5 NBA Stats to Know Through Week 3
With all but one team having played at least nine games, the early-season surprises of this NBA season are now becoming a little less surprising and a little more tangible.
Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers continue to extend their dominant starts, while teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards look to break out of their early-season slumps.
This is also true with several players who are adjusting their new roles and improving their game.
Kevin Durant saw his streak of scoring 20-plus points end at 72 games
During his time in with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the thought of Kevin Durant scoring fewer 20 points in a game seemed like an impossible feat. That was certainly true, as the only game last Durant was held under that mark was the game on November 10th of last year, which was the game he was injured and limited to just 16 minutes.
Fast forward to this season, and many assumed that Durant would not be able to continue that prolific pace surrounded by the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green on the Golden State Warriors. That was certainly the case as, in just the ninth game of the year, Durant was only able to record 18 points in a blowout win against the Denver Nuggets.
The end of the streak was certainly something that could have been predicted as Durant has been a high usage player throughout his career, posting a usage rate over 28% in each of his nine years with the Thunder organization. However, this season has seen Durant keep that usage rate at a solid 28.4%, trailing only Curry on the team.
The team is starting to click and has started to blow out teams with relative ease, jeopardizing Durant's chances at a new streak. Much like the Warriors got used to last year, coach Steve Kerr may have the ability to rest is his stars because they have such an insurmountable going into the fourth quarter of games.
DeMar DeRozan is shooting 52.2% on shots from 15 to 19 feet from the hoop
DeMar DeRozan has taken the NBA by storm this year, leading the NBA at a staggering 34.0 points per game on the year. He has been able to do this despite only making three three-point baskets in the Toronto Raptors' nine games this year.
This is not out of the norm for DeRozan, who has never shot above 34% from the three-point arc, but it is still surprising in today’s NBA that is paced by long-range shooting. Rather, DeRozan has an old-school game predicated on mid-range shooting. Last season, he set a career high with 23.5 points per game and shot a respectable 38.9% from 15 to 19 feet out. This year, he has boosted his scoring by over 10 a game based almost solely on his blistering 52.2% rate from the same distance.
For fantasy owners and Raptors fans, this has been a huge bump to a player who has averaged over 20 points per game in three straight seasons coming into this year but who had never had an effective field goal percentage over 47%. Although it is doubtful that a shooter such as DeRozan could keep up a 53.4% effective field goal rate, even an incremental boost to around 50% could put DeRozan in serious contention to win the NBA scoring title despite his lack of outside game.
The Clippers' starting lineup owns a +13.1 plus/minus
The Clippers have put the Western Conference on notice that this is going to be their year. Led by a league-leading defense, the team has started an NBA best 9-1. As has been the case since Chris Paul and Blake Griffin arrived, the Clippers have been entirely dependent on their starting unit to win games.
That has certainly come to fruition this year, as the Clippers' starting five of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are outscoring their opponents by 13.1 points per game when they are on the floor together, most for any five-man group that has played at least 26 minutes together this season per NBA.com.
Most of the jump must be credited to the team’s defense this year, where they are first in the league in defensive efficiency. This is a bit surprising, considering the only addition to the team was little-used Mbah a Moute. However the veteran wing has never had a defensive rating under 100 in his career and has often drawn the assignment of taking on the opposition's top scorer.
With the savvy of coach Doc Rivers, combined with the star power of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan, it seems the Clippers are making it known that the Western Conference is deeper than just the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.
Domantas Sabonis is sixth among rookies with a true shooting percentage of 56.1%
When the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder made the splash trade of the summer, everyone started to project how Serge Ibaka and Victor Oladipo would help their new teams. However, most overlooked the addition of Domantas Sabonis to the Thunder. The rookie from Gonzaga had a slow start to the season but recently has seen a nice uptick in performance and is showing off his versatility.
Sabonis has taken Ibaka’s position as the stretch four, having hoisted 29 three-pointers through 10 games, including a high of 7 against the Miami Heat. His 10 three-points makes over the last four games are a welcome sign for a Thunder team that currently has a team rate of 34.8% from behind the arc.
He has struggled to bring as much on the defensive end, only averaging 0.4 steals and 0.3 blocks. However, defensive ace Steven Adams takes care of much of the defensive role down low, and wing Andre Roberson also helps control opposing perimeter threats. If the rookie Sabonis can maintain anything close to his 45.2% field goal rate and 48.3% three-point rate he has maintained to start the year the trade of Ibaka may soon to be more about him than about Oladipo.
The Knicks are 29th in the NBA with a defensive efficiency of 110.4
Coming into the season, the other “super team” figured to be improved on offense, but no one predicted the losses of Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo would hurt the New York Knicks' defense as much as it has. After being middle of the pack last year, this year has seen the team fall to 29th in efficiency, which measure how many points per 100 possessions a team gives up.
This has prompted the team to make assistant coach Kurt Rambis the head of their defensive unit. This is a bit of an odd decision as his last two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves saw his team end 27th and 28th in team defense.
These rankings are backed up by the lack of an individual talent who can take over on defense in the mold of a Kawhi Leonard or Rudy Gobert. This is shown by the fact that not one player on the Knicks has contributed at least one defensive win share to this point in the season. Despite an improved offense, if the Knicks cannot improve on their dreadful defense, they will again be on the outside looking in during the playoffs. We give them a 17.4% chance to reach the postseason.