only seemed logical that moving to Golden State’s ball-movement favoring, constant motion offense and leaving behind Oklahoma City’s ISO-heavy sets would decrease Durant’s need to create by himself once a play breaks down. And it has. Durant had the seventh-most ISOs in the league last season, going at his defender 1-on-1 on 9.2 percent of his possessions. That percentage is down to 6.8 with the Warriors – 19th in the NBA – but he’s been even a tick more effective, scoring 1.00 points per ISO after putting up 0.99 with the Thunder. Westbrook (0.90) and Harden (0.88), who ranked first and fourth in total ISOs, are considerably behind.

They’re not as far back of Durant there as they are in transition, however. Let’s start by pointing out that the three teams we’re looking at are the three who most frequent the fast break. Let’s continue by mentioning that there are 36 players in the league, as of the All-Star break, to attempt at least 100 field goals in transition. Durant happens to cash in more often than any of them, averaging 1.34 points per transition bucket while Westbrook (0.99) and Harden (0.97) sit at 31st and 32nd. Part of the reason? Durant rarely coughs up the basketball.

Transition turnover percentage Rank (out of 36 qualifiers)
Durant
9.4
25th
Westbrook 21.1 2nd
Harden 29.2 1st

Neither Durant, Westbrook nor Harden has the reputation as a lockdown defender, and it’s still difficult to find a reliable all-encompassing defensive statistic to go by. ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus, measured in net point differential over 100 offensive and defensive possessions while adjusting for teammates and opponents, has Durant ninth among small forwards (1.89), Westbrook 19th among point guards (-0.09) and Harden 72nd among shooting guards (-1.72), a position he doesn’t even really play. A lot of noise there, too hard to draw a huge conclusion.

But remember how effective Durant is when he drives to the basket? He’s been nearly as good when he’s the one defending the drive. Last season, of the 126 players to stand in front of at least 200 drives, Durant ranked 106th while allowing 1.22 team points per drive. As we inch toward the three-quarters mark of the 2016-17 season, let’s use 150 as a minimum threshold. With the Warriors, Durant is seventh of 117 qualifiers at 1.04.

That’s just one example, but Durant has taken on the challenge of protecting the rim after going from a team that had multiple great defensive options inside to one without any particularly good ones. His 1.7 blocks per game and easily a career best and he’s accounted for 36.4 percent of the Warriors’ blocks overall. He’s defending slightly more post plays per game than he did in OKC and he’s doing it well. Durant’s limiting the player posting him up to 0.40 points per post, ninth best in the NBA of the 60 players to defend at least 75. And consider the company. Marc Gasol is giving up the exact same number. Teammate Draymond Green is at 0.41. Likely defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert is at 0.59. Does that mean Durant is a defender on par with those three overall? No. He’s had roughly two-thirds of the amount of post-up defensive opportunities as Gasol, Green and Gobert. But does it mean Durant can hold his own on key possessions down low against the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and James come late May? Quite possibly.

Consider one other part of his game that doesn’t get a ton of credit. The Warriors are the league’s third-best team from behind the 3-point arc, shooting 38.8 percent. Golden State is shooting 41.2 percent on 3s off passes from Draymond Green, 39.9 percent from Curry and 37.7 percent from Andre Iguodala, their first-, second- and fourth-ranked assisters overall. On passes from Durant, they’re shooting 47.9 percent. Curry’s percentage on passes from other Warriors is 40.3, and on Durant dishes it kicks up to 49.5. Klay Thompson goes from a 41.7 percent shooter from deep on passes from non-KD teammates to a 53.7 deadeye when firing off a feed from No. 35.

Westbrook and Harden have been fantastic this season, the NBA’s two most overwhelming forces lifting what are likely lottery teams without them to playoff squads (and, in Houston’s case, home-court advantage) with them. But Westbrook has the ball in his hands more than a quarter of the time he’s on the floor. Harden’s a smidge under the 25 percent mark.

Sure, that’s their job. Ball dominance shouldn’t preclude a player from being the league’s MVP. But Durant is finding a way to take over games while having the ball in his hands just 7.5 percent of the 34 minutes a night he plays. He’s been the best player on a team with the two-time reigning MVP, a team that’s statistically even better than last season’s regular-season behemoth.

Durant won’t lead the league in scoring, rebounding or assists and he won’t turn in lines every night that would make Oscar Robertson blush. The Warriors don’t need him to. What they do need from Durant has been delivered on a higher plane than any other player in the league. And that’s why he’s the NBA’s midseason MVP.

Brett Huston is a Senior Editor at STATS LLC. Contact him at bhuston@stats.com or on Twitter at @BHuston_STATS.

Photos By: AP Photo/George Bridges/Sue Ogrocki/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Illustration By: STATS/Andrew Skweres

Justin Time: Breaking Down Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs

What should be an outstanding, entertaining two months worth of NBA playoffs are about to begin. STATS is here to offer a little analysis, along with providing warning of the one millennial vocalist from north of the border who could ruin it all. Let’s break it down.

The matchup: No. 1 Cleveland (57-25) vs. No. 8 Detroit (44-38)

Offensive rating: Cavaliers 108.1 (4th), Pistons 103.3 (14th)

Defensive rating: Cavaliers 102.3 (10th), Pistons 103.4 (13th)

Net rating: Cavaliers 5.6 (4th), Pistons -0.2 (16th)

STATS primer: The Pistons rely on their starting five A LOT. The league’s most-used quintet this season (915 minutes) came from the Motor City, which is amazing considering that group hasn’t been together since Ersan Ilyasova was traded to Orlando on Feb. 16. Enter Tobias Harris, who joined Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond for 462 minutes over the last 25 games to rank second behind Minnesota’s starters since the All-Star break. A ludicrous 74.3 percent of Detroit’s points come from its starting unit, the largest figure in the NBA and just ahead of … Cleveland’s 73.1.

Can the Pistons win? Probably not. They did beat the Cavs three out of four this season, though one of those came without Kyrie Irving and another came Wednesday night as Jordan McRae took 29 shots and Joel Anthony played 25 minutes. The Pistons are one of a few teams that can hang with the Cavs on the boards, as their 52.1 rebound percentage was a tick above Cleveland’s for second best in the league. The Cavs are at their best when Tristan Thompson is grabbing alley-oops off the pick-and-roll and crashing the offensive glass to create extra possessions, but he’s been marginalized against Detroit. In Thompson’s 74 minutes in the series, the Cavs have been outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s an extremely small sample but the worst Cleveland has fared with Thompson on the floor against anyone in the East.

BAI (Bieber Affected Index): 10: Justin Bieber has a concert at Quicken Loans Arena scheduled for April 26 – the same date as a potential Game 5 – so if the Cavs can’t sweep, the teenage girl population of Northeast Ohio may be set for a mutiny.

The pick: Bieber gets bumped, which upsets Drake, creating additional hostility for a potential Cavs-Raptors conference finals. Cavs in 5.

 

The matchup: No. 2 Toronto (56-26) vs. No. 7 Indiana (45-37)

Offensive rating: Raptors 107.0 (5th), Pacers 102.4 (23rd)

Defensive rating: Raptors 102.7 (11th), Pacers 100.2 (3rd)

Net rating: Raptors 4.3 (6th), Pacers 2.2(11th)

STATS primer: The Raptors have won the last three Atlantic Division titles and have a grand total of three playoff wins to show for the first two. Can Toronto finally win just the second playoff series in franchise history and first since Vince Carter could jump? It’s hard to look at the numbers and see a title contender here, but the Raptors can make some noise in the East.  DeMarre Carroll was supposed to be the big addition, but the former Hawks forward only played 26 games, and Toronto’s jump from a nice regular-season team in a bad division to a legit power boiled down to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan getting to another level. Lowry’s average rose from 17.8 points to 21.2 as his 3-point shooting hit a career-high 38.8 percent, while his VORP of 6.3 is ahead of Kawhi Leonard’s and Chris Paul’s. No player in the league scored more points per game on drives than DeRozan (8.7), who also drew 166 fouls when bolting toward the rim – just five behind league leader James Harden.

Can the Pacers win? Maybe. Only the Suns allowed opponents to shoot better from 3 than the Raptors (37.3 percent), and Paul George, George Hill and C.J. Miles are all capable of going off from beyond the arc. A league-high 48.9 percent of the Raptors’ field goals are unassisted, and while letting Lowry and DeRozan penetrate and create worked in the regular season, relying on refs to call contact consistently in the playoffs is a dangerous line to toe. It did work against Indiana during the season. Toronto won three of four and got to the line at least 38 times in each victory, ultimately hitting the stripe 51 more times than the Pacers.

BAI: 4.5. Biebs isn’t set to invade Bankers Life Fieldhouse until June 25, which is after the Finals, but a two-night stop in Toronto in mid-May could provide trouble in the conference finals. In the meantime, there are other issues. Mumford and Sons has already moved a concert scheduled for the same night as Game 4 in Indianapolis to April 24, with lead singer Marcus Mumford politely claiming “it was not your fault, but mine.” That’s not all. The Who are set to play at the Air Canada Centre on the same night as Game 5, so a retirement tour that makes Kobe Bryant’s seem expeditious will be pushed back a night.

The pick: George and Miles shoot the Pacers to a pair of wins, but the Raptors embrace their musical guests and decide not to get fooled again. Raptors in 6.

 

The matchup: No. 3 Miami (48-34) vs. No. 6 Charlotte (48-34)

Offensive rating: Heat 104.2 (12th), Hornets (105.1, 9th)

Defensive rating: Heat 101.5 (7th), Hornets (101.8, 9th)

Net rating: Heat 2.6 (10th), Hornets 3.3 (8th)

STATS primer: We’ve entered the 48-34 portion of the proceedings with the Battle for Josh McRoberts’ Soul. The East’s middle four playoff teams all finished with the same record, and the way things shook out gives us a rematch of the last time the Hornets – who are 0 for 8 in playoff games since 2002 – were in the postseason. Things figure to be much more competitive this time in a series that Vegas considers the toughest first-round matchup to call. Charlotte was the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season (31.8 percent) on the eighth-fewest attempts. Now it’s the eighth best (36.2 percent) while jacking up more 3s than everyone but Houston, Golden State and Cleveland. Kemba Walker is no longer a sub-40 percent shooter who can’t make a 3, Nicolas Batum averaged a 14-6-5 on fewer than 13 shots a game (Draymond Green this season is the only other player to do that in the past 10) and Marvin Williams reinvented himself as a 40 percent 3-point shooter who’s actually willing to rebound and play defense. The Heat don’t take 3s (18 per game, 28th) and rarely make them (33.6 percent, 27th), but shoot better in the restricted area than anyone in the league (65.3 percent).

Can the (wait, who’s the underdog here?) win?: Steve Clifford has Charlotte playing like a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts – though the parts, as we detailed above, are pretty solid – while Miami is still heavily reliant on the offensive brilliance of Dwyane Wade and the game-changing interior presence of Hassan Whiteside. This is probably not a series for Al Jefferson even though the 12-year vet has shown flashes of his former self off the bench since returning from knee surgery. The Hornets were outscored by 12 points in the 49 minutes he played against Miami but were a plus-20 when he wasn’t around. How’s this for a starting point? In the 60 minutes Batum, Walker, Williams and Cody Zeller shared the floor against the Heat – easily the most of any Charlotte foursome – the Hornets were a plus-38. That’s significant. Stick Courtney Lee or Jeremy Lamb out there to check Wade and Whiteside might be hanging around the rim with nothing to do. For Miami to win, it actually might matter more how its young guys – Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson – perform as opposed to the veterans.

BAI: 1. The pride of London, Ontario, isn’t set to hit South Beach until early July and Charlotte was not deemed a worthy enough stop by His Biebness. Heat fans will have to make a tough call prior to Game 3, though: Watch their team play in Charlotte or attend something called “Miami Bash,” which features such acts as Alex Sensation, Ken-Y, De La Ghetto and Jacob Forever. D Wade or Jacob Forever? Now that’s a Decision.

The pick: Those touting playoff experience will favor the Heat, but many of these Hornets have been there before. If Chris Bosh were healthy, this might go the other way, but Charlotte gets the slight edge. Hornets in 6.

 

The matchup: No. 4 Atlanta (48-34) vs. No. 5 Boston (48-34)

Offensive rating: Hawks 103.0 (18th), Celtics 103.9 (13th)

Defensive rating: Hawks 98.8 (2nd), Celtics 100.9 (4th)

Net rating: Hawks 4.1 (7th), Celtics 3.0 (9th)

STATS primer: On paper this might be the most interesting first-round matchup between two of the NBA’s best defensive teams, but on the court Atlanta exposed the otherwise brilliant, swarming system employed by Brad Stevens. The Hawks put up 110.4 points per 100 possessions in winning the final three meetings and Boston had no answers for Paul Millsap. One of the league’s best defenders was a nightmare at the other end for the Celtics, averaging 25.3 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks in three games the Hawks won by a combined 43 points. Atlanta’s Spursian ball movement and Kyle Korver’s amazing accuracy were the big stories when it won 60 games last season, but the defense was good then and better than anyone this side of San Antonio’s in this one. Most of the Hawks’ best lineups come without Jeff Teague on the floor – they’re better defensively with Dennis Schroder – but what’s lurking behind either point guard allows for some leeway in non-pick-and-roll situations. It’s safe to say Isaiah Thomas will be able to break down either to some extent, but the Celtics are going to need more than their point guard running at an optimal level to beat Atlanta. This feels like a series Evan Turner could swing, but he could just as easily put Boston out of it as he could help it go the distance.

Can the (wait, who’s the underdog here?) win? These are two of the league’s eight fastest teams in terms of pace, but getting up and down the floor did nothing to favor the Celtics against the Hawks this season. The three Atlanta wins featured 106, 105 and 105 possessions while Boston’s lone victory back in December was a 97-possession slog they pulled out even with Avery Bradley sidelined. The Celtics are going to have to do a bulk of their work from outside the paint, as Atlanta is the best team in the league defending the restricted area (56.7 percent). Only the Lakers shot worse on catch-and-shoot 3s than Boston’s 34.6 percent, so that’s not going to be easy. Thomas, Bradley and Jae Crowder each attempt five 3s a game, but none is what you’d call a knock-down shooter.

BAI: 3. Add Boston to the list of cities Bieber could infect invade in later rounds, as he’s due for May 10 and 11 stops at TD Garden. Atlanta got its two shows out of the way on the last two days of the regular season, which is a total baller move by a team that knew it would be playing important games in late April and May. Or … that’s just how the “Purpose World Tour” worked out geographically. The Bruins conveniently missed the playoffs and the Thrashers haven’t been a thing for five years, so these arenas are wide open.

The pick: The Celtics are fun to watch, make the most of their talent level and are about to add a top-five draft pick courtesy of the Nets’ stupidity. But for now, this is a tough matchup. Boston probably beats either of the other 48-34 teams, but not this one. Hawks in 6.

 

 

On to the West.

The matchup: No. 1 Golden State (73-9) vs. No. 8 Houston (41-41)

Offensive rating: Warriors 112.5 (1st), Rockets 105.5 (8th)

Defensive rating: Warriors 100.9 (6th), Rockets 105.6 (20th)

Net rating: Warriors 11.6 (2nd), Rockets -0.2 (15th)

STATS primer: Yes, it’s a Western Conference finals rematch in Round 1 that features the league’s top two scorers, the two teams who fire up the most 3-pointers and two teams who were each coached by two men this season. That’s about where the similarities end. The Warriors are much better than last season’s title winner and the Rockets are much, much worse. Golden State was missing Steve Kerr as he recovered from back surgery while Houston waited only 11 games before showing Kevin McHale the door and never quite looked like they were on the same page for the next 71. What were once an assortment of enticing options around James Harden now looks like a rotating cast of question marks centered by none other than Dwight Howard, who barely took six shots a game over the final month of the season amid reports his teammates were freezing him out. So yeah, it’s hard to look at the Rockets and get excited about the fact that they took nearly as many corner 3s (799) as mid-range 2s (899).

Can the Rockets win? Wellllll….

BAI: 0. Beebs hit Oracle Arena on March 18 and the Toyota Center on April 9. Coincidence that Golden State went 39-2 at home and the Rockets haven’t lost at home since (they’ve played two games)? Yes. Actually, that’s not even a coincidence. Let’s move on.

The pick: Harden has a huge first half in Game 3 – think like 30 points – and the Rockets lead by double digits at the break. But they won’t win that, or any other game, in this series. Warriors in 4.

 

The matchup: No. 2 San Antonio (67-15) vs. No. 7 Memphis (42-40)

Offensive rating: Spurs 108.4 (3rd), Grizzlies 102.6 (22nd)

Defensive rating: Spurs 96.6 (1st), Grizzlies 105.4 (19th)

Net rating: Spurs 11.8 (1st), Grizzlies -2.9 (22nd)

STATS primer: Poor Memphis. The Grizzlies have played almost an entire NFL 53-man roster worth of players this season thanks to an injured list that looks like Jack Bauer’s body count, and they almost built such an insurmountable lead for the No. 5 seed when healthy that it looked like they’d get a somewhat reasonable matchup with the Clippers in Round 1. But their 3-14 tailspin ultimately dropped them to seventh and a matchup with a team that, in many ways, is BETTER than the one that won 73 games. No Marc Gasol or Mike Conley, but Jordan Farmar played in the Finals six years ago! Heck, Chris Andersen was there two years ago! And Vince Carter? Well, he’s no stranger to playing basketball! JaMychal Green, Xavier Munford, Raheem McCullough, Jarell Martin and Bryce Cotton? Four of those five guys are real! Dave Joerger has done an amazing job keeping this M.A.S.H. unit together at all, but the Grizzlies weren’t going to beat the Clippers. Or the Thunder. They probably wouldn’t beat a few non-playoff teams in a seven-game series right now. Yet, we have to ask…

Can the Grizzlies win? Ummmmm

BAI: -10. These are the only two playoff teams whose arenas will not be graced with JB’s presence. Therefore, this series means nothing.

The pick: Gregg Popovich gives Boban Marjanovic at least 25 minutes in at least one of these games. At some point, Pop trots out what will forever be known as “The Molasses Lineup” of Boban, Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner, Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, but that unit still goes on a 13-2 run. Spurs in 3. OK fine, 4.

 

The matchup: No. 3 Oklahoma City (55-27) vs. No. 6 Dallas (42-40)

Offensive rating: Thunder 109.9 (2nd), Mavericks 104.8 (10th)

Defensive rating: Thunder 103.0 (12th), Mavericks 104.3 (16th)

Net rating: Thunder 6.9 (3rd), Mavericks (14th)

STATS primer: The Thunder would certainly have preferred a matchup with the Grizzlies, but it’s not like the Mavericks should have them questioning whether they’ll survive to see the Spurs in Round 2. Oklahoma City swept four meetings with Dallas this season, twice winning by three points and twice cruising. That’s probably about what it should expect here, but the Mavericks can at least look to the sidelines for an edge. Rick Carlisle’s club gave the eventual champion Spurs their toughest test in the first round two years ago, and he’ll come into this series with a plan of how to contain Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The odds are long, of course, that it will work. The Thunder have made a living crashing the offensive glass this season, with a 31.1 offensive rebounding percentage that’s easily the NBA’s best and a 54.7 total percentage that’s also far and away atop the league. The Mavericks are 26th overall at 48.5, and those numbers have bared themselves out head-to-head. Oklahoma City outrebounded Dallas 194-152 in the four meetings, with their 58 offensive rebounds leading to 72 second-chance points. Enes Kanter, a defensive liability in many ways, has helped the Thunder grab 42.3 percent of available offensive boards in the 80 minutes he’s played against Dallas.

Can the Mavericks win? It’s fairly amazing Dallas is even in the playoffs. There are game when J.J. Barea is their best offensive player, or at least the one most capable of creating his own shot. But he’s slowed by a groin injury and he’s not exactly been a positive presence overall to begin with considering the Mavs have allowed 109.7 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break when he’s played. There’s enough offense elsewhere for Dallas to be able to hang in most games, but Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams aren’t likely to all have it going at the same time. This is where the absence of Chandler Parsons kills, and he lit up the Thunder in three separate Mavs wins a year ago. It comes down to this, particularly given Oklahoma City’s rebounding edge – Zaza Pachulia has to stay on the floor, and has to control the boards when he is.

BAI: 0. Bieber made all the tweens swoon at Dallas’ American Airlines Center on April 10 and wasn’t invited to Oklahoma City. Amy Schumer played Chesapeake Energy Center on Friday, the eve of the series opener. Perhaps a sign of Trainwrecks to come?

The pick: Dirk has one of those vintage Dirk games where the fadeaways are falling, Matthews gets hot from deep and the Mavs steal a game in Dallas before going out quietly to allow the Stars use of the arena to continue their Stanley Cup playoff run. Thunder in 5.

 

The matchup: No. 4 LA Clippers (52-29) vs. No. 5 Portland (44-38)

Offensive rating: Clippers 106.5 (6th), Trail Blazers 106.1 (7th)

Defensive rating: Clippers 100.9 (5th), Trail Blazers 105.6 (21st)

Net rating: Clippers 5.5 (5th), Trail Blazers 0.6 (13th)

STATS primer: Terry Stott’s team lost LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum and somehow managed to win only seven fewer games, so if you’re wondering why he might win Coach of the Year, look no further. CJ McCollum picked up right where he left off in last season’s playoff loss to Memphis and became a 20-point scorer in more extended minutes, also showing that he could thrive as one of the league’s best 3-point shooters (41.7 percent) in a bigger role. Beyond him and Damian Lillard, who took a step toward superstardom now that the show is officially his, it’s tough to find a reason why these Blazers finished as high as they did. The rest of the rotation is mostly full of spare parts, and there’s no consistent secondary scorer to rely on. That’s a problem when they’re going up against a backcourt that’s at least similar offensively in Chris Paul and J.J. Redick and can get points from Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford just as easily. There’s no answer for Griffin or DeAndre Jordan now that LaMarcus Aldridge is a Spur.

Can the Blazers win? Portland was starting Noah Vonleh at the four from about mid-November to mid-March before Stotts inserted Mo Harkless in his place, and that move has paid dividends. The Blazers have outscored teams by 13.3 points per 100 possessions since Harkless became a starter and they’ve been outscored by 8.3 with him off the floor. Harkless, McCollum, Lillard, Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu have posted a 16.0 net rating in that stretch, giving Portland a five-man starting unit it can feel good about, and the Clippers’ bench isn’t exactly great. The question will be if the Blazers can find a scoring option when the second units are on the floor.

BAI: 0. Bieber paid his respects to both the Moda Center and Staples Center in March. The Clippers have to share Staples with the Kings – and definitely, definitely not the Lakers – while the biggest thing happening in Portland besides the Blazers is something called the Pentatonix World Tour. I’ve been assured that’s an a capella group, so one more pitch perfect prediction and we’ll get out of here.

The pick: The Blazers are too good offensively and the Clippers too inconsistent for this to be a short series. The Lillard-Paul matchup alone should make this arguably the most entertaining first-round series, even if it doesn’t quite go the distance. Close enough. Clippers in 6. 

Brett Huston is a Senior Editor at STATS. Follow him on Twitter @BHuston_STATS.

Photo By: AP Photo/R Brent Smith

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: An NBA Progress Report

The 2014-15 NBA season was marred by an overwhelming amount of significant injuries to the league’s star players. With so many great players going down, the start of the current campaign has been boosted by the return of the same household names. Although it’s incredibly early in the season, offering an admittedly tiny sample size, examining how those players have fared since stepping back on the hardwood lends some decent insight. With that in mind, visiting three big-name players coming off season-ending injuries produces a unique set of progress reports.

The Good: Kevin Durant – 55 games missed last season
The most notable of the NBA’s injury absentees last season, Durant ultimately underwent three surgeries to repair a lingering fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot, limiting him to just 27 appearances after winning the MVP award the campaign prior. When healthy enough to play, Durant played only 33.8 minutes per game, the lowest mark since his rookie season, which inevitably resulted in plenty of statistical dips across the board. Durant’s production was still enough to earn him an All-Star selection, but he’s started this season looking more like the MVP from two terms ago. Back to playing his usual allotment of minutes – though we’ll see if that continues depending on the severity of the left hamstring injury he suffered Tuesday – Durant’s early average of 28.1 points certainly resembles that of a four-time scoring champ, and his 29.1 Player Efficiency Rating trails only his MVP season. Further examination also reveals Durant is being particularly aggressive in hunting buckets for himself, a scary development for opposing defenses. Last season, a clear career-high 34.0 percent of Durant’s field goal attempts came from three-point range, suggesting his foot injury caused him to settle on the perimeter more often, as Durant had never even cracked the 30-percent barrier before. This season, Durant seems poised to do it again, but he’s also worked in the mid-range more than ever (21.6 percent of his attempts), and his 14.3 assist percentage pales in comparison to his 20-plus percent rate the past three seasons. Going forward, it’ll be interesting to monitor how Durant operates in new coach Billy Donovan’s system, as the Thunder are putting up a stunning 114.1 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor so far.

The Bad: Carmelo Anthony – 42 games missed last season
Amid the Knicks’ franchise-worst finish last season was Anthony’s campaign coming to a close after just 40 games played. With New York long out of contention and having hosted the All-Star game, Anthony opted to shut his season down and have surgery to repair a partial tear of the patellar tendon in his left knee in mid-February. Despite playing through discomfort in months prior to that decision, and adjusting to new coach Derek Fisher’s schemes along the way, Anthony’s 21.5 Player Efficiency Rating was still slightly above his career average. With that in mind, Anthony’s current 20.1 PER after a fully healthy training camp evidences his slow start. While his present average of 3.7 assists per game verges on his career best mark, and his 88.5 percent free-throw shooting is spectacular, Anthony’s otherwise sluggish start can be attributed to poor shooting from the field. Through nine games, Anthony has made only 39.4 percent of his attempts and 34.8 percent of his three-pointers. Alarmingly, Anthony has also only shot 14.4 percent of his attempts from within three feet of the basket, a career low surely contributing toward his underwhelming field-goal percentage that also warrants consideration. Anthony could desperately be trying to rediscover his outside shooting touch, his knee could be impacting his ability to get to the rim, or the Knicks’ revamped, frontcourt-heavy roster could be restricting his close-range looks. More than likely, a combination of those three factors is causing Anthony’s stumble out of the blocks this season.

The Ugly: Kobe Bryant – 47 games missed last season
Bryant’s downfall since his torn Achilles in April 2013 is no secret, but his steep decline is still fascinating to detail. Since that career-altering injury, Bryant has played a combined 47 games and has endured two more season-ending injuries – a knee fracture in the 2013-14 campaign and a torn right rotator cuff last season. Bryant’s latest injury prevented him from participating in basketball activities until September, and his current percentages definitely evidence a player with recent problems to his shooting shoulder. Through six games, Bryant is putting up shots at his usual high rate, but he’s converting a paltry 32.0 percent from the field. Moreover, Bryant has made just 20.8 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is especially troublesome considering an astronomic 49.5 percent of his shots have come from deep. Bryant’s previous Achilles and knee injuries certainly have contributed toward a lack of explosion, partially explaining his frequent resorting to long-range attempts, but Bryant’s new time spent at small forward also does. With D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson seemingly composing the Lakers’ backcourt of the future, Bryant has spent 91 percent of his minutes this season at small forward, where he doesn’t have the quickness to even blow by bigger defenders anymore, thus inspiring more jumpers. To make matters worse, Bryant’s current defensive rating of 113.9 points allowed per 100 possessions he’s on the floor suggest his days of consistently staying in front of anyone are over.

Photo By: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill/Alex Brandon/Kathy Willens

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Northwest Division

    Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka

Photo by: Brett Deering-AP Photo

 

BSports Season Projections: 53-29; 1st in Northwest Division; 72.5% chance to win the division; 92.2% chance to make the playoffs; 25.4% chance to win conference; 15.7% chance to win championship

It should be another successful year in Oklahoma City for the Thunder, even with reigning MVP Kevin Durant out for the start of the season. The Thunder lost their starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha, who left via free agency for Atlanta, nor do they have veterans Caron Butler or Derek Fisher anymore. They did add Anthony Morrow, who will compete for the starting shooting guard spot, and high school prodigy Sebastian Telfair, while drafting injured Michigan big man Mitch McGary.

The Thunder have been one of the best offensive teams behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, ranking in the top 10 in PPG, eFG%, TS%, and Offensive Rating. Yet, the Thunder will need the young prospects that they have been accumulating the last couple of seasons to step in Durant’s absence. Perry Jones III will most likely replace Durant in the starting lineup, while Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson could see expanded roles. As well, the Thunder could improve as a three-point shooting team as they ranked only 14th in 3P%. Lamb and Morrow are both better shooters than Sefolosha and will split time with Reggie Jackson at the two. Furthermore, the Thunder have been a great defensive team too, ranking 5th in defensive rating. The question then becomes how will they do without Durant? Statistics show that without Durant the Thunder become a better defensive team, but are much worse offensively.

The Thunder will be a top team in the Western Conference, even with Durant out for the start of the season. Once he is back though, the Thunder can make a serious run at the championship as we give them the 3rd best chance to win it all.

Digging Into SportVU’s Team Passing Data

Photo by Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

A few months back, we dug into the individual passing data provided by the SportVU cameras in every NBA arena in order to help determine the best passers in the league. Now that the data contains the same information at the team level as well, it’s as good a time as any to go back and look at which teams were the best and more efficient passing squads last season.

Let’s first take a look at the raw data, which will tell us how many passes a team threw and how many of those passes resulted in assist opportunities, and how many of those assist opportunities turned into assists, free throw assists or secondary assists, which when added together we have dubbed “Assists +”.

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Of course, we can only glean so much from the raw data. Pace obviously factors heavily into the equation here. Teams that play faster have more opportunities to pass, but the more passes a team throws, the slower their games will likely be, because possessions with multiple passes are inherently longer.

Let’s take this opportunity, then, to look at passes per possession and see what kind of interesting information we can glean from that.

[table “2711” not found /]

Most notable is the Spurs, obviously, who were the only team in the top five in passes per possession that played at a pace faster than the league average. The Hawks were the only other team in the top 10 in passes per possession that played above the league average in pace. Of course, Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer was Gregg Popovich’s lead assistant for years and modeled his team’s offense after San Antonio’s. This is a decent window into just how good those teams were at moving the ball.

Conversely, the only teams that played slower than the league average pace to rank in the bottom 10 in passes per possession were the Pelicans and the Magic. The Magic ranked second-to-last in the league in offensive efficiency, but the Pelicans were still able to craft a top-13 offense despite not moving the ball around very well.

Meanwhile, the Spurs and Mavericks were the only above-average offensive teams to rank in the top 10 in passes per possession. Five of the bottom 10 teams in passes per possession (Warriors, Thunder, Suns, Pelicans, Rockets) ranked as above-average in offensive efficiency. Interestingly, all seven of those teams reside in the Western Conference.

Using pace as a factor also allows us to adjust the assist opportunities, assists, free throw assists, secondary assists, and Assists + data to see which teams created the most on a per-possession basis.

[table “2712” not found /]

Interestingly. none of these stats had a strong correlation with offensive efficiency (O-Rtg).

Indeed, five of the league’s top 10 in Assist Opportunities Per 100 Possessions were above-average offensive teams and five were below average. The same is true of the bottom 10 teams in Assist Opportunities Per 100 Possessions.

The Spurs surprisingly did not top the league in Secondary Assists Per 100 Possessions. That honor belonged to the Memphis Grizzlies, which makes a weird bit of sense when you consider the spacing problems they had and how that necessitated multiple passes to even manufacture a score. The next three teams on the list, though, are no surprise: the Spurs, Hawks and Clippers. Again the Spurs and Hawks run similarly-styled offenses that place an emphasis on making the extra pass, and the Clippers had the league’s best offense and Chris Paul running the show.

The Spurs, Hawks and Clippers (in that order) show up atop the Assists + Per 100 Possessions leaderboard, which should not be a shock at this point. The bottom 10 in Assists + Per 100 actually contains four above-average offensive teams (Suns, Knicks, Pelicans and Rockets).

The most surprising nugget here is that the Lakers somehow led the league in Assist Opportunities Per 100 Possessions, perhaps owing to Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system. Each of the top three (Lakers, hawks and Bulls) in the stat ranked as a below-average offensive team, though.

All of that data relates to quantity of passes, though, and we should be able to use the SportVU info to determine the quality of passes as well. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the data for what percentage of each team’s passes were turned into assist opportunities, assists, free throw assists, secondary assists and Assists +.

[table “2713” not found /]

No team turned passes into assists more often as a percentage of their passes than the Warriors, who also threw the fewest amount of passes in the league by almost 1,500 passes. The Nuggets, Thunder and Pistons were also in the bottom-five of passes thrown and the top-five of percentage of passes that resulted in an assist. The same is true of all four of those teams when you sort by percentage of passes that turned into an assist opportunity.

When you sort by the percentage of passes that turned into a free throw assist, you see that the Knicks did this so little times that two teams actually doubled their percentage. The Wolves and Nuggets had 1.15 and 1.16 percent of their passes, respectively, turn into free throw assists, while only 0.57 percent of New York’s passes did the same.

The Clippers, Warriors, Grizzlies, Hawks and Spurs — familiar teams all — showed up atop the list in percentage of passes that turned into a secondary assist, and five of the top-10 teams in that stat were also in the top-10 in offensive efficiency. Six of the bottom-eight teams in offensive efficiency also ranked in the bottom-10 of Secondary Assist Percentage.

We can get a little bit further, examining what percentage of assist opportunities turned into assists or Assists +, which gives us a little better idea of the quality of passes (and the shooters who received them).

[table “2714” not found /]

The Suns were the only top-10 offensive team to rank in the bottom third in Converted Assist %, coming in second-to-last to only the Jazz. Meanwhile, each of the top eight teams in the same stat had above-average offensive efficiency. Seven of those eight teams were also in the top-eight of offensive efficiency, the Suns being the only top-eight offense left out, replaced by the Pelicans.

No team turned assist opportunities into Assists + less often than the Knicks, followed not-all-that-closely by the Kings, Magic and Suns. The top four teams in percentage of assist opportunities that turned into Assists + all had top-six offenses, and the Spurs and Clippers each converted over 10 percent more of their assist opportunities into Assists + than did the Knicks.

As with the last time we examined this type of data, there are some flaws here. It would be nice to know where these assist opportunities, assists and Assists + were generated, both in terms of the shot location and where the pass originates, in order to be able to really differentiate the quality. An assist opportunity at the rim is better than one from mid-range, after all. This data isn’t so much conclusive as it is descriptive and just a fun way to mess around with some of the interesting new stuff the NBA is tracking during the offseason.

Keys to Winning in NBA: Corner 3-Pointer and Effective Field-Goal %

Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports


There are many reasons NBA teams win basketball games. The most common answer is that the best player on the court typically leads his team to victory. However, teams led by Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins did not make the playoffs this season.

Players like Trevor Ariza, Klay Thompson, Joe Johnson, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver are all on playoff teams for a specific reason: these five players made the most corner 3-pointers in NBA during the 2013-14 season.

Not only is it important for successful teams to make corner 3-pointers on the offensive end, but it is also necessary for them to defend the corner 3-point shot. Wesley and Thompson are parts of teams that are in the top five in corner 3-pointers made differential:

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The Trail Blazers, Spurs, Heat, Warriors and Clippers each have top-eight records in the NBA this season. In addition, 11 of the 12 best corner 3-pointers made differential teams in 2013-14 are playoff teams. The only team in that group to not make the playoffs is the Phoenix Suns, who were tied as the second-best team in corner 3-pointers made differential. Although the Suns are not a playoff team, their record is the same as the third-best team in the Eastern Conference.

When a team is successful with corner 3-pointers, it makes for better efficiency on offense and defense. Effective field-goal percentage (eFG%), which takes the 3-point shot into account, is another statistic that has a strong association with winning in the NBA. The six best teams in eFG% in 2013-14 own top-10 records, and three of the top five in eFG% are among the six best 3-pointers made differential squads:

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Almost every successful team in the NBA has a strong eFG%: 10 of the top 11 teams in eFG% are playoff teams. In both the 2013 and 2011 playoffs, the best postseason team in eFG% won the championship. Efficient shot making is just as important in the postseason as it is during the regular season.

Offensively-challenged teams like the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls had success this past season because of their stifling defense. The Pacers and Bulls top the list in teams of opponent eFG%. When taking into account the best teams in opponent eFG%, three of them are in the top six in corner 3-pointers made differential:

[table “2252” not found /]

Every one of the 10 best teams in terms of regular-season opponent eFG% is a playoff team. Although terrific defense leads to success in the regular season, recent history does not say the same about the NBA’s second season. The best postseason teams in the last few years have performed better offensively than they have defensively in the playoffs.

According to the corner 3-pointers made differential, eFG% and opponent eFG% rankings, the Western Conference Finals will be between the Spurs and Clippers. Both San Antonio and Los Angeles are in the top six of each category. LeBron James and the Heat are the only Eastern Conference team in two of the lists, so it looks like the NBA Finals will have Miami against the winner of the Spurs and Clippers series. Since offense carries more weight than defense in the playoffs, we should see a rematch of the 2013 Finals.

Most Lopsided NBA Matchups Since 2003

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Oklahoma City ThunderPhoto by Mark D. Smith/USA Today

Since 2003, only four NBA games have been so lopsided before tip-off that our friends in Vegas named one team a 20-point or more favorite. To understand how rare of an occurrence this is, simply look at closing spreads for tonight’s NBA games. No matchup has a point spread in double-digits. According to teamrankings.com, the most common closing spreads since 2003 have been 4.5, 4 and 3. Here’s a look at the three largest closing point spread games in the NBA since 2003.

March 30, 2008 – Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat
Closing Point Spread: 22.5
Final Score: Boston 88 – Miami 62
Margin of Victory: 26

The Miami Heat, before the LeBron James era, own the distinction of playing in the largest closing point spread game since 2003 in what was a true mismatch. First, the Heat were playing without the services of Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion and had to trout out 5 players who had been on a D-League roster earlier in the season. Second, the Heat shot 17.6% in the first quarter and 28.8% for the game. The Heat only made 17 field goals, a record at the time for fewest field goals made in a game  (the Magic broke that record in 2012 by making 16 field goals against the Celtics). The point spread was well justified considering the talent that the Heat put on the court against the number one ranked defense in the NBA that season.

March 4, 2014 – Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Closing Point Spread: 21
Final Score: Oklahoma City 125 – Philadelphia 92
Margin of Victory: 33

Consider this the perfect storm of NBA point spreads. First, the 76ers are tanking. To say so at this point should no longer be seen as a knock on the franchise and its players but rather an acknowledgment of a strategy being pursued by the front office to improve a roster via the draft. The Thunder on the other hand are a focused team equipped with my choice for league MVP Kevin Durant (no disrespect to LeBron James, but he does not play in the Western Conference) and an inspired Russell Westbrook. Since Westbrook’s return to the lineup, the Thunder had lost three straight home games after only losing three games at home before the All-Star break. The Westbrook haters were chirping and he certainly heard them. The Thunder could have easily won this game by more than 33 points. Kevin Durant scored 42 points in 33 minutes, and Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in 20 minutes of play including a Thunder record of 11 assists in the first half.

March 27, 2008 – Detroit Pistons vs. Miami Heat
Closing Point Spread:  20.5
Final Score: Detroit 85 – Miami 69
Margin of Victory: 16

Break out the champagne!! The Miami Heat beat the spread losing by only 16 points to the Detroit Pistons in another March showdown. The Heat actually held a 23-18 lead after the first quarter and led by 2 at halftime. The championship Pistons’ defense kicked in during the second half limiting the Heat to 10 third quarter points and 14 in the fourth quarter. Still, all the respect should go to the likes of Blake Ahearn, Kasib Powell, Ricky Davis (let the Ricky Davis memories flood through your mind) and Chris Quinn for letting Vegas know that a 20.5 point spread is just insulting. Too bad the Heat could not replicate this effort three days later.

Lakers Were Winningest Team of David Stern Era

Photo by Action Images / Scott Anderson Livepic

Photo by Action Images / Scott Anderson Livepic

Yesterday was David Stern’s last day as Commissioner of the NBA. He ran the league for exactly 30 years, oversaw the expansion of the league from 23 teams when he took over to the 30 it has today, saw salaries, television deals, and profits explode, presided over two lockouts, and handed out the Larry O’Brien Trophy 30 times. Now that former Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver has taken over the top job, we decided to take a look at how each team performed in the Stern Era.

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Unsurprisingly, the Los Angeles Lakers were the league’s winningest team during Stern’s tenure. They won the most games (1,566), had the highest winning percentage (64.82%), and won the most NBA Championships (8). The San Antonio Spurs won the next most games with 1,497. The Spurs also had the next highest winning percentage at 62.04%. The Chicago Bulls had the second-most NBA Championships of the Stern Era, with six.

Rounding out the top five in wins were the Utah Jazz (1,432), Phoenix Suns (1,383), and Portland Trail Blazers (1,355). Those three teams also made up the remainder of the top five in winning percentage, with the Jazz checking in at 59.32%, the Suns at 57.27%, and the Trail Blazers at 56.18%. After the Lakers and Bulls, the next most NBA Championships were won by the Spurs (4), and the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and Miami Heat (3 each). The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks were the only other teams to win championships, and the Mavericks were the only title-winning team to not win multiple times.

The losingest team of Stern’s tenure was the Lakers’ Staples Center brethren, the Los Angeles Clippers. Only the Charlotte Bobcats (35.19%) had a lower winning percentage than the Clippers’ 37.90%, and no team accumulated more than the Clippers’ 1,501 losses while Stern was at the helm. The Clips, like 22 other teams, did not win an NBA Championship during Stern’s reign as Commissioner.

After the Clippers, the teams with the next most losses were the Washington Wizards/Bullets (1,445), Golden State Warriors (1,408), Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets (1,391), and Sacramento Kings (1,369). After the Bobcats and Clippers, the remainder of the bottom five in winning percentage was made up of the Memphis Grizzlies (38.83%), Minnesota Timberwolves (39.93%), and the Wizards (40.09%).

[table “1814” not found /]

Though the NBA Championships were evenly split at 15-15 between the teams that currently comprise the Eastern and Western Conferences, the current West teams had a winning percentage about 1.4% higher during the Stern Era.

[table “1815” not found /]

Breaking things down by the current division alignment, the Southwest had the best winning percentage at 52.53%, but the Central had the most wins with 6,207 and the most NBA Championships with nine (six from the Bulls and three from the Pistons). The Pacific Division had the most losses with 6,160, but the Southeast Division had the fewest wins with 4,505 (owing to having three of the five teams – Charlotte, Miami, and Orlando – enter the league after Stern took over) and the lowest winning percentage at 46.92%, and the Northwest was the only division whose current teams won zero NBA Championships under Stern’s reign.