VIDEO: Curry’s big night vs. the Clippers
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The two teams that reached The Finals in June aren’t just off to strong starts. No, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are two of the most improved teams in the league, statistically.
We’re just 10 days into the 2015-16 season, with only 74 (six percent) of 1,230 games in the books. So far, there have been some surprising results, some disappointments, and a lot of teams playing much faster than they did last season.
It’s still too early to draw any real conclusions from what we’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. If everything is put in context, it’s certainly worth looking into the numbers this early.
We’ll spare the Grizzlies, Pelicans and Rockets this week, and focus on the positive. Here are some notes on the league’s most improved teams and players through 10 days …
Most improved offenses
- Charlotte has turned some mid-range shots into 3-pointers, which will help long term. But their top-5 ranking is a result of two good offensive games this week after scoring less than a point per possession in their first three. They ranked last in both field goal percentage in the restricted area and in 3-point percentage last season, so they had nowhere to go but up.
- If Golden State remains one of the league’s most improved offensive teams, they will challenge the ’96 Bulls record of 72 wins. You’ll see the MVP in the most improved shooters list below, but where the Warriors have improved most is in turnover rate and free throw rate. Those two numbers are more likely (than shooting or rebounding) to stay consistent from a team’s first five games through the full season. So that’s kind of scary.
- New York was looking to run in its first three games, and more shots early in the clock gave their offense a boost. But here are their fast break points, by game: 19, 17, 10, 0, 0. They need to get back in the open floor.
Most improved defenses
- Minnesota had nowhere to go but up and benefited from Denver’s ugly shooting night last Friday. But the Wolves did hold the Blazers and Heat under their full-season OffRtg marks this week. A healthy Ricky Rubio and 15 minutes per game from Kevin Garnett makes a difference on defense. The Wolves’ starters have been the best defensive lineup that’s played at least 50 minutes this season.
- Cleveland‘s improvement is obviously the most important on this list. Last season’s Cavs were the lowest ranked defensive team (20th) to make The Finals since 1977, and only three teams that haven’t ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency have won a championship in the last 38 years. They’re still without their starting backcourt and they haven’t really been tested on that end of the floor, but a strong start on defense is encouraging.
- In regard to the question of who could be the second best team in the East, Toronto‘s improvement is important too. The 5-0 Raptors have better defensive personnel and a modified scheme to help them keep the ball from getting to the middle of the floor so often. In addition to protecting the basket better and forcing more mid-range shots, they’ve also improved dramatically on the defensive glass.
- Utah has just picked up where it left off last season. Rudy Gobert is once again the league’s best rim protector and Enes Kanter is but a distant memory.
Most improved shooters
- Giannis Antetokounmpo improved his mid-range shooting in the second half of last season, but this improvement isn’t a continuation of that. He’s taken only three shots from mid-range this season, with 40 of his 54 shots coming in the restricted area. More layups = better shooting.
- It’s not fair that Stephen Curry ranks as the third most improved shooter this season. But shooting 58 percent (19-for-33) on pull-up threes isn’t sustainable … maybe. Curry shot 42 percent on pull-up threes last season.
- Blake Griffin is a mean 24-for-28 (86 percent) in the restricted area and an improved 21-for-45 (47 percent) from mid-range. The mid-range number is the more important one. Griffin has worked a ton on his jumper, but 47 percent (Dirk Nowitzki‘s career mark) is about as good as it gets from mid-range, where Griffin is still taking almost half of his shots.