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Rookie of the Year by the numbers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams named Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for March

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kia Rookie of the Year voting should be pretty simple this season. There are only nine rookies who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game for 50 games or more. And none of those have done it for a team with a winning record.

Winning records don’t matter much in Rookie of the Year voting. None of the last 10 winners played for teams with winning records. So there probably won’t be anything stopping the media from voting for Michael Carter-Williams (of the 16-59 Sixers) or Victor Oladipo (of the 21-54 Magic).

Carter-Williams appears to be the clear favorite. He leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.

That doesn’t mean that he’s the best player among all rookies. He’s just had the biggest opportunity, playing for a team that stripped its roster bare over the course of the last 10 months.

Carter-Williams has been the only rookie to start every game he’s played in, and his back-up — Tony Wroten — was never a threat to take any of his minutes, especially since developing the rookie has been priority No. 1 in Philadelphia this season. Even if winning games was a priority, Wroten isn’t good enough to take minutes away from MCW.

Not only has Carter-Williams led rookies in minutes per game and usage rate, but the Sixers have played at the *fastest pace in the league. So, when it comes to racking up per-game numbers, he’s had a three-tier advantage over other rookies.

* The fourth fastest pace of the last 20 years, actually.

We can adjust for all that, though. NBA.com’s PIE statistic takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. And only one rookie ranks higher than Carter-Williams in terms of PIE…

All stats are through April 3, 2014.

Rookies who have played 1,000 minutes, sorted by PIE

Player GP MIN eFG% TS% Usg% PIE
Mason Plumlee 62 1,079 63.2% 65.3% 16.9% 10.5%
Michael Carter-Williams 63 2,181 42.2% 46.9% 26.0% 9.8%
Nick Calathes 64 1,069 49.5% 51.0% 17.9% 9.8%
Victor Oladipo 73 2,325 45.3% 51.2% 24.0% 9.6%
Nate Wolters 58 1,310 46.0% 48.6% 16.7% 9.3%
Cody Zeller 75 1,266 41.9% 49.1% 18.2% 8.7%
Trey Burke 63 1,995 44.2% 47.2% 22.1% 8.1%
Kelly Olynyk 63 1,215 48.6% 52.8% 20.0% 8.0%
Ryan Kelly 52 1,103 51.2% 57.3% 15.4% 7.8%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 70 1,705 46.9% 52.5% 15.3% 7.6%
Matthew Dellavedova 66 1,132 50.8% 53.7% 13.3% 7.5%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 75 1,732 52.9% 55.8% 19.1% 7.4%
Hollis Thompson 70 1,559 54.5% 56.7% 11.4% 6.0%
Tony Snell 70 1,178 47.0% 48.9% 15.0% 5.8%
Steven Adams 74 1,102 49.7% 53.6% 11.7% 5.2%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 73 1,446 45.9% 48.3% 13.6% 5.0%
Ben McLemore 75 1,934 44.4% 47.9% 16.7% 3.9%

eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 FTA)))

By the way, this certainly isn’t the best rookie class in recent memory, but it might have the longest names.

So Mason Plumlee has made more of his minutes than Carter-Williams has, and has also done it for a playoff team. But MCW has played twice as many minutes. And if you’re voting for Rookie of the Year, it’s hard to argue against that.

Carter-Williams has also made the Sixers a better team. They’ve been outscored by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, but by only 8.9 with him on the floor. That minus-8.9 NetRtg would still rank 29th in the league (ahead of only the Bucks), but it’s a heck of a lot better than minus-15.2.

Of the 17 rookies who have played at least 1,000 minutes, only three have a positive plus-minus. They are Steven Adams (plus-52), Matthew Dellavedova (plus-46) and Nick Calathes (plus-9). And Adams’ team has been much better with him off the floor.

Several more rookies can say they’ve made a positive impact…

Rookies who have played 1,000 minutes, sorted by on-off-court NetRtg differential

On court Off court Difference
Player MIN NetRtg MIN NetRtg NetRtg Rank
Nate Wolters 1,310 -1.8 2,330 -13.0 11.2 10
Matthew Dellavedova 1,132 +3.1 2,561 -7.3 10.4 16
Giannis Antetokounmpo 1,705 -4.4 1,935 -13.0 8.5 25
Michael Carter-Williams 2,181 -8.9 1,454 -15.2 6.3 47
Ryan Kelly 1,103 -1.9 2,502 -7.6 5.7 53
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 1,446 -0.8 2,174 -6.3 5.5 59
Kelly Olynyk 1,215 -2.2 2,395 -7.4 5.3 61
Trey Burke 1,995 -7.3 1,615 -10.1 2.8 97
Nick Calathes 1,069 +1.1 2,551 +0.8 0.3 135
Hollis Thompson 1,559 -12.0 2,076 -11.0 -1.0 150
Victor Oladipo 2,325 -5.8 1,330 -4.6 -1.2 151
Mason Plumlee 1,079 -1.4 2,513 +0.6 -2.0 169
Cody Zeller 1,266 -2.8 2,364 +0.9 -3.7 192
Ben McLemore 1,934 -5.0 1,696 +0.0 -5.1 204
Steven Adams 1,102 +3.4 2,475 +9.3 -5.9 209
Tim Hardaway Jr. 1,732 -5.3 1,951 +2.0 -7.3 221
Tony Snell 1,178 -4.5 2,467 +4.3 -8.8 229

NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Among 236 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes for one team

It helps to know who those guys are playing their minutes with, but among Sixer rotation regulars, only Evan Turner had a higher on-court NetRtg than Carter-Williams.

So while it’s important to add context to Carter-Williams per-game numbers, the context doesn’t hurt his Rookie of the Year candidacy very much.

Sixth Man candidates by the numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia NBA Sixth Man Award is a lot more straightforward than the Most Improved Player Award, in part because the field is limited. To be eligible for the Sixth Man Award, players need to have come off the bench in more games than they started.

If you eliminate players who have started at least half the games they’ve played and also players who haven’t played at least 1,000 minutes, you’re left with fewer than 100 guys (even if you add a few guys — like Steve Blake – that can get under the 50-percent threshold by continuing to come off the bench over the last two weeks). And since there aren’t too many great players coming off the bench, it’s not too hard to determine the *cream of the crop.

* Luke Babbitt, though?

The Sixth Man Award often goes to the eligible guy who averages the most points per game. And while instant offense is an important part of bench play, it’s not that hard to go beyond that and look at total production, in terms of basic boxscore stats …

All stats are through April 1, 2014.

Highest total efficiency, players eligible for Sixth Man Award

Player GP GS MIN PPG RPG APG eFG% EFF
Markieff Morris 73 0 1,922 13.8 6.0 1.7 51.1% 1,097
Taj Gibson 74 8 2,132 13.3 6.9 1.1 48.5% 1,094
Anderson Varejao 60 29 1,698 8.6 10.0 2.2 49.4% 1,024
Enes Kanter 74 33 1,955 12.1 7.0 0.9 49.0% 971
Tyreke Evans 65 15 1,804 14.0 4.6 4.9 44.1% 961
Reggie Jackson 71 33 2,038 13.3 3.9 4.2 48.0% 955
John Henson 62 23 1,648 10.9 7.3 1.6 52.9% 926
Jamal Crawford 66 23 2,002 18.6 2.3 3.2 49.9% 923
Vince Carter 74 0 1,810 12.1 3.6 2.7 50.0% 883
Timofey Mozgov 74 22 1,531 8.7 6.1 0.7 51.7% 869

Minimum 1,000 minutes played
eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

That list includes a few names that you’d expect, as well as a couple that you can certainly eliminate because they play on really, really bad teams. But it’s an easy way to look beyond points per game, which, by itself, would indicate that Jamal Crawford is the runaway favorite for the award and that Dion Waiters has been the Cavs’ best reserve. Anderson Varejao has averaged 2.7 more rebounds per game than any other Sixth-Man eligible player in the league.

If we want to adjust for pace and minutes played, we can look at the PIE statistic from NBA.com/stats, which takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor.

Highest PIE, players eligible for Sixth Man Award

Player GP GS MIN PPG RPG APG eFG% PIE
Anderson Varejao 60 29 1,698 8.6 10.0 2.2 49.4% 13.3%
Kris Humphries 66 28 1,338 8.6 6.0 1.0 50.2% 13.3%
Manu Ginobili 62 3 1,418 12.3 3.0 4.4 53.8% 13.0%
Jordan Hill 64 24 1,268 8.8 7.1 0.6 55.2% 12.7%
Tyreke Evans 65 15 1,804 14.0 4.6 4.9 44.1% 12.6%
Markieff Morris 73 0 1,922 13.8 6.0 1.7 51.1% 12.5%
Andray Blatche 67 6 1,504 11.4 5.4 1.5 48.3% 12.4%
Taj Gibson 74 8 2,132 13.3 6.9 1.1 48.5% 12.1%
Chris Andersen 66 0 1,294 6.8 5.2 0.3 66.9% 12.0%
Patty Mills 74 1 1,364 9.9 2.0 1.8 56.2% 11.8%

Minimum 1,000 minutes played

Four guys – Tyreke Evans, Taj Gibson, Markieff Morris and Varejao — are on both lists. Crawford ranks 16th in PIE (11.1 percent), while Manu Ginobili ranks 16th in total efficiency (838), having missed 12 of the Spurs’ 74 games.

But there’s one more thing we need to look at, because the ultimate job of a team’s bench is to build on a lead or at least sustain it. And when we look at how their teams perform with them on and off the floor, a few candidates rise to the top of the list (which I cut down to 10 guys who appear on at least one of the lists above).

On-off court efficiency differential, Sixth Man Award candidates

Player GP GS MIN OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
Anderson Varejao 60 29 1,698 +5.1 43 -5.6 15 +10.7 13
Manu Ginobili 62 3 1,418 +9.4 8 -0.1 113 +9.5 23
Andray Blatche 67 6 1,504 +4.3 59 +0.0 121 +4.2 72
Reggie Jackson 71 33 2,038 +0.4 137 -3.0 54 +3.4 86
Taj Gibson 74 8 2,132 +3.0 84 +0.2 126 +2.8 96
Markieff Morris 73 0 1,922 -1.2 162 -3.0 53 +1.8 109
Chris Andersen 66 0 1,294 -2.4 185 -2.8 56 +0.5 130
Vince Carter 74 0 1,810 -2.9 191 -1.4 84 -1.5 160
Jamal Crawford 66 23 2,002 +1.1 129 +3.2 189 -2.1 167
Tyreke Evans 65 15 1,804 +0.3 141 +3.2 190 -3.0 181

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Rank among 235 players who have played at least 1,000 minutes for one team.

So Varejao comes out as the biggest difference maker, with the Cavs almost 11 points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the floor than when he’s on the bench. Ginobili hasn’t played a ton of minutes, but the Spurs’ offense receives a huge boost when he’s in the game. It’s also interesting to note that Gibson’s impact has been on offense (mostly because the Bulls have been great defensively no matter who’s on the floor).

On-off-court numbers obviously need some context, especially when you’re looking at a guy like Crawford, who has two teammates (both starters) who are top-10 players in the league. He’s played 1,415 minutes (71 percent of his 2,002) with Blake Griffin, but only 955 (48 percent) with Chris Paul. And though the Clippers have been better with Crawford on the bench, they’ve still outscored their opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. So his scoring numbers are far from empty and he is helping his team build on leads.

Still, if you look beyond points per game, the numbers see Ginobili and Varejao as guys worthy of first place votes, while Morris and Gibson should also be near the top of the list.

Numbers reveal four strong MIP candidates

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Kia Most Improved Player award is thought of as the most nebulous of the six major end-of-season awards and typically gets the widest range of votes. Last season, though Paul George finished with a vote total of more than twice that of any other player, 15 different players received at least one first-place vote and another 18 received at least one vote for second or third place.

But the award also lends itself to simple statistical analysis. It should be fairly simple to determine whose numbers have improved most from season to season.

If you want to get real simple, we can just compare the raw numbers, using the efficiency statistic.

Biggest increase, total efficiency

Player Season 2012-13 2013-14 Diff.
Kevin Love 6 372 2,060 1,688
Terrence Jones 2 147 1,048 901
Miles Plumlee 2 20 894 874
Andre Drummond 2 826 1,561 735
Andrew Bogut 9 418 1,103 685
Khris Middleton 2 167 836 669
Timofey Mozgov 4 174 837 663
Gerald Green 7 319 923 604
John Wall 4 949 1,511 562
James Anderson 4 180 740 560
DeAndre Jordan 6 1,079 1,638 559
Anthony Davis 2 1,167 1,705 538
Jordan Hill 5 275 810 535
Jeremy Lamb 2 48 579 531
Dirk Nowitzki 16 1,005 1,531 526
Jared Sullinger 2 454 975 521
Tony Wroten 2 84 601 517
Trevor Ariza 10 637 1,151 514
Reggie Jackson 3 465 955 490
Richard Jefferson 13 200 678 478

Efficiency = PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK – TO – Missed FGA – Missed FTA

At this point, the big question has to be asked: Should second-year players be considered for the Most Improved Player award? If not, we can eliminate several guys on the list above, though both Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee – two starters on Western Conference playoff teams — feel like strong candidates. Only two of the top 10 in last year’s voting — Nikola Vucevic (4th) and Chandler Parsons (10th) — were second-year players.

There are also a handful of veterans on the list who missed large chunks of last season with injuries, though Kevin Love and Trevor Ariza are having the best seasons of their careers.

Timofey Mozgov and Gerald Green are interesting candidates, but were both out of their team’s rotations last season, so their improved raw numbers may also be about opportunity.

But Mozgov’s name comes up when we look at PIE improvement. PIE takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. So it adjusts for pace and there’s a team-success element to it, because if your opponent doesn’t score as many points or grab as many rebounds your individual number will be higher.

Biggest increase, PIE

2012-13 2013-14
Player Season MIN PIE MIN PIE Diff.
James Johnson 5 879 5.3% 836 11.5% 6.2%
DeMarcus Cousins 4 2,289 13.2% 1,978 18.3% 5.1%
Kevin Love 6 618 14.4% 2,438 19.4% 5.0%
Markieff Morris 3 1,837 7.5% 1,864 12.3% 4.8%
Lance Stephenson 4 2,278 8.8% 2,487 13.0% 4.2%
Kris Humphries 10 1,191 9.2% 1,272 13.3% 4.1%
Bismack Biyombo 3 2,186 6.3% 957 10.1% 3.8%
Kendall Marshall 2 702 5.8% 1,270 9.6% 3.8%
Draymond Green 2 1,061 5.1% 1,481 8.9% 3.8%
Timofey Mozgov 4 366 6.9% 1,479 10.5% 3.6%
Xavier Henry 4 625 3.9% 895 7.5% 3.6%
Patty Mills 5 656 8.2% 1,306 11.7% 3.4%
Marco Belinelli 7 1,882 7.0% 1,749 10.3% 3.3%
Avery Bradley 4 1,435 4.9% 1,602 8.1% 3.3%
Andrew Bogut 9 786 9.2% 1,661 12.5% 3.3%
Isaiah Thomas 3 2,121 10.6% 2,450 13.8% 3.2%
Anthony Davis 2 1,846 13.5% 2,248 16.6% 3.0%
Marcus Morris 3 1,524 6.7% 1,601 9.7% 3.0%
Brandon Knight 3 2,366 8.2% 2,051 11.2% 3.0%
Alec Burks 3 1,137 7.4% 1,909 10.4% 3.0%

Minimum 300 minutes in 2012-13 and 800 minutes in 2013-14

Love, Mozgov and Andrew Bogut are the only players on both lists. But Bogut had better seasons in Milwaukee and Love’s increase is just 1.0 percent over his third season in the league. Mozgov has taken a decent jump, but still isn’t a real impact player in the league.

Based on the above lists and deeper dives into the numbers, there are four non-second-year candidates that stand out.

Marco Belinelli, Spurs

Choosing between the Spurs’ two back-up guards is tough, because Patty Mills‘ play has been eye-opening. But Belinelli has had a bigger role on the league’s best team.

Belinelli’s points per game have increased from 9.6 season last season (with Chicago) only to 11.4 this year. And he averaged more than that (11.8) two seasons ago with New Orleans. But he’s having, by far, the best shooting and rebounding seasons of his career.

Among 168 players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the restricted area each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (51.9 percent last season, 70.2 percent this season) ranks second in improvement, behind only Love.

Among 139 players who have attempted at least 100 mid-range shots each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.9 percent, 44.0 percent) ranks sixth in improvement.

And among 126 players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers each of the last two seasons, Belinelli (35.7 percent, 43.7 percent) ranks fifth in improvement.

No other player is in the top 25 of all three lists, and only one (Markieff Morris) is in the top 10 of more than one. It certainly helps (quite a bit, one could argue) that Belinelli has gone from a bottom-10 offensive team last season to a top-10 offensive team this year. But he also ranks 10th in improved rebounding percentage among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

Boogie has seen a jump in both usage (USG%) and scoring efficiency (TS%). Though he’s still not a great shooter (his 49.3 effective field-goal percentage is below the league average), he has gone to the line a lot more than he ever has. He has also rebounded at a career-high rate.

Defensively, he’s not exactly Roy Hibbert or Kevin Garnett, and transition defense is a major problem. But the Kings have been almost six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Cousins on the floor. He’s a plus-62 for a team that’s 25-46.

Cousins’ teammate Isaiah Thomas seems like another good candidate and is 16th on the most-improved PIE list above. But his scoring effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage have barely budged (his 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage have gone down), and his numbers jump is mostly about an increased usage rate and a small jump in assist rate.

Markieff Morris, Suns

If you could vote for the Morris twins as one entity, that would be the clear favorite. You can’t, but Markieff (No. 11 in your programs) should be on the short list.

He’s been a much more efficient player this season, even though his usage rate has jumped quite a bit. And the Suns, who are an improved defensive team, have been better on that end of the floor with Markieff in the game.

As referenced above, he’s the ninth most improved mid-range shooter in the league and also ninth most improved in the restricted area. He’s played about the same number of minutes as he did last season and he’s gone to the line more than twice as many times.

With both Morris twins, Plumlee, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic all worthy of some consideration for Most Improved, it’s obvious that Jeff Hornacek should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

Lance Stephenson, Pacers

Like Cousins and Morris, Stephenson has seen a big jump in both usage rate and efficiency. But he’s also the most improved rebounder among 203 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes each of the last two seasons, with his rebounding percentage jumping from 7.5 percent to 11.4 percent (best among guards).

Stephenson still has some improving to do. He’s a below-average shooter from outside the paint and his turnover rate has jumped as he’s been asked to handle the ball more. But overall, he’s taken a step forward this season.

Film Study: Blazers’ shooters burn Wizards from 3-point range


VIDEO: The Blazers hit the Wizards with a barrage of 3s in the third quarter

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday night in Portland, the Washington Wizards shot 12-for-27 (44 percent) from 3-point range.

Those are good numbers. Prior to Thursday, teams were 353-180 (.662) when they hit 10 or more threes in a game. The Wizards themselves were 28-10 when shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc.

It’s also impressive that the Wiz were able to generate so much perimeter offense without Marcin Gortat (who hurt his back warming up), one of the most prolific pick-and-roll bigs in the league. They’ve been much more efficient offensively with Gortat on the floor this season, but they scored 103 points on just 91 possessions (113 per 100) on Thursday.

The problem was that the Blazers shot 14-for-35 from 3-point range and scored 116 points on 91 possessions (127 per 100). The Wizards ranked ninth defensively when Nene went down with a left knee injury on Feb. 23, but rank 21st since then, having allowed 108.0 points per 100 possessions over the last 12 games.

Nene might not have been the difference maker on Thursday, because even with the players the Wizards had, some of Portland’s threes were avoidable.

Second chances, then 3 points

The Blazers rank second in offensive rebounding percentage and lead the league with 88 second-chance 3-pointers.

20140321_2c3pm

Three of those 88 came Thursday …


VIDEO: The Blazers hit three of their league-leading 88 second-chance 3-pointers

Foes pay for doubling the post

Those first two second-chance 3-pointers came directly off the offensive rebound. But on the third one, Nicolas Batum found himself wide open when John Wall double-teamed Wesley Matthews in the low post.

That was also the third three that the Blazers got directly off a Matthews post-up. On the first two, either Wall or Bradley Beal initially fronted Matthews in the post, and when the Blazers were still able to get Matthews the ball, Trevor Booker came to help from the baseline.

From there, the Wizards’ defense was scrambling and there was an open three one or two passes away …


VIDEO: The Blazers get open threes out of double-teams in the post

Matthews is a pretty good post-up guard, but there shouldn’t be a need to send a double-team when he’s being defended by the 6-foot-4 Beal or 6-foot-4 Wall. That idea is especially true when the Blazers have an extra shooter on the floor.

Wright kind of mismatch

The Blazers are now 7-2 without LaMarcus Aldridge, having scored an efficient 112.0 points per 100 possessions in the nine games. Aldridge is thought of as Portland’s best player, but of their five starters, he has, by far, the lowest true shooting percentage. His abundance of mid-range shots (he still leads the league by 139 attempts) makes him a relatively inefficient scorer.

And while the Wizards will still start two bigs when Nene and/or Gortat are injured, the Blazers have gone small without Aldridge, starting Dorell Wright at the four.

On Thursday, Wright was matched up with Booker, who got one bucket on a tip-in and another on a post-up, but who wasn’t able to consistently take advantage of the size discrepancy.

Wright didn’t burn Booker all night from the perimeter, and the Wizards were a plus-2 in 16 minutes with Booker and Kevin Seraphin on the floor together, but there were a couple of times when Booker couldn’t keep up with the shooter …


VIDEO: The Blazers take advantage of Trevor Booker on the perimeter

The Wizards’ schedule gets a lot easier from here on out. Thursday was their last road game against a team with a winning record. But their 3-point defense needs to be better, because three of their next five games are against the three teams — the Lakers (32), Suns (36) and Hawks (32) — who have the most games with 10 or more threes.

Korver has been historically good

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kyle Korver‘s streak of 127 straight games with a 3-pointer came to an end on March 5 in Portland. It was an amazing run, but it doesn’t fully illustrate just how good of a shooter Korver has been over the last couple of years.

Korver, who led the league in effective field goal percentage at 61.8 percent last season, again led the league at 62.8 percent before the All-Star break. And since the break, he’s been one of the league’s most-improved shooters.

20140315_impr_efg

Think about that for a second. He was the best last season. He was better over his first 47 game games this season. And he’s been even better over the last 12. The guy is ridiculous.

For the season, Korver has an effective field goal percentage of 64.5 percent, a mark which ranks as the best shooting season of the last 32 years. His standard field goal percentage is below 50 percent and he’s not having the best 3-point shooting season of all-time (he holds the record of 53.6 percent in 2009-10), but because such a large portion of his shots have been 3s, his shots have been worth more (1.29 points per shot) than those of any player in NBA history not named Chamberlain or Gilmore.

20140315_all-time_efg

Comparing Korver with Wilt Chamberlain is kind of weird, but it just illustrates how incredible he’s been this season. He’s shot 10-for-12 from 3-point range over his last three games and will take aim at the Denver Nuggets on Saturday (7:30 ET, NBA TV).

Livingston embodies Nets’ new identity

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Shuan Livingston about his long path back to NBA relevance

BROOKLYN – The Brooklyn Nets are the most expensive team in NBA history, and their most important player right now is a guy making the league minimum.

The key to the Nets’ 22-9 record since Jan. 1 has been their defense, which is fifth-best in that time and has forced 19.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. No team has forced that many turnovers over a full, 82-game season since 1997-98.

The most important element of that improved Brooklyn defense is the length of Shaun Livingston, a guy who was signed to be the back-up point guard but who ranks third on the team in minutes and has started every game he’s played (he’s missed one) since … Jan. 1.

Playing small, the Nets have struggled on the glass, haven’t blocked many shots, and haven’t done a great job of keeping their opponents off the free throw line. But they’ve had defensive success due to contesting shots and forcing mistakes.

Kevin Garnett has been Brooklyn’s defensive anchor since Brook Lopez was lost for the season, but the Nets have gone 5-1 without KG in March. They’re allowing less than a point per possession because they still have backcourt length, which allows them to switch screens, help and recover and both get into the space of ball-handlers and into passing lanes.

As a 6-foot-7 point guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Livingston is the embodiment of Brooklyn’s new identity. He can smother opposing guards and switch onto forwards. With the game on the line in the final minute on Monday, Livingston poked the ball away from Toronto’s Terrence Ross.

“He’s so versatile,” Deron Williams said of his backcourt-mate after the win on Monday. “He’s been guarding the best players a lot of nights.”

It’s more than that. Livingston’s size unlocks everything the Nets do defensively. Without his size and activity, the scheme doesn’t work nearly as well, and the numbers bear that out. The Nets have been 8.5 points per 100 possessions better defensively since Jan. 1 when Livingston has been on the floor.

20140312_bkn_livingston

We all know Livingston’s story and it’s great to see him playing such a big role on a playoff team seven years after his gruesome and devastating knee injury as a Clipper. Less than 15 months ago, he was waived by the 3-22 Washington Wizards.

After doing a solid job in Cleveland in the second half last season, Livingston was Jason Kidd‘s choice to back-up Williams. Some of us thought he was a bad fit because of his poor (non-existent, really) perimeter shooting. But Kidd was right all along … although he couldn’t have known that he’d be relying on Livingston as much as he has.

The 28-year-old has already started more games (39) than he ever has and will surpass his career high in minutes next week.

“I didn’t know what to expect, coming in, being a back-up,” Livingston said. “But things happen in the NBA.”

This isn’t just a feel-good story, though. The Nets need Livingston, who has given them the identity that’s turned them into the team we’d thought they’d be at the beginning of the season with their $82 million starting lineup.

“You just try to find your niche,” he said. “Sometimes, you got to find your value on the court. What’s going to help my team win games? [Andrei] Kirilenko is the same way. We’re active. We’re long. So we have to use that to our advantage.”

The Nets are just two games over .500 and in sixth place in the weak East, but that 22-9 mark is the conference’s best in 2014. They’ve established themselves as a tough out for any team they’d face in the playoffs, including the Miami Heat. Brooklyn is 2-0 against Miami as the Heat host the Nets tonight (7 ET, ESPN).

It’ll be another game featuring a bunch of high-priced stars. And a guy making the minimum will play a big role.

Pierce cares not about your hand in his face


VIDEO: Pierce’s big three seals Brooklyn’s win vs. Toronto

BROOKLYN – Nets coach Jason Kidd didn’t think Paul Pierce was going to play Monday night.

Pierce, dealing with an injured shoulder, played. He played 30 minutes, scored 15 points, and hit the biggest shot of the night, a 3-pointer that gave the Nets a three-point lead with 1:14 left and propelled them to a big win over the visiting Raptors.

It was a tough shot, because Kyle Lowry was in Pierce’s shirt with a hand in his face. But Pierce had to take it because the shot clock was about to expire.

And maybe it didn’t matter that Lowry was there, because, according to SportVU, Pierce has shot better on contested jumpers than uncontested jumpers. Among 92 players who have attempted at least 100 of each, only one — the Pelicans’ Brian Roberts — has a bigger discrepancy.

Players who have shot better on contested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Brian Roberts 82 213 38.5% 63 128 49.2% -10.7%
Paul Pierce 83 236 35.2% 62 151 41.1% -5.9%
Russell Westbrook 73 203 36.0% 57 138 41.3% -5.3%
Dirk Nowitzki 200 439 45.6% 210 431 48.7% -3.2%
LeBron James 140 370 37.8% 47 117 40.2% -2.3%
Marcus Morris 102 252 40.5% 61 143 42.7% -2.2%
Rudy Gay 87 223 39.0% 105 259 40.5% -1.5%
Evan Turner 107 288 37.2% 88 231 38.1% -0.9%
Rodney Stuckey 67 178 37.6% 55 145 37.9% -0.3%
Jamal Crawford 142 355 40.0% 143 356 40.2% -0.2%
James Harden 141 375 37.6% 69 183 37.7% -0.1%

Minimum 100 of each.
Contested = Any jump shot outside of 10 feet with a defender within four feet of the shooter.

Note: We’re looking at standard field goal percentage and not effective field goal percentage to simply see the effect on a player’s success rate.

That LeBron James has shot better on contested jumpers is more incentive for defenses to play off him on the perimeter, as the Spurs did (successfully, until Game 7) in The Finals.

The league has shot 5.4 percent better on uncontested jumpers this season. But a contest will affect some players more than others. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Roberts and Pierce is the Suns’ Goran Dragic

Players who have shot at least 10 percent better on uncontested jumpers

Uncontested Contested
Player Name FGM FGA FG% FGM FGA FG% Diff.
Goran Dragic 145 279 52.0% 52 178 29.2% 22.8%
David West 142 288 49.3% 35 102 34.3% 15.0%
C.J. Miles 86 191 45.0% 36 118 30.5% 14.5%
Khris Middleton 148 302 49.0% 57 161 35.4% 13.6%
Jameer Nelson 118 312 37.8% 35 143 24.5% 13.3%
Kevin Love 201 473 42.5% 45 152 29.6% 12.9%
Bradley Beal 181 431 42.0% 78 263 29.7% 12.3%
Jerryd Bayless 91 217 41.9% 41 137 29.9% 12.0%
Terrence Ross 107 240 44.6% 59 181 32.6% 12.0%
Randy Foye 150 363 41.3% 39 132 29.5% 11.8%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 121 296 40.9% 30 103 29.1% 11.8%
Josh Smith 126 380 33.2% 28 129 21.7% 11.5%

For some of these guys, the difference is about how well they shoot when they’re left open. For some, it’s about how poorly they shoot when there’s a defender nearby. Josh Smith probably shouldn’t shoot jumpers at all.

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

Analytics Art: 40-Point Games

By Andrew Bergmann, for NBA.com

There has been a lot of buzz about LeBron James’ 61-point game Monday night, but Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant racked up his 10th 40-point game of the season on Tuesday. Here’s a look at players who consistently have been scoring big this year:

40-Point Games in 2013-14

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, FastCompany and Visual.ly. See more on www.dubly.com and twitter.com/dubly.

Pacers’ Defensive Success Starts With Stopping The Pick-And-Roll

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – In today’s NBA, if a team can’t defend the pick-and-roll, it’s in trouble.

The league’s best record has been built on the Indiana Pacers’ No. 1 defense, of which their pick-and-roll coverage is an integral part.

Through Monday, the Pacers had allowed 0.94 points per pick-and-roll possession, easily the lowest mark in the league, according to SportVU data provided to NBA.com. As you’d expect, there’s a strong correlation between SportVU’s pick-and-roll numbers and defensive efficiency. The top four teams in the former are the top four in the latter.

Note: All stats included here are through Monday, March 3.

Top pick-and-roll defenses

Team Screens P&R Poss. Opp. PTS PTS/Poss DefRtg Rank
Indiana 3,245 2,548 2,395 0.94 94.0 1
Golden State 2,881 2,333 2,249 0.96 99.1 3
Chicago 2,782 2,242 2,164 0.97 97.7 2
Oklahoma City 2,928 2,342 2,284 0.98 100.0 4
Toronto 2,878 2,276 2,255 0.99 100.9 7
Miami 2,681 2,134 2,130 1.00 102.7 13
Houston 3,171 2,534 2,537 1.00 102.1 9
Brooklyn 2,851 2,286 2,295 1.00 105.1 21
Memphis 2,857 2,278 2,306 1.01 102.1 8
Washington 3,014 2,441 2,478 1.02 102.2 10

The Pacers have two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Paul George (on the perimeter) and Roy Hibbert (on the interior). And among 168 combinations that have defended at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions, the George-Hibbert combo ranks fourth, having allowed its opponent to score just 0.83 points per possession.

Top pick-and-roll defense combinations

Team BH defender Scr. defender Screens P&R Poss. Opp. PTS PTS/Poss.
OKC Sefolosha Ibaka 140 137 99 0.72
BKN Livingston Garnett 120 113 83 0.73
OKC Sefolosha Perkins 120 110 91 0.83
IND George Hibbert 190 183 152 0.83
WAS Ariza Gortat 164 158 133 0.84
POR Williams Lopez 154 148 125 0.84
SAS Mills Diaw 142 138 117 0.85
PHX Dragic Mark. Morris 159 151 130 0.86
GSW Thompson Bogut 201 187 162 0.87
CHI Augustin Boozer 106 101 88 0.87

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Robin Lopez or Andrew Bogut on this list. Those guys are on the floor to defend. They know where to be and they communicate to the guy getting screened.

But you’ll also notice a common trait among some of the ball-handler defenders (Thabo Sefolosha, George, Shaun Livingston, Trevor Ariza and Klay Thompson) on the list: length. Those guys all put in the work on defense, but it certainly helps to have the wingspan to force the ball-handler into a circuitous route toward the screen and also block the passing lane after he’s picked up by the screener’s defender.

The data shows that both George and Hibbert distinguish themselves from their teammates when it comes to defending pick-and-rolls …

Pacers’ ball-handler defenders

BH defender Screens Poss. Opp. PTS PTS/Poss. Shot%
George Hill 957 905 861 0.95 22%
C.J. Watson 587 563 548 0.97 23%
Paul George 468 449 402 0.90 27%
Lance Stephenson 385 373 355 0.95 32%

Pacers’ screener defenders

Screen Defender Screens Poss. Opp. PTS PTS/Poss. Shot%
Roy Hibbert 859 821 740 0.90 29%
David West 682 646 610 0.94 22%
Ian Mahinmi 494 472 462 0.98 27%
Luis Scola 386 364 359 0.99 20%

Shot% = Percentage of screens in which the ball-handler attempted a shot

You’ll notice that the ball-handler takes more shots when Hibbert or Ian Mahinmi is defending the screener. The Pacers’ centers drop back in their pick-and-roll coverage, like this …

20140305_hibbert_pnr

… while their power forwards come out high…

20140305_west_pnr

Both Hibbert and Mahinmi have the length to prevent the ball-handler from getting to the rim, while still staying attached to the roll man. And often, the only available shot is a mid-range pull-up or a floater or runner from 8-12 feet. Those shots are worth less than 0.8 points per attempt.

NBA shot values per location

Location PTS/FGA
Restricted Area 1.21
In The Paint (Non-RA) 0.78
Mid-Range 0.79
Corner 3 1.16
Above the Break 3 1.06

Here’s an example of George and Hibbert defending a pick-and-roll from the Mavs (a top-10 pick-and-roll offense) …


Hibbert stops Monta Ellis, but also gets back to recover to Samuel Dalembert. And since Lance Stephenson didn’t have to help, he’s able to run Shawn Marion off the 3-point line.

Indiana opponents have run more than 40 percent of their pick-and-rolls from the top of the key, but have had a little more success running them from the side of the floor …

Pick-and-rolls vs. Indiana, by location

Location Screens Screen Poss Opp. PTS PTS/Poss.
Center Point 1,390 1,230 1,149 0.93
Wing 987 897 893 1.00
Sideline Point 793 745 704 0.94
High Post 154 152 124 0.82
Corner 85 82 69 0.84

Here’s the league’s best pick-and-roll combination getting an open jumper for Channing Frye by running it on the side of the floor, where there’s less help …


Luis Scola hedges hard, Hibbert is occupied by Miles Plumlee inside, and the other Pacers are on the opposite side of the floor, so there’s no one to account for the popping Frye.

Here’s a Dallas side pick-and-roll where George Hill helps from the weak side and Shane Larkin is wide open on the wing (maybe, in part, because he’s Shane Larkin).

20140305_dal_side

The Heat had some success in the conference finals when they ran sideline screens toward the baseline, turning the Pacers’ defense inside out. Here’s a similar play from Portland …


Hibbert probably came out too far on Damian Lillard on that play, but the sideline pick-and-roll can give the ball-handler a better angle on the pocket pass, and the Blazers’ spacing makes it difficult to help from the weak side.

(More on the Blazers later in the week, when we address teams that don’t defend the pick-and-roll very well.)

Even from the sideline, you’re not getting a great return on pick-and-rolls against the Pacers. That’s why they rank as one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen.