Two and a half months ago, we were pining for NBA basketball. Now it’s snowy December and we’ve had plenty of it. It is time to check in on some of the statistics that have defined this regular season. In particular, I focus on numbers which answer (however incompletely at this point) some of the lingering questions from the turbocharged 2019 offseason. A big thanks to basketball-reference for most of the statistics cited here. Enjoy!
Stat: Luka Doncic True Shooting Percentage
I believe I openly expressed this on Twitter, but the statistic that I was most curious about this offseason was Luka Doncic’s True Shooting Percentage (TS%), a measure of shooting efficiency which accounts for both field goal attempts and free throw attempts. Luka astounded the basketball world in his 19-year-old rookie campaign by posting a 54.5% TS%, which is very close to league average, on a whopping 30.5% Usage Rate. What would he do for an encore in year two? Well, through 18 games, he has exceeded the expectations of even the wildest Mavericks fans! The 62.7% mark is 30th in the entire association among all minutes-qualified players, per basketball-reference. And this is a stat whose leaderboard is filled with lower usage centers.
His sophomore campaign has been so spectacular that he has helped propel the Mavs to the 4th best Net Rating in the league, forced basketball bloggers to frantically scramble to find a better season by anyone 20 years old or younger, and even inserted himself into the (albeit early) MVP discussion. Oh, and he has folks comparing him to a somewhat well known basketball player from Akron, Ohio. Well done, Luka!
Stat: Russell Westbrook percentage of field goal attempts from midrange (where I am defining a midrange shot as a 2-pointer greater than 10 feet from the basket)
Value: 28.1% of all field goal attempts
In perhaps one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, the championship-or-bust Rockets jettisoned their star point guard Chris Paul in favor of one of the most polarizing all-stars in the league, Russell Westbrook. Paul had a largely successful run in Houston, but maybe a healthier Westbrook could lead the Rockets over the hump? A big question with this move was how would Westbrook adjust his play to fit into his new squad’s 3-point heavy offense? I was curious if the Rockets would get Westbrook to excise his notoriously inefficient long 2-pointers and get more shots at the basket and free throw line.
Through 17 games, Westbrook has taken 28.1% of his field goal attempts from the area I’m defining as midrange (a 2-pointer greater than 10 feet from the basket). That is down a little from his career figure of 34.1% of his field goal attempts, but actually slightly up from his last Oklahoma City mark of 27.2%. So Houston has not exactly gotten Westbrook to tamper down on one of the most inefficient parts of his game. Moreover, his free throw rate is roughly in line with where it had been over the previous two seasons and his 3-point percentage still, unfortunately, is an eyesore at just 23.3%. Interestingly, where he is taking his shots looks a lot like his late Thunder days. Still, it’s early, the Rockets are settling into form, and Houston is more interested in one number above all else- wins in late May and early June.
Stat: Pascal Siakam field goal attempts, per 36 minutes
Value: 19.9 attempts per 36 minutes
Kawhi Leonard left this offseason and the Raptors were supposed to take a step back. But the (dare I say it?) underrated supporting cast has held up well so far, and a breakout year from Pascal Siakam has led the charge.
I was particularly curious as to how Siakam’s role would grow on offense in Leonard’s absence. My Nylon Calculus colleague Arjun Balaraman wondered as much and more in his excellent Siakam preview. The answer? Siakam’s field goal attempts per 36 minutes have increased from 13.4 last season to 19.9 this season, a roughly 50% increase! Importantly, he has become a reliable threat from the long range; his 3-point attempts per 36 minutes have doubled to 6.2 while his 3-point percentage has remained at a respectable 37.7%. He has been increasingly willing to shoot the above-the-break 3-pointer, a shot opponents in last year’s playoffs effectively conceded to him at times.
Although this plot is two weeks old, it still speaks to Siakam’s rise in usage.
His true shooting percentage has fallen off a little, largely due to a decline in his 2-point percentage, but this is to be expected given his uptick in work load. Siakam has been one of those players who improves greatly each year, and his four year, $130 million extension signed before the start of the season looks well justified so far.
Stat: Philadelphia 76ers Defensive Rating
Value: 103.7 points allowed per 100 possessions
The Sixers had an eventful offseason. They locked up Tobias Harris, added the consummate big man in Al Horford, and swapped Jimmy Butler for 3-and-D practitioner Josh Richardson. Particularly fascinating about the Sixers- they could throw out a jumbo starting five that seemed like a lock to grind opposing offenses to a halt.
Checking in on their defense: they allowed 103.7 points per 100 possessions through their first 20 games, which is 4.6 points per 100 better than league average and tied with Utah for 6th best in the NBA. (Side note: I had Utah and Philly pegged as the most likely teams to have the best defense.) So the defense, which was surprisingly mediocre last year, is rounding into form. In my viewing of the Sixers, I’m particularly impressed by Josh Richardson’s perimeter defense. A nugget: they are actually middle of the pack in defensive effective field goal percentage (the most important of Dean Oliver’s Four Factors), but, perhaps unsurprisingly, make up for it by leading the league in defensive rebounding percentage. So far they have been a good defense, but I would like to see if they can become great.
Stat: Anthony Davis 3-Point Percentage
The blockbuster trade which brought Anthony Davis to the Purple and Gold had basketball fans salivating over his fit with LeBron James. LeBron’s impressive offensive driving ability seemed poised to create opportunities for Davis all over the court. In particular, I was curious how AD’s outside game would develop given James’s tendency to create open 3-pointers for his teammates.
So far, Davis has shot respectably at 33.9% on 62 total attempts. His career percentage entering this season was 31.4%. He has also upped his 3-point volume in terms of attempts per game and percentage of overall shots. Of course, Davis’s offensive strengths still lie in creating tremendous pressure on the defense from close to the basket, but it is interesting to note that he is stretching the floor more to create more space to attack for his teammates. I’m not sure what the optimal number of 3-point attempts is for Davis, but this is something to monitor.