HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Offense was supposed to come back this season.
Last year, we had abbreviated training camps, out-of-shape players and a condensed schedule. And the result was a drop in offensive efficiency of 2.6 points per 100 possessions.
This year, we should be seeing a recovery. But through Wednesday, the league is scoring 100.1 points per 100 possessions, just a tick better than it was through the same number of games last year (99.9). Shooting is better, but trips to the line are down.
Still, there are several teams have taken a step forward offensively. And a few of the teams on that list are a surprise.
Of course, everything comes with the caveat that it’s early. Some teams have had easier schedules than others. And just one or two good or bad games can skew the numbers a bit.
Most improved offenses (points scored per 100 possessions)
For the five teams at the top of the list, improvement has come in different ways. But for all five, it appears to be mostly sustainable.
New York Knicks
eFG% = (FGM (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA
The Knicks have played only five games, and three of them were against teams (Miami, Dallas and Orlando) in the bottom 12 defensively. But they twice scorched the Sixers, who rank fourth on that end.
The improvement has been about hot shooting from the perimeter, but also about taking care of the ball, something we premised a month ago. The Knicks’ offensive regression last season had a lot to do with turnovers, because when they didn’t have turnover machines Jeremy Lin and Baron Davis running the point, they had no point guard at all.
So, while we can’t expect the Knicks to keep their turnover rate this low all season, there’s reason to believe that the offensive improvement is somewhat sustainable.
Of course, there’s no avoiding the Amar’e Stoudemire question. Last season, the Knicks were 6.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Stoudemire on the bench (104.6) than they were with him on the floor (98.1). That was the difference between being a top-five offense and a bottom-five offense.
With Stoudemire on the floor, Carmelo Anthony shot 40.9 percent and 30.4 percent from 3-point range. With Stoudemire off the floor, Anthony shot 45.0 percent and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc.
How it will work out this season remains to be seen. But until Stoudemire returns, the Knicks’ offense should remain near the top of the league.
The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up, but it’s doubtful that anyone thought they’d be an above-average offensive team.
Like the Knicks, the Cats are doing a better job of taking care of the ball. But with new additions Brendan Haywood and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist leading the way, they’re also working the offensive glass for extra points. In fact, they rank second in the league (behind Denver) with 16.9 second chance points per game.
Shot selection has also been key. We noted last month how the Bobcats had the worst selection in the league last season, taking 39.6 percent of their shots from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line). This year, only 28.5 percent of their made shots have come from mid-range, below the league average. They’re also taking a greater percentage of their 3-pointers from the corners.
Kemba Walker‘s game-winner came from mid-range on Wednesday, but he’s been part of the solution, taking the ball to the basket and getting to the line more than he did as a rookie.
Interestingly, the Bobcats are assisting on far fewer shots than they did last year. In fact, they’re one of only two teams (the Sacramento Kings are the other) that has recorded assists on less than half of their field goals. Only 12 of Walker’s 49 makes have been assisted.
The Bobcats would be better with more ball movement, but their improvement seems mostly sustainable, because nobody in Charlotte is playing well above his head.
While the Bobcats have gone from awful to all right, the Heat have gone from great to nearly unstoppable. (Offensively, at least. No team has regressed more defensively than Miami.)
Taking care of the ball has been key (sense a theme here?), but so has 3-point shooting. With the Heat playing “positionless” basketball full-time now, they have one extra shooter on the floor.
We knew Ray Allen (20-for-37) would shoot well with LeBron James drawing double and triple-teams. But James is also shooting well (13-for-28) from beyond the arc, and Rashard Lewis (13-for-23) is proving that his career isn’t over. Maybe just as important is that Dwyane Wade (29 percent for his career) has basically stopped taking threes.
The 3-point shooting should regress some as the season goes on, but the Heat aren’t getting everything they can out of Wade. So they should remain a top-three offensive team all year. And more important will be how well they defend, especially when they go to their bench.
This one is more surprising than the Bobcats, considering the absence of Dirk Nowitzki. But last season was the first time since they drafted Nowitzki in 1998 that the Mavs had a below-average offense. And his regression was part of the problem.
O.J. Mayo‘s 3-point shooting — he’s a ridiculous 31-for-53 through nine games — is most responsible for the improvement. But Mayo isn’t just bombing away. He’s also getting to the line (39 attempts), and he’s been joined their by backcourt-mate Darren Collison (36).
There’s no way that Mayo can stay this hot, but Nowitzki will eventually be back. And if he shoots better than he did last year, the Mavs can sustain their offensive improvement.
With the additions of Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez (who played only five games last season), this is the least surprising team on the list.
Last season, the Nets ranked 30th in restricted-area field goal percentage at 54.6 percent. This season, they rank first at 67.4 percent. Part of that improvement has been aided by the Cavs’ awful defense, but Lopez’s presence has also helped. He’s been the focal point of the offense and leads the team with 24 buckets in the restricted area (11 more than any other teammate). And among 170 players around the league who have attempted at least 50 shots from the field, he ranks 13th in free throw rate, at 0.449 FTA/FGA.
Johnson has struggled early, never finding any kind of rhythm until the second half of Tuesday’s win over Cleveland. Deron Williams is also shooting a career-low 26 percent from 3-point range. And with Gerald Wallace having played only one game, the Nets’ offense should only get better.