Most improved teams, NetRtg, Oct-November to December
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
This would be an encouraging stat for three of the five teams on the list had they not lost All-Stars to serious injuries during the course of the month. Brooklyn lost Brook Lopez for the season as it was playing its best offense of the season, Atlanta lost Al Horford indefinitely as it was beginning to pick up some steam, and Oklahoma City lost Russell Westbrook until after the All-Star break as it was establishing itself as the best team in the league.
The Hawks are just 7-4 in December, but have the league’s second-best point differential in the month, mostly because they beat the the Cavs, Lakers, Kings and Jazz by an average of 20.8 points. But they do have a win over the Clippers and had a huge offensive game in Miami.
Atlanta’s improvement has been all about the offense. They’ve scored 9.6 more points per 100 possessions in December (110.6) than they did in October and November (101.0). They’ve played some bad defensive teams this month, but they’ve scored more points per 100 possessions than their opponent’s season average in eight of their 11 games.
The biggest difference in the Hawks’ offense has been 3-point shooting. Not only have they been shooting 3s better, but they’ve been shooting them more often.
Hawks 3-point shooting
%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts
A healthy Lou Williams has given Atlanta an additional threat from long range, but Paul Millsap has also been a big part of the improvement. Millsap shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range in that overtime loss to the Heat, and 27 percent of his shots in December have been 3s , up from 13 percent in October and November.
Millsap is shooting 46 percent from downtown, so he should keep launching them if he can. Horford’s absence will put more of the defensive focus on Millsap, but thus far, Millsap has actually taken a greater percentage of his shots from 3-point range with Horford off the floor (33/116) than he has with Horford on the floor (37/252).
Overall, the Hawks have actually been a slightly better offensive team (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions vs. 104.4) with Horford off the floor, but they’ve been much worse defensively (105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.7). Basically, they’re a top-10 defensive team with Horford and a bottom-five defensive team without him.
While their offense has been the reason for their improvement, they wouldn’t have the third best record in the East without a solid defense. And now, they will likely struggle to get stops consistently.
Brooklyn is in a similar situation. Their improvement is mostly about their offense, which received a huge boost when Deron Williams returned from his ankle injury and has scored 107.4 points per 100 possessions in the nine games he’s played in December. But they’ve been much better defensively with Lopez on the floor and aren’t likely to climb out the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency without him.
The bottom of the list
The Spurs have been 8.7 points per 100 possessions worse in December than they were in October and November. The drop-off has come on defense, where they rank 17th this month after ranking second through Nov. 30.
The Pacers still rank No. 1 defensively, but have fallen off quite a bit on that end as well. Maybe they just set too high a standard in the first month, because they’ve allowed 11.1 more points per 100 possessions in December. They’ve improved offensively (+4.0), but their NetRtg difference of minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions has them 29th on the list.
Above the Pacers are the Sixers (minus-7.0), the Rockets (minus-6.8) and Lakers (minus-4.9).