Skiles separates his young guards

VIDEO: Oladipo’s 24 points lead the Magic over the Knicks on Wednesday.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton are 23 and 21 years old, respectively, both taken with top-10 picks in the Draft. They are, seemingly, the Orlando Magic’s backcourt of both the present and the future.

But early in his tenure as Magic coach, Scott Skiles has discovered that he can’t play the two guards together for too long. In Game 15 against the Knicks on Wednesday, Oladipo came off the bench, and the Magic were a better team as a result.

As you’d expect, the Magic rank as one of the league’s most improved defensive teams under Skiles, who has a history of transforming teams in that department. Orlando has allowed 4.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, jumping from 25th to 13th in defensive efficiency.

But Orlando has been bad both offensively and defensively with both Payton and Oladipo on the floor. They’ve been much better on both ends with one or the other on the bench.


Among 165 players who have attempted at least 100 shots this season, Oladipo (40.8 percent) ranks 152nd and Payton (37.5 percent) ranks 160th in effective field goal percentage. Not only are they both poor shooters from the outside, but they’ve been the two worst shooters in the restricted area among players who have taken at least 60 shots there.

Defensively, the Magic have forced a lot of turnovers with Oladipo and Payton on the floor together. But opponents have also shot better and more often from the restricted area.

Skiles made note of the defensive end of the floor when talking about the lineup change on Wednesday.

“It was not an easy decision and in some ways, it’s not even right,” Skiles said. “We’ve been preaching ‘Play better defense’ from the beginning and I’ve commented multiple times that Victor is our best defender, and oh, by the way, you’re out of the lineup. Victor is kind of a victim.”

The other three players on the floor have something to do with the defensive numbers,which could improve over time. But the Magic’s offensive issues with both guards on the floor is no surprise.

Oladipo and Payton actually were actually on the floor together more in Wednesday’s win over the Knicks (14.4 minutes) than they were in Monday’s loss in Cleveland (13.8 minutes). And the Magic scored 37 points in those 14.4 minutes, by far their best offensive output this season with the pair on the floor. Oladipo himself scored a season-high 24 points in his first game off the bench in more than a year. Payton recorded a season-high 11 assists.

If the Magic can sustain their new offensive success, they need to have a good showing on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV), when they host the worst defensive team in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks rank last in defensive efficiency and has allowed an incredible 119 points per 100 possessions in its last five games. Tougher tests for Orlando will come after that.

Hornets, Clifford agree on extension

VIDEO: Kemba Walker leads the Hornets to an overtime victory on Monday

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Don’t look now, but the Charlotte Hornets have some stability on the bench.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer reports that the Hornets are giving coach Steve Clifford a contract extension. The Hornets confirmed the news later this morning.

The Charlotte Hornets and coach Steve Clifford have come to an agreement on a multi-year extension, the Observer has learned.

The deal includes a three-year guarantee that would keep Clifford in his current role through the 2018-19 season.

The first coach that Michael Jordan hired after buying into the (then) Bobcats was Sam Vincent, who lasted one season in Charlotte. Larry Brown was next, but was gone before his third season was up. Paul Silas took over for Brown, but was gone after his first full season.

Remember Mike Dunlap? One season.

But Clifford, along with Jordan’s belief in him, has brought an end to all that instability. Hired in 2013, Clifford took the Bobcats from 30th (where they ranked each of the previous two seasons) to sixth in defensive efficiency. The Hornets were still a top-10 defensive team last season, even though the Lance Stephenson addition was a disaster.

And this season, Clifford has transformed the Hornets’ offense, taking them from 28th in offensive efficiency to fourth, through Tuesday. Charlotte’s increase in points scored per 100 possessions is more than twice that of any other team.


If you can build a top-10 defense around Al Jefferson in the middle, you’re a pretty good coach. And if you can build a top-10 offense around Kemba Walker at the point, you’re a pretty good coach too.

Clifford, a long-time assistant before he was hired be Jordan, has earned a few more years in Charlotte.

Small lineup is Warriors’ devastating trump card

VIDEO: How the Warriors’ small-ball offense works

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — We knew the Golden State Warriors were going to get back into the game Thursday night. It was just a matter of whether or not the Los Angeles Clippers, a pretty good team in their own right, could hold on after leading by as many as 23 points in the second quarter.

But Luke Walton went to his trump card a little earlier than usual and the Clippers were toast.

The trump card is a lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. With five shooters on the floor, the Warriors spread you out and slice you up offensively. And they use their length and quickness to switch everything and not give up much on the other end of the floor.

The Warriors typically don’t use the super-small lineup early in games. Of the 48 minutes its played this season, only 16 have come before the fourth quarter. It’s kind of like Mariano Rivera, if Mariano Rivera was not only a lights-out closer, but also a .750 hitter who gets to bat in every spot of the order.

With 5:41 left to go in Thursday’s game, Barnes checked in for Festus Ezeli and the lineup was in place. The Clippers were still up by 10 points at that point.

But on the super-small lineup’s first possession, Curry hit a three. Paul Pierce answered, but the Clippers couldn’t keep up with the Warriors when they proceeded to make six of their next seven shots, with five of the six coming from 3-point range.

The super-small lineup outscored the Clippers 25-8 in that final 5:41 to keep the Warriors unbeaten and the Clippers on the wrong side of a one-sided rivalry.

Here’s the boxscore from the final 5:41. The Warriors shot 2-for-2 on twos, 5-for-6 on threes, and 6-for-6 on free throws. They recorded assists on all seven of their buckets.

That’s ridiculous, but it’s not too far off from the norm. That lineup has played 48 total minutes this season and has outscored its opponents 164-104 in those 48 minutes, shooting 23-for-38 (61 percent) from 3-point range, with assists on 73 percent of its field goals.


The Warriors are the best team in the league, by far. And the lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green is the best the Warriors have to offer.

Walton is going to the lineup more often than Steve Kerr did. It only played 102 minutes in 37 games in the regular season last year. But Kerr did go to it a lot more frequently in the playoffs, when it logged 111 minutes over 16 of the Warriors’ 21 postseason games.

The lineup has been ridiculously successful no matter who the coach has been. It’s the Warriors’ trump card and it’s near impossible to stop.


VIDEO: Warriors’ Huge Fourth Quarter

Up 15, the Warriors are tough to beat

VIDEO: Trey Kerby interviews Stephen Curry

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — For the Golden State Warriors, the magic number is 15.

Since the start of last season, the Warriors are 69-0 in games they’ve led by 15 points or more. When they’ve built a lead of at least 15 points, they’ve gone on to win the game.

Last season, the Warriors were 47-0 in the regular season and 12-0 in the playoffs in games they led by at least 15. This season, they’ve led 10 of their 12 games by at least 15.

Comebacks from 15 down aren’t too common. Over the last 20 years, teams have won 91 percent of the games they’ve led by 15 points or more. And in that time, there have been eight longer streaks than that of the Warriors, which goes back to the end of the 2013-14 regular season.

Note: We’re looking at just the last 20 years, because play-by-play data goes back to the 1996-97 season.

But none of the teams that have had longer streaks have been up by 15 as often as Golden State has. The Warriors have had the league’s best offense and the league’s best defense over the last two seasons. They have a potent starting lineup and a terrific bench. So they’re good at both building big leads and protecting them.

Since their streak began, the Warriors have been up by 15-plus in an incredible 57 percent of their games. The other teams that have had 15-plus streaks longer than 70 games built those 15 point leads in less than half of their games over the course of the streak.


From ’96-97 through ’14-15, no team led as many games by 15 points as the Warriors did last season. And they won them all.


The Warriors have blown leads of 15 or more points over the course of the streak. In fact, they’ve already blown leads of 15-plus as many times this season (2) as they did in the ’14-15 regular season. But they’ve always managed to recover and win the game.

One of the teams that has come back from at least 15 down against the Warriors is the Clippers, who Golden State visits on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Two weeks ago, the Clippers erased a 17-point deficit and held a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter in Oakland. But the champs finished the game on a 25-11 run to win by four.


This streak will come to an end at some point, but it’s going to take a special performance against the best team we’ve seen in a long time.

Here’s the Warriors’ streak, game by game…





Rivers needs to stagger his Clippers stars

VIDEO: Inside Stuff: Diming and Dining

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — A funny thing happened in the third quarter of the Clippers-Warriors game last Wednesday. L.A., down eight when Chris Paul picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, came back and took the lead with its starting point guard on the bench.

Last season, the Clippers outscored their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions when Paul was on the floor and were outscored by 7.6 when he was off it. That on-off-court NetRtg differential of 19.8 points per 100 possessions was the biggest among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes.

When Paul was on the bench, the Clippers’ offense scored just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have ranked 29th — ahead of only the historically bad Sixers — last season.


DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes are also on the list above, and Blake Griffin (11.7) was 12th in on-off-court NetRtg differential. Essentially, the Clippers’ starting lineup was great and their bench was bad.

But the Clips’ best players basically played together and sat together. Their starting lineup played 300 more minutes than any other lineup in the league.

Paul was off the floor for 13.3 minutes per game, but Jordan was on the floor for just 3.2 of those minutes, while Griffin was on the floor for only 2.8 of those minutes. Some of those minutes with no stars on the floor was garbage time, but much of it came while the game still hung in the balance.

The Griffin number is the more important number, because he has the ability to keep the offense afloat with Paul on the bench. Two seasons ago, Paul missed an 18-game stretch in January and early February. The Clippers went 12-6 with the league’s second best offense in that stretch, with Griffin averaging 27.5 points and 4.4 assists.

The Clips had a more competent back-up point guard — Darren Collison — at that point. But even now, it stands to reason that if Griffin is on the floor, the Clippers aren’t going to be as bad as the Sixers offensively.

They scored 19 points in the final 8:00 of that third quarter against the Warriors last week. And they had a solid offensive game against the Rockets on Saturday, with Paul sitting out with a sore groin.

Before Paul’s injury, Clippers coach Doc Rivers basically played and sat Paul and Griffin together, much like last season. Here’s their substitution pattern from their Nov. 2 game against Phoenix, with minutes with neither on the floor highlighted in blue…


The Clippers played the first 6:35 of the second quarter with neither Paul nor Griffin, and did the same for another 7:28 spanning the third and fourth quarters. That’s a lot of time to trust the offense to Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson or Jamal Crawford.

The additions that Doc Rivers made this summer were praised by some, but we can’t forget that two not-so-great teams were more than happy to get rid of Stephenson and Josh Smith (and are better since they did). This bench still has big questions, and Paul’s on-off-court numbers this season look eerily familiar.

But on Monday against Memphis, Paul came out of the game earlier than he did last week. So his minutes were more staggered with those of Griffin…


The change was likely due to Paul playing his first game back from injury, but it kept at least one of the team’s two best players on the floor for all but three minutes.

The Clippers were a minus-6 in those 12 minutes where Griffin was on the floor without Paul, but if Doc Rivers kept that substitution pattern throughout the season, his team wouldn’t lose so many leads with his bench on the floor. And that might ultimately allow his best players to get more rest in fourth quarters and be fresher for the postseason.

Numbers notes: Cavaliers and Warriors among most improved

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


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.

One Team, One Stat: Not Top 10

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Cleveland Cavaliers’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Cleveland Cavaliers, who got by with some bad defense.

The stat


The context

20151027_cle_basicsHistory tells us that defense is a little more important than offense if you want to compete for and win a championship.

Of *the last 38 champs, six ranked outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency, while only three ranked outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency. And in **the last 13 years, when a better offensive team has faced a better defensive team in the playoffs, the better defensive team has won 66 (56 percent) of the 118 series.

* Since the league starting counting turnovers in 1977.
** Since the first round went to seven games

The numbers aren’t overwhelming, but they back up the idea that defense wins championships.

Still, a top-10 ranking on both ends of the floor is a good qualifier for a team’s ability to contend for a championship. Last season’s Cavs were terrific on offense, but ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in only one calendar month, the one that was broken up by the All-Star break.


For the season, the Cavs were below average in regard to defending shots, forcing turnovers, and keeping their opponents off the offensive glass.


Cleveland did improve defensively after trading for Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert in January, but ranked only 12th from the time Shumpert returned from his shoulder injury.

The Cleveland defense improved again in the playoffs, but that was partly due to the injuries to Kevin Love (who played in just 3 1/2 of their 20 games) and Kyrie Irving (12 1/2). David Blatt had to lean on more defensive-minded personnel and his team had no choice but to play ugly.

In the regular season, the Cavs had the league’s best offense against top-5 defenses. They only lost two playoff games on their way to The Finals and don’t seem to have a legit challenger in the Eastern Conference again this year. The Cavs still have the best player in the world and the league’s GMs picked them to win the championship.

But we’ve yet to see this team play at an elite level on both ends of the floor at the same time. Even if they’re eventually healthy this season, there’s room for improvement, especially on the defensive end of the floor.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: Winning With Pace

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Golden State Warriors’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Golden State Warriors, who won with pace.

The stat


The context

20151027_gsw_basicsThe league started counting turnovers in 1977. And over the next 37 years, only one team ranked in the top five in pace in the regular season and went on to win the championship. That was the 1982 Lakers, who ranked fifth out of just 23 teams.

Typically, fast pace is not associated with good defense. From the 1996-97 season through 2013-14 (a span of 18 years), only four teams ranked in the top five in both pace and defensive efficiency. And there was an eight-year stretch (from ’03-04 through ’10-11) when no teams ranked in the top five in both.

Last season, the Warriors became the first team to rank first in both pace and defensive efficiency since 1978 Phoenix Suns. They got 18.4 percent of their shots (third highest rate in the league) and allowed their opponents to get only 12.8 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock.


League-wide, those shots in the first six seconds of the clock yielded an effective field goal percentage of 60.5 percent, while shots that come later in the clock yielded an effective field goal percentage of 48.0 percent.

The Warriors have multiple impact defenders on the perimeter and inside. And when they get stops, they have lethal guards who will take advantage of opportunities in transition. Both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson ranked in the top eight in in fast break points per game last season.

Statistically, the Warriors were the best championship team since Michael Jordan‘s Bulls, having played at an elite level on both ends of the floor. And they changed a lot of people’s minds about the possibility of winning at a fast pace.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: 3-point Game

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Houston Rockets’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Houston Rockets, who let ’em fly from deep.

The stat


The context

20151026_hou_basicsAs the league looks to increase pace and create space, the Rockets are at the head of the pack.

According to Synergy, 19 percent of the Rockets’ possessions were in transition, the highest rate in the league. According to SportVU, only the Suns and Warriors took more shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock than Houston.

And the Rockets took less than 11 percent of their total shots from mid-range, the lowest rate we’ve ever seen. Over the last three years, the Rockets have basically eliminated inefficient shots from their offense.


That offense still didn’t rank in the top 10, though, because only two teams had a worse turnover rate than the Rockets. There may have been too much of a burden on James Harden, who accounted for almost half of Houston’s 3-pointers via his own shots and assists.

Harden was the first player in NBA history to make 200 3s and assist on 200 3s in the same season.


Harden will have some of the playmaking burden taken off his shoulders by new point guard Ty Lawson, who ranked third, behind Harden and Chris Paul, with 225 assists on 3-pointers last year.

Lawson should be a good fit with the Rockets, who could be the first team to make 1,000 3s in a season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: The Hawks are open

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Atlanta Hawks’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Atlanta Hawks, who were open often.

The stat


The context

20151026_atl_basicsThe Hawks ranked in the top three in effective field goal percentage on both contested (second, 43.6 percent) and uncontested jumpers (third, 52.9 percent). They were a great shooting team, whether there was a defender in the vicinity of the shooter or not.

But they took almost 1,500 more open jumpers than contested ones, which is a very good thing.

League-wide, open jumpers resulted in an effective field goal percentage of more than 10 percentage points better than jumpers with a defender within four feet of the shooter.


The Hawks don’t have a guy who creates open shots by himself; none of their starters ranked in the top 40 in *usage rate. Reserve Dennis Schroder (27.4 percent) ranked 21st (among players that played at least 1,000 minutes) and starter Jeff Teague (25.0 percent) ranked 41st.

* Usage rate = Percentage of his team’s possessions that a player uses when he’s on the floor.

But the Hawks’ ball movement was among the best in the league. They ranked fourth in passes per possession, third in secondary assists, and first in assist rate.

The loss of DeMarre Carroll will hurt the offense. Carroll, who left for Toronto, was the Hawks’ second best shooter on open jumpers last season.


Kent Bazemore will be asked to continue his solid shooting at a higher volume. And when the Hawks need more defense at the wing, opponents will leave Thabo Sefolosha alone on the other end of the floor.

If every perimeter player on the floor isn’t respected, the Hawks’ best shooters may have a harder time getting open.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions