One Stat One Play

One Stat, One Play: Ball movement boosts Warriors’ offense


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Warriors Ball Movement

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Steve Kerr inherited a great defensive team, but one that wasn’t making the most of its talent on offense. The Golden State Warriors ranked 12th in offensive efficiency last season, despite having two of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history.

Kerr aimed to give the offense a boost by emphasizing pace and ball movement. The Warriors take more than 20 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, when efficiency is at its highest.

Getting quick shots has, in a way, helped the Warriors’ defense. And they’ve been defying history by ranking first in both pace and defensive efficiency.

But their quick shots aren’t just about Stephen Curry pull-up jumpers in transition, as spectacular as those might be. Several teams talked about ball movement in training camp last fall, but the Warriors have certainly come through in that department.

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League-wide, there’s no correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency. There are bad offensive teams that pass the ball a lot and good offensive teams that don’t. But in the Warriors’ case, Kerr knew that more ball movement would help make the most of the talent he had on the roster.

And it has. The Warriors have jumped from 12th to second in offensive efficiency and are in a battle with the Clippers for the No. 1 spot as the season winds down. If they take it, they’ll be the first team since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls to rank No. 1 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a possession where Curry gives the ball up after a defensive rebound, but gets it back five seconds and four passes later, with a clean, catch-and-shoot look from the top of the arc.

The Warriors have long had the league’s best point differential by a wide margin. And now, they’ve run away with the league’s best record. They put a 10-game winning streak on the line against the visiting Suns at 10:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader.

One Stat, One Play: Spurs will make you put the ball on the floor


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Spurs limit the catch-and-shoot

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The San Antonio Spurs are coming alive.

The champs have their second-worst winning percentage of the Tim Duncan era, but have won six straight games to move up to sixth place in the Western Conference. With the team’s top four perimeter players all shooting better than 50 percent during the winning streak, the Spurs’ offense has been the sharpest its been (112.6 points scored per 100 possessions) since early December.

The Spurs still rank outside the top 10 in offensive efficiency for the first time in six years. Their shooting has dropped off both in the paint and from 3-point range.

Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard have both dealt with injuries and taken steps backward on that end of the floor. And Boris Diaw hasn’t provided his usual brilliance off the bench.

But the Spurs have been getting the job done defensively all season. They rank in the top five in defensive efficiency for the third straight season and 14th time in Duncan’s 18 years in the league. No other franchise has ranked in the top five more than seven of those years.

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One reason the Spurs are so good defensively is their ability to limit their opponent’s catch-and-shoot jumpers. They allow just 21.2 per game, the fewest in the league.

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Effective field goal percentage drops significantly when you can make your opponent put the ball on the floor, mostly because your pushing him inside the 3-point line. But catch-and-shoot jumpers are also better shots (for the offense) from a pure make-or-miss perspective.

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The Spurs limit their opponent’s catch-and-shoot opportunities in a few different ways…

  1. They pressure the ball, making it tougher to make a direct pass to an open shooter.
  2. Their bigs hang back on pick-and-rolls, so that their teammates don’t have to help much on the roll man and can stay at home on the shooters.
  3. They close out aggressively, but at an angle to keep the ball away from the middle of the floor, where more passing lanes are available.
  4. If there is any help on pick-and-rolls, it doesn’t come out of the strong-side corner.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a possession from Sunday where the Spurs prevent a Bulls catch-and-shoot jumper with a lot of the principles listed above. Chicago shot just 3-for-13 on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the Spurs’ win.

The Spurs put their six-game winning streak on the line against the visiting Cavs at 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader. Cleveland doesn’t shoot a lot of catch-and-shoot jumpers as a team, but Kevin Love and J.R. Smith both rank among the league leaders.

One Stat, One Play: Russ in transition


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Westbrook in transition

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Russell Westbrook‘s game was already ridiculous, but he’s taken things to a new level in the last few weeks.

Westbrook won Western Conference Player of the Month honors by averaging 31.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists in February. And after missing a game to recover from a broken face, he put up 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in his first game of March, an overtime win over the Sixers on Wednesday. It was his fourth straight triple-double and it made him the league’s leading scorer at 27.0 points per game.

The highlight of Westbrook’s performance was a coast-to-coast drive for a two-handed flushafter a timeout. It was Russ at his best, getting the ball on the defensive end of the floor, taking off in a full sprint, and not slowing down until he’s thrown down a vicious dunk.

Those were two of Westbrook’s 16 fast break points against Philly. Of the 25 other teams who played on Wednesday, only eight of them had as many fast break points as Westbrook had himself.

The 16 boosted Westbrook’s average to 7.8 fast break points per game, by far the highest average for any player since 1996-97 (when we could start tracking fast break points).

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The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a quick look at Westbrook in transition.

It starts with defense. The Thunder rank 11th in defensive efficiency, but second in opponent field goal percentage. They force missed shots better than any team but the Golden State Warriors.

Westbrook rebounds a lot of those missed shots. He’s grabbed 15.6 percent of available defensive rebounds, the highest rate of his career and a rate which ranks third among point guards who have played at least 1,000 minutes.

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And when Westbrook gets the rebound himself, the break has started before his comes back down. So get your butt back on D and hope you can slow him down.

Westbrook takes his triple-double streak and his transition game to Chicago at 8 p.m. ET Thursday for the first game of TNT’s double-header.

One Stat, One Play: A defensive lineup in Cleveland


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Cavs Starting 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Thursday’s Warriors-Cavs game on TNT (8 p.m. ET) is a matchup of the two best starting lineups in the league.

Golden State’s starters have been fantastic all season, leading them to a league-best 44-10 record and top-two rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Cleveland’s starting lineup has been together for just six weeks, but it’s been the league’s best lineup that has played at least 200 minutes.

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Like the Warriors’ starters, the Cavs’ group has been great on both ends of the floor. But the defense has been more important. Cleveland has been a bottom-10 defensive team all season, but they rank 13th since LeBron James returned from his two-week break on Jan. 13.

James has come back with more energy on both ends of the floor. And the addition of Timofey Mozgov have given the Cavs some much-needed rim protection.

Since he arrived from Denver, opponents have shot just 45.0 percent at the rim when Mozgov’s been their to defend it, a mark that ranks sixth in the league and is down from 48.8 percent in his 35 games with the Nuggets.

And Mozgov’s presence has allowed his teammates to defend the perimeter better. Cavs opponents have shot less and worse from 3-point range since James’ return, especially against the Cleveland starters.

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The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a defensive possession where the Cavs are active, aggressive on the perimeter, and on a string, forcing a 24-second violation out of the Washington Wizards.

The Cavs still have a long way to go defensively. They still rank 22nd through Wednesday. But with how good their offense has been (it ranks No. 1 since James’ return), a little improvement on defense can go a long way.

There are a lot of reasons to watch Warriors-Cavs on Thursday. And the success of both starting lineups should have you tuning in right at 8:00.

One Stat, One Play: Mid-range Aldridge


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Aldridge from mid-range

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The mid-range shot is the worst shot on the floor, worth only 0.80 points per shot across the league. A bad 3-point shooter (30 percent) scores as many points per shot as a good mid-range shooter (45 percent).

No player takes nearly as many mid-range shots as LaMarcus Aldridge, who has led the league each of the last three seasons.

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Aldridge doesn’t shoot mid-range shots well enough for them to be an efficient option by themselves. But the Blazers have been one of the league’s best offenses over the last three years, combining Aldridge’s post-up game with Damian Lillard‘s playmaking and the most prolific 3-point shooting outside of Houston.

Most of the time, the Blazers enter the ball directly to Aldridge in the mid post and let him go to work one-on-one. According to SportVU, Aldridge leads the league in isolations this season.

But the Blazers can get Aldridge better looks by putting him on the move, with Lillard drawing the attention of the defense and getting it to Aldridge in his comfort zone (the left side of the floor) with space.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring a couple of plays where the Blazers do just that. According to SportVU, Aldridge has shot 53 percent off the catch and 45 percent on uncontested jumpers, but just 41 percent off the dribble and 34 percent on contested jumpers this season.

The Blazers host the Phoenix Suns in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

One Stat, One Play: Big Spain at the Elbow


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Big Spain at the Elbow

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Marc Gasol was the Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of two teams that has ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the last four seasons, and Gasol has been their anchor on that end of the floor.

But Gasol has also seen an increase in his usage rate each of the last few years. And this year, he leads the Grizzlies in that category.

The ball is more often in Mike Conley‘s hands (he ranks in the top 10 in time of possession), who leads the Grizz in time of possession, but the play is more often ending with Gasol, working out of both the low post and high post. He has become as critical to the Memphis offense as he is to the D.

According to SportVU, Gasol ranks fourth (behind Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol and Nikola Vucevic) in the league with 395 post-ups. And he leads the league with 601 elbow touches and 49 assists from those elbow touches.

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The Grizz have fallen off big defensively this season. But with Gasol leading the team in usage rate, they rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency for just the second time in franchise history.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring at a play where Gasol acts as a release valve at the elbow and registers one of those 49 elbow-touch assists.

The Grizzlies host the Denver Nuggets in the first game of TNT’s doubleheader (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

One Stat, One Play: No corner 3 for you


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Keeping them away from the corners

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The corner three is one of the best shots on the floor. The league as a whole shoots them at 38.9 percent, scoring 1.17 points per shot on corner threes, slightly less than it does on layups (60.2 percent, 1.20)

If teams want to score efficiently, it’s helpful to have a decent amount of corner threes in one’s offensive diet. Seven of the top 10 offenses in the league also rank in the top 10 in percentage of their shots that come from the corners.

Overall, it’s important for defenses to keep opponents out of the corners. There’s not as strong a correlation between corner threes and efficiency on defense than there is on offense (the Hawks’ third-ranked D allows the highest percentage of shots from the corners), but the correlation still exists.

In each Tom Thibodeau‘s five seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls, his team has ranked first or second in preventing corner threes.

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The Bulls are the only team that has ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency each of the last four seasons (the Grizzlies are the only other team that’s ranked in the top 10 all four years). They’ve regressed defensively this season, but they’re still keeping their opponent out of the corners.

Our latest installment of “One Stat, One Play,” features a play that illustrates some of the ways the Bulls do this, including the way they defend shooters coming off pin-down screens and the way they defend pick-and-rolls. Other teams employ the same defensive scheme as the Bulls, but none have done it as consistently well as the Bulls have under Thibodeau.

The Bulls host the Spurs (and Danny Green, who ranks sixth in the league with 35 corner threes) in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

One Stat, One Play: Iso-KD


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Iso-KD

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Over the last few years, and particularly in last year’s Finals, the San Antonio Spurs have provided the blueprint for how basketball is supposed to be played. They moved the ball better than any team in recent memory.

Come October, much of the league was talking about ball movement. Along the same vein, isolation basketball is looked upon as a bad thing. But an isolation can be very effective when you put the right player in the right position.

According to SportVU, Kevin Durant led the league last season by scoring 1.08 points per isolation, more than the Spurs scored per pick-and-roll possession (1.07).

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With his skills and size, Durant is near impossible to stop one-on-one. And with Russell Westbrook alongside the reigning MVP, the Thunder don’t need to move the ball much to have an effective offense.

OKC is one of three teams – San Antonio and Miami are the others – that ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency each of the last four seasons (2010-11 through ’13-14), and they’ve done it while ranking in the bottom 10 in assist rate each year.

League-wide, there wasn’t any correlation between ball movement and offensive efficiency last season. There were bad offenses (like Charlotte and Philadelphia) that moved the ball a lot and good offenses (like OKC and Phoenix) that didn’t.

With Durant out for 23 of their 37 games and Westbrook out for 14, the Thunder have been a bottom-10 offensive team this year. And even with both of those guys back, their last three games have been pretty ugly. In fact, their offensive efficiency in their last three games (87.2 points scored per 100 possessions) has been almost as bad as their worst three-game stretch with their two stars out (83.2).

But Durant is once again leading the league in points per isolation, tied with Derrick Rose at 1.25. He’s played just 14 games, but he’s isolated on a greater percentage of his half-court touches (8.2 percent) than he did last season (6.9 percent).

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The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a Durant isolation from last year’s playoffs.

Most of Durant’s isolation touches came via a pin-down screen or a straight post-up. A lot of times, he catches the ball 20-plus feet from the basket. But when he screens for Westbrook, the play can be impossible to guard. And if the defense chooses to switch it (to keep Westbrook out of the paint while still staying attached to Durant), it can set up a favorable matchup for the Thunder, who scored 1.20 points per possession on Westbrook/Durant pick-and-rolls last season.

One Stat, One Play: Nothing free in New York


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Nothing free in New York

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The New York Knicks talked defense in training camp, but we knew they weren’t going to be very good on that end of the floor.

Offensively, the Knicks still have talent. Carmelo Anthony is one of the league’s best scorers, Jose Calderon has been one of the league’s best shooters, and Amar’e Stoudemire has returned to being one of the league’s best finishers. Tim Hardaway Jr., Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith are all pretty flammable.

But the Knicks rank 22nd offensively, having scored just 100.9 points per 100 possessions through Wednesday. When you compare their efficiency to the league average, this is their worst offensive season since 2007-08, when Isiah Thomas was coach.

One reason is a lack of free throws. The Knicks rank last in free throw rate, having attempted only 22 freebies for every 100 shots from the field.

Free throws are the most efficient way to score. And in that regard, the Knicks have the same issue on defense. They rank 26th in opponent free throw rate, putting their opponents on the line 32 times for every 100 shots from the floor.

When you put it together, the Knicks have attempted 7.8 fewer free throws per game than their opponents. That’s not just the worst discrepancy in the league. It’s the worst discrepancy since the 1998-99 season, when Rick Pitino‘s Celtics attempted 8.6 fewer free throws per game than their opponents.

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The Knicks had the league’s worst free throw disparity last season too. But it wasn’t nearly as bad: minus-4.6 per game.

The triangle offense has made the Knicks more of a jump-shooting team than they were before. A mere 37 percent of their shots have come from the paint, the lowest rate in the league.

That is, in part, a result of the offense’s lack of ball screens and drives. According to SportVU, the Knicks rank last in both of those categories as well.

Knicks’ lack of attack
% of shots in paint: 37.3% (30th)
Ball screens per game: 37.1 (30th)
Drives per game: 13.2 (30th)

The video above is the latest installment of “One Stat, One Play,” a look at a typical triangle possession, which goes nowhere near the basket.

Some good news: The Knicks have attempted as many or more free throws than their opponents in their last three games. But it was just last week that they attempted 41 fewer freebies than their opponents over a three-game stretch against the Blazers, Pelicans and Spurs.

The Knicks visit Chicago in the first game of TNT’s double-header (8 p.m. ET) on Thursday.

One Stat, One Play: Ariza from the corner


VIDEO: One Stat, One Play: Ariza from the corner

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Three-point attempts have been trending up for a while now. But the Houston Rockets have taken things to a new level this season.

Houston has attempted 42.2 percent of its shots from 3-point range, the highest rate in NBA history by a wide margin.

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Both Trevor Ariza and James Harden rank in the top six in 3-point attempts. Ariza ranks second in the league in corner 3s…

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Though he’s not shooting them as well as he did last season, when he led the league…

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He has shot them well from the left corner…

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Though three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard has missed 11 of their 21 games, the Rockets’ defense (ranked No. 2 through Wednesday) is more responsible for their 16-5 record than their offense. But their 3-point shooting makes them always tough to guard. And when Howard returns, their offense should climb from 20th in the league toward the top 10.

The video above is the latest installment “One Stat, One Play,” featuring a fun play that results in one of Ariza’s 3s from the left corner.

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With Howard hoping to return for Saturday’s game against the Nuggets, we may be seeing more of that play soon. In the meantime, you can watch a compilation of it here.

Houston visits the Sacramento Kings in the second game of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET) on Thursday.