5 NBA Stats to Know: Preseason Edition
And only six other teams have at least a 1% chance to win the title, to make matters worse. But that doesn't mean there aren't storylines to watch for, and that begins with this preseason.
What are some things to know before the season kicks off?
The Spurs have won at least 50 games in 17 straight seasons
The NBA tends to have a bit more consistency in terms of top teams from year to year as opposed to the NFL or MLB. However, 17 straight seasons with 50-plus wins is unheard of in today’s NBA.
Consider that the last time the San Antonio Spurs did not win 50 games was in a lockout-shortened season that only had 50 regular season games to begin with. The tone will feel a bit different this season as stalwart big man Tim Duncan will not be on the court for San Antonio for the first time since 1997.
The Spurs did replace one future Hall of Famer with another candidate, as Pau Gasol joined the team this season. The addition may be a boost for San Antonio, as Gasol posted a nERD of 4.5 last season. Duncan's was 4.0, indicating Gasol was worth roughly half a win more over the full season.
Per our algorithm, San Antonio should comfortably continue their 50-win streak as they are currently projected to win 56.3 games this season. They also come in with the second highest odds to win the title. With players such as Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge and coach Gregg Popovich patrolling the sidelines, 50 wins seems almost inevitable.
Kobe Bryant's 38.7% usage rate from 2005-06 is an NBA record
After the 2006 season, the usage rate of Kobe Bryant seemed like a record that may never be broken. Bryant was in his prime and was surrounded by a weaker team that he previously had seen.
That same thing can be said this year for Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost stars Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka this offseason. Last season, Westbrook had a usage rate of 33.1%, but saw that number rise to 38.4% with both Durant and Ibaka off the floor via NBAwowy. The presence of Victor Oladipo will bring that down some. However, it is not hard to imagine Westbrook with the ball all the time.
In the same way, James Harden is by far the most ball dominant player for the Houston Rockets. His 32.5% usage rate put him third in the NBA last season, but that seems likely to go up with new coach Mike D’Antoni already proclaiming him the team’s point guard. This preseason, he has a solid usage rate of 30.9%.
Do not be surprised if either of these players pushes Bryant for the all-time usage record.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2003-04
Outside of the Warriors, there is no team getting more preseason love than the Minnesota Timberwolves. New coach Tom Thibodeau inherited a roster loaded with young talent centering on Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Z. Last year saw the Wolves win just 29 games, which may have had a lot to do with the loss of former coach Flip Saunders prior to the season.
Our current projections list Minnesota with a 40% chance to make the playoffs with an expected record of 39-43. However, that only puts them with the fourth-highest odds in their own division, trailing the Thunder, the Utah Jazz, and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Much of the team’s success or failure may be determined by the point guard position, currently manned by Ricky Rubio. The Spanish guard is an absolute wizard with the ball, but his field goal percentage continues to be a big issue at just 36.8% for his career. Rookie Kris Dunn was taken fifth overall in this summer’s draft, and coaches have raved about his defensive work.
However, early returns in the preseason have seen Dunn struggle from the field more than Rubio has. A team loaded with talent may need one more year to figure out their point guard situation before they can break their lengthy playoff drought.
The Pacers have averaged 107.2 points in the preseason
Last season with Frank Vogel in charge, the Indiana Pacers averaged 102.2 points per game, putting them squarely in the middle of the Association. Larry Bird wanted that to change and brought in Nate McMillan to help boost a team with Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Thaddeus Young. If the preseason is any indication, McMillan is accomplishing exactly what his boss wanted with Indiana scoring at a 107.2-points-per-game clip in six preseason games.
Some of that can certainly be linked to the change from George Hill to Teague at point guard, but McMillan will help, as his last two full seasons in Portland saw his team ranked 7th and 11th in the NBA in offensive rating. The concern for the Pacers is that, in those two seasons, Portland also ranked dead last in pace.
Andre Drummond's 24.52% rebounding rate ranked 6th all-time last year
Andre Drummond has been a dominant rebounder for his entire career, but he took that to a new level last year by leading the league at 14.8 boards per game. That came with a total rebounding rate of 24.52% which was good enough for sixth on the all-time list, trailing only four Dennis Rodman years and one year from Reggie Evans. Drummond also ranked ninth all-time in 2014-15.
In limited time this preseason, Drummond has had a rebounding rate of a staggering 32.1%. That rate has certainly been boosted by playing against some weaker opponents, but it also outlines how dominant on the glass he can be.
What also helps Drummond’s numbers is the fact that he is the only strong rebounder on the team, as the only other player on Detroit with a rebounding rate over 10.5% from last year was backup center Aron Baynes.
With his minutes per game likely to rise yet again this season, Drummond is a near lock to lead the NBA in rebounds per game.
Entering his fifth year, he may be one of the few players in the last 25 years who can rebound as well as Rodman did throughout his career.