5 NBA Stats to Know Through Week 15
The last week has seen a ton of turmoil in the NBA.
LeBron James wants the Cleveland Cavaliers to add more players to their roster, while the New York Knicks have had their fair share of problems, which has led to the team hunting for a trade partner willing to take superstar Carmelo Anthony.
With veteran teams struggling in the dog days of the season, young teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers are pulling themselves into playoff contention. Here are five NBA stats you should know heading into another week of on-court action.
Shabazz Muhammad Is Leading the NBA in Points Per Touch Over the Last 5 Games
The Timberwolves entered the 2016-17 season with a ton of hype. With three young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine entering their prime, they were expected to challenge for a playoff spot for the first time in 12 years. Another big reason for this was new coach Tom Thibodeau’s arrival and the expectation that the team’s weak bench would be less of an issue.
After a brutal start, the young Wolves have rebounded nicely by winning four of their past five games due in large part to the improved play of Shabazz Muhammad. The former UCLA Bruins star currently leads the NBA in points per touch over that five-game stretch at 0.611 points per touch.
Although it is a small sample size, this is right in line with Muhammad’s career numbers, as he led the NBA in this category last season. It is also a much needed spark from a Wolves bench that only has Muhammad scoring over six points per game.
This recent hot streak from the wing player has come with a bump in minutes -- he's playing 23 minutes per game over the past two weeks, along with a blistering 51.8% shooting percentage from the field.
Since Towns, Wiggins and LaVine are all getting over 36 minutes per game, opportunities are not abundant for Muhammad. However, if he can again rise to the top in points per touch, he will be a valuable asset for Minnesota down the stretch.
Russell Westbrook Is Running the Show in Oklahoma City
The Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly Russell Westbrook’s team -- he is currently on pace to set the all-time record for usage in a season (42.1%), while also leading the NBA with 31.0 points per game. However, the team's issue all season has been depth. The Thunder currently only have four players averaging over 6.6 points per game, and one of them, Enes Kanter, will miss the next six-to-eight weeks with a broken forearm.
Since Kanter provided much of the scoring punch this year (14.4 points and a 26.6% usage rate), this will be a giant loss for the OKC bench. This will put even more pressure on Westbrook, who is likely to see his average of 34.7 minutes per night increase, while also pushing his triple-doubles to yet another ridiculous level.
Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo will certainly get more usage and minutes, but the recently-acquired Jerami Grant will face a ton of pressure to perform off the bench. Grant did get a few spot starts with Adams out of the lineup, but he is only getting 21.7 minutes per game and has a meager 11.2% usage rate since joining the Thunder.
The only other player that has a similar skill set to Kanter is Joffrey Lauvergne, who has shown flashes of brilliance this year, but as his 5.0 points per game average suggests, he struggles with consistency.
As always with the Thunder, it will be Westbrook who continues to dominate the ball, but there simply must be another player or two that raises their game to a new level if the team wants to remain in the playoff hunt.
The Bulls Need Jimmy Butler on the Floor
They have now slipped to seventh in the Eastern Conference with just a 47.9% chance to make the playoffs. If the team wants to recover, the pressure will likely be on Butler's shoulders. The Bulls have produced a net rating of 1.8 with Butler on the floor this season, but that's dipped to a miserable -8.7 net rating with him off the floor.
He not only leads the team in scoring (24.4 points per game) and steals (1.7), but is also second on the team in assists (4.7) and third in rebounding (6.6).
Carmelo Anthony Is Attempting Three-Pointers More Than Ever This Year
Anthony has been a high-volume shooter and scorer throughout his career. Nearly all of that scoring has come from inside the arc, as the Knicks' leading scorer had never attempted more than 25.3% of his shots from three-point range.
That has taken a huge jump this season, as he's hoisting 30.2% of his shots from beyond the arc. An increase in success has also come with this spike in attempts -- he's hitting 36.6% of threes this year, compared to 34.6% for his career.
He's doing this amid trade rumors, and while he's unlikely to ever be a top-end threat from deep, him being more comfortable from that range shows Anthony could be an asset for a team contending for a title.
LeBron James Is 22nd in Total Minutes Played
When James criticized his team and ownership last week, much was made about him leading the NBA at 37.6 minutes per game. It was as if he was trying to point out that at his age, he would like to not play as many minutes per night, but is being forced into those minutes because of the current roster.
However, James is only 22nd in the NBA with 1,578 minutes played overall. That's ideal for a player in his 14th NBA season and having played in six consecutive finals, but it does trail other stars like James Harden and Kyle Lowry by a good margin.
The positive news for James and company is that Cleveland, currently seventh in numberFire's power rankings, are still ahead of Toronto and Boston by three games in the subpar Eastern Conference.
Although his 37.6 minutes per game are his highest since the 2013-14 season, Cleveland's cushion in the standings will certainly allow James to get a few games off over the course of the second half and keep his body healthy for another playoff run.